16 Unique Things to Do in Gatlinburg: Travel Like a Local

July 23, 2022

Rushing rivers, majestic Smoky Mountains, and an abundance of outdoor thrills are all part of Gatlinburg’s charm. While many visitors may flock to the Jewel of the Smokies for theme park excitement or rousing dinner theater, this lush Tennessee oasis is overflowing with off-the-beaten-path activities. 

Follow along to discover 16 non-touristy things to do in Gatlinburg.

From more out-of-the-way nature trails to hitting up beloved local eateries in downtown Gatlinburg, travelers of all persuasions will be tickled pink by this rugged mountain resort city.

Appreciate the delicate art of basket weaving or watercolors when you stop by the arts and crafts community. Or, embrace your inner animal lover with an ‘aw’ inspiring llama trek.

Whether you seek stunning vistas or solitary hikes, Gatlinburg delivers a cornucopia of creative attractions.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Did you even visit Gatlinburg if you didn’t make it to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park? While we would never describe the nation’s most visited National Park as a ‘non-touristy thing to do in Gatlinburg,' within the park’s lush 522,427 acres lies plenty of under-the-radar hiking trails, scenic drives, and picnic areas.

If you’ve already tackled Cades Cove and the Gatlinburg Bypass, why not branch out and uncover a path less traveled:

View of a purple and orange sunset from Myrtle Point on Mount Le Conte in the Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA

photo credit: Great Smoky Mountains National Park via Facebook

Cosby

Hightail it to this out-of-the-way area of the national park for a day of hikes, camping, wildflower viewing, and more. Depending on when you plan your Smoky Mountain visit to Cosby, you could be greeted by dwarf irises, bleeding hearts, and phacelia or vibrant autumn leaves.

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Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the spacious campground and picnic facilities and the Hen Wallow Falls Day Hike. Those yearning for a more intense athletic endeavor can opt for the strenuous, 10.6-mile journey to the Mt. Cammerer Fire Tower. Seeking to challenge your quads?  Try the 13-mile Low Gap Trail - Appalachian Trail - Snake Den Trail loop.

Greenbrier

Celebrate the bounty of spring when you swing by Greenbrier for an explosion of floral festivities. Come April, the Greenbrier area of the park is chock full of wildflowers. Witness the wonder of blooming violets, lady slipper orchids, and showy orchis species by foot or car.

The drive to the Ramsey Cascades trailhead delivers phenomenal wildflower viewing from your vehicle. While the Porters Creek Trail makes for an excellent walk. Sneak in even more social media-worthy photo ops when you traverse the Ramsey Cascades trail. This popular path features the tallest waterfalls in the Smokies. Stock up on plenty of sandwiches, trail mix, and jerky as the Greenbrier Picnic Area is open year-round.  

flowers along the roadway in smoky mountains

From wine to wildflowers, Gatlinburg hosts several spring festivals.

Roaring Fork Motor Trail

Rather hit the road than travel on foot? Score some National Geographic-worthy photos when you seek out this less visited path. Named after a loquacious flowing mountain stream, Roaring Fork is one of the larger and faster-flowing mountain streams in the park.

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This 5.5-mile nature trail features plenty of verdant old-growth forest, well-preserved log cabins, grist mills, and other historic buildings. 

Roaring Fork Motor Trail MountainsGatlinburg Bypass

While perhaps not the most unknown drive, the views afforded by the Gatlinburg Bypass and the Gatlinburg Overlook make it worth a stop on any Smoky Mountain journey. This relatively quick cruise provides a sneaky way to avoid downtown traffic.

The Gatlinburg Bypass is owned and maintained by the National Park Service and is considered part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

Uncover The Charm of Wears Valley

Relaxation and rejuvenation are what’s on the menu in Wears Valley. Named after Revolutionary War Veteran Samuel Wears, this tranquil Valley oozes natural beauty and charm. The Valley truly shines in fall, best known for its serene beauty and sublime Smoky Mountain views.

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Marvel at the stunning foliage in red, orange, and yellow hues when you complete either the Laurel Falls or Metcalf Bottoms hiking trails. Ideal for families looking to escape the bustle of Gatlinburg, this petite hamlet provides ample opportunities for shopping, dining, and even treasure hunting!

Stop by local haunt 'Elvira’s Cafe' for s’mores crepes, visit Hendricks Chapel, or sift for jewels at Gnobert’s Magic Gem Mine. 

Laurel Falls with autumn trees in the great smoky mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USANon-Touristy Things to Do in Gatlinburg: Arts and Crafts Community

Calling all craft heads! Get in touch with your creative side when you witness the ancient art of basket weaving, oil painting, and more at the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community. For over 80 years, this gathering has been considered the largest group of independent artists in the nation.

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This 8-mile loop of artisans is overflowing with artistic talent, from candle makers to quilt stitchers and potters. Dive into the histories of these well-loved crafts as you pick up some unique souvenirs.

Stock up on local and naturally made skincare, observe a blacksmith at work or pick out a leather creation by Gary McCoy. All this artistry got you feeling famished? Refuel with a latte and pastry from Gatlinburg’s Grind Coffee & Bakery.

Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community Sign with flowers on it for spring in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA

photo credit: Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community via Facebook

Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg Delicacies and Delights

Whether you are hitting the Smoky Mountain trails or just strolling around downtown, a day full of non-touristy things to do in Gatlinburg is not complete without an incredible meal. Skip out on the tourist traps, and instead feast like an insider when you dine at any of the most lauded local hangouts:

Blue Moose Burgers & Wings

Catch up on the game, chow down on award-winning jumbo wings, and keep the kids entertained at Pigeon Forge’s only family sports grill and bar.

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A well-kept local secret, Blue Moose, is like your favorite pub but better. Take in all the sports you can handle from over 25 HDTVs or sample 16 flavors of wings. We love their hearty half-pound burgers and their rotating selection of seasonal and craft beers. 

photo credit: Blue Moose Burgers and Wings via Facebook

Smoky Mountain Candy Makers

Jonesing for a sweet aperitif? Appreciate the unchanged mountain tradition of taffy-making when you watch candy makers at work. For almost 50 years, Smoky Mountain Candy Makers have been supplying Tennessee with delicious homemade taffy.

Order up an assorted box, and chew away on flavors like black walnut, butterscotch, and cotton candy. Watch in awe as these vintage 1940 machines slice, wrap, and twist the taffy closed.

Tennessee Jed's

Tennessee Jed’s may be nothing fancy, but this locally owned and sourced sandwich shop is a go-to stop for hungry hikers in the know. Stock up on sandwiches, biscuits, Frito pies, and more when you hit up either of their two Gatlinburg locations.

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Take your meal to go for a mouthwatering picnic post-Smoky Mountain trails or sprawl out on their pet-friendly patio. Try their classic BBQ or massive Reuban sandwich piled high with braised corned beef, swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and 1000 island dressing on toasted marble rye. 

photo credit: Tennessee Jed's Gatlinburg via Facebook

The Listening Room Cafe

Live music, lots of Nashville flavor, and a mountain of mouthwatering eats. The Listening Room Cafe puts the magic of Music City front and center. Their Pigeon Forge outpost focuses on quality tunes merged with local food and drink. So sit back and revel in the sounds of acoustic guitar, country, and rock as you sip a draft beer or glass of Dolly’s sangria.

Whet the appetite with an order of pimento cheese and bacon jam crostini before tearing into a Smoked BBQ platter or plate of Cajun chicken pasta.

Burg Steakhouse

Tender steaks, smoky cocktails, and unparalleled service make any dinner at the Burg a five-star event. Elevate your next Gatlinburg evening when you reserve a table at the Burg Steakhouse. Get cozy in their wood and chandelier accented dining room as you peruse their well-balanced menu.

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Kick things off with a dramatically smoked Jim Beam Manhattan and an order of early frost green tomatoes. Then, indulge your inner carnivore with a Rib Eye or Porterhouse, but be sure to save room for the decadently rich Appalachian Chocolate Cake. 

photo credit: Burg Steakhouse via Facebook

Rocky Top Mountain Coaster

Amp up your adrenaline and reach speeds of up to 30 mph when you power through unparalleled Smoky Mountain Scenery on the Rocky Top Mountain Coaster. Embrace almost 10 minutes of high-speed thrills as you ride the longest coaster in East Tennessee. Add this to the list of adrenaline-inducing non-touristy things to do in Gatlinburg.

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This rousing ride is the first kind in the world to feature four uplifts! Keep those eyes peeled, as you won't want to miss a single 360-degree turn, curve, or tunnel. For an even more enchanting experience, visit the Rocky Top after dark. Come nightfall; luminous lights will guide you through your winding outdoor excursion.

photo credit: Rocky Top Mountain Coaster via Facebook

White Water Rafting

Ready for a refreshing day of White Water fun? Wrangle the whole family for a day of mighty river action in the Smokies. Choose to tackle everything from Class I to Class IV rapids, and ratchet up the excitement with thrilling zipline add-ons:

  • Rafting in the Smokies - for over 40 years, this outdoor outfit has been introducing adults and kids alike to the wonder of Pigeon River. Perfect your paddle on a more introductory Class I route, or stay on land and tackle ropes courses, rock climbing, canopy ziplining, and more. 
  • Pigeon River Rafting with NOC - this nationally ranked outfitter is the ideal stop for rafters looking for a challenge. Suit up for a 3-hour scenic tour of the Smokies as you splash your way through Class III and IV rapids. 
  • Rafting with Smoky Mountain Outdoors - disconnect and immerse yourself in the middle of breathtaking Smoky Mountains scenery when you book a SMO rafting tour. This award-winning company offers options to raft both the Upper and Lower Pigeon River. 
People White Water Rafting with Smoky Mountain Outdoors - Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USA

photo credit: Smoky Mountain Outdoors via Facebook

Smoky Mountain Llama Treks

This may be one of the most unique non-touristy things to do in Gatlinburg! Enjoy some seriously soft cuddles when you get friendly with everyone’s favorite South American mammal. Smoky Mountain Llama Treks lets you get up close and personal with these professionally trained creatures.

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Permit the world’s fluffiest llamas to carry your gear while you meander through the scenic Smoky Mountain foothills, flowered fields, and babbling brooks.

Choose from a 1 or 2-mile hike. Or opt for a Llama Farm Visit to skip out on the physical exertion all together. Bring that camera or fully charged phone, as you’ll want to capture endless selfies of you and your new best friend.

Close up photo of a llama smiling with other llamas in the background as park of the Smoky Mountains llama Trek in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA

photo credit: Scaly Adventures via Facebook

Zipline Tours with Rafting in the Smokies

Zip a dee doo all day long when you strap in for an hour of high-flying adventure with Zipline Tours with Rafting in the Smokies. Cross swimming bridges 150 ft high as you take in a resplendent ten-acre wooded island in the middle of Big Pigeon River.

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With six ziplines and two sky bridges, guests will have ample opportunities for adrenaline. Post zipping, feel free to enjoy the park’s many outdoor amenities, including barbecue grills, picnic tables, nature trails, and more.

boy on zipline at Foxfire Mountain Adventure Park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USA

Visit a Distillery for a Moonshine Tour

What’s more Tennessee than Moonshine? Dive into the fascinating history of this famous liquor and sample a variety of unique blends when you reserve a Moonshine Tour. 

Related Post: Sip & Sample at Wineries, Breweries & Distilleries in Gatlinburg

From America’s most visited distillery to crazy pastry-inspired flavor combinations, each establishment brings a unique spin to its tasting tours:

  • Ole Smoky Moonshine - head to either of their two Gatlinburg locations for an authentic, barrel-aged American whisky experience. For an extra sour souvenir, pick up a jar of their famous Ole Smoky Pickles to go.
  • Sugarlands Distilling Company - crafted in an artisanal stone burr mill using homegrown Tennessee white corn, Sugarland’s moonshine is severed straight up in mason jars. Sip on the original, or splash out with flavors like peanut butter and jelly or Appalachian apple pie.
  • Tennessee Shine Co. - home to Moonshine Brandy, this famed distillery offers free taste testing and even creates their own shine wine! Load up on sweet delights such as Choco Moo or Moon Pie Banana Cream. Or pick up a bottle of Pigeon Forge blush to go. 
Wide shot of the exterior of the Old Forge Distillery at dusk with their lights on inside in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USA

photo credit: The Old Mill via Facebook

Need a break from amusement park antics and big chain restaurants? Infuse your Gatlinburg getaway with plenty of fresh air, adrenaline, and homespun culture when you step outside of the tourist zone.

Paddle through frothing white water rapids, tuck into a hearty platter of smoked meats or soak in the spellbinding scenery from a Mountain Coaster. 

Learn about the history of prohibition, sample moonshine, and tackle tranquil trails in Wears Valley.

Use our epic guide to get an insider’s peek into the local’s only section of Gatlinburg today!

Tell us, Which are Your Favorite Non-Touristy Things to Do in Gatlinburg?

Leave us a comment below!


isis with mural in background

Written By Isis Maya

A New York native, Isis-Maya spent most of her professional life working in TV production until a vacation whisked her away to Central America and her love o ...

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