The Expert's Guide to Planning a Gatlinburg Vacation

January 28, 2019

With the number of visitors increasing drastically year after year, planning a Gatlinburg vacation is becoming a bit complicated—but it doesn’t have to be!

Each year, millions of tourists head to Gatlinburg, Tennessee for a mountainside escape. Thanks to the popularity of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and renowned attractions such as Dollywood and Ober Gatlinburg, people from all over the world are making Gatlinburg their next vacation spot.

Instead of stressing over whether to book a cabin or a hotel, when to go, and how to get there, follow our guide for organizing your next Gatlinburg getaway.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA Downtown Skyline Aerial

When to Visit Gatlinburg

Truthfully, there’s not a bad time to visit Gatlinburg. Since the Smoky Mountains experience all four seasons, you’ll be able to plan a trip around the season you like best.

Related Post: Kick Back and Unwind at Pigeon Forge Hotels with Lazy River

In the spring, the festivals at Dollywood begin and the enter Smoky Mountains are in bloom. During the summer, the weather is just hot enough and you can experience all the outdoor adventures Gatlinburg has to offer. In the fall, watch in awe as the mountainsides come to life with bold autumn hues. Finally, Gatlinburg lights up each winter with Winterfest and other holiday festivals, events, parades, and fun.

When planning a Gatlinburg vacation, there’s no bad time to go!

Ways to Save

Visit in the Off-Season
Of course, seasonality also comes with price fluctuations. During certain times of the year, hotel and attraction ticket prices may increase to accommodate the high demand and influx of tourists. If you’re interested in saving money on your vacation (and, of course, you are), visit Gatlinburg in the “off-season.”

Related Post: What to Expect at the Gatlinburg Ripley's Aquarium

Gatlinburg’s off-season tends to be in the spring, late fall, and late winter months. Anytime school is in session and the weather isn’t absolutely perfect, you’ll find lower hotel and ticket rates along with fewer crowds.

Look Up Festivals & Events Before You Go
Certain events, such as car shows and seasonal festivals, draw major crowds to the greater Gatlinburg area. As a result, these brief periods of time can drive up hotel and transportation prices. To avoid these price hikes, review what events might be happening around the time you plan to visit Gatlinburg.

If you happen to plan your trip during a busy time or a popular festival, use our advice on navigating the traffic!

Man in Hiking Gear Standing at Abrams Falls in The Smoky Mountains - Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USA

Create Your Gatlinburg Itinerary

I won’t sugar coat it. Planning a Gatlinburg vacation is a lot of work.

And, most of that effort is reserved for deciding what you want to do during your trip. With the abundance of adventures, attractions, and things to do in the area, narrowing it down isn’t easy!

To help guide your decision, check out these things to do in Gatlinburg and the greater Smoky Mountains.

Outdoor Adventures

Arguably the biggest attraction in Gatlinburg is the most natural one, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As the most visited national park in our country, the Smokies are your gateway to the great outdoors in Gatlinburg. From hiking to wildlife viewing, camping to historic tours, there’s something for everyone inside the park.

Related Post: The Best Pet-Friendly Hotels in Gatlinburg: Where to Stay with Fido

Although, if you’re looking for a more thrilling outdoor adventure, you have to go ziplining or white water rafting! You can’t beat the adrenaline rush as you soar through the trees or launch over a rapid.

Or, for those looking to leisurely explore the Smoky Mountains, sign up for a horseback riding tour.

No matter your level of adventure, there’s an outdoor excursion for you in the Smokies. Be sure to reserve your tours and experiences in advance. These activities are popular among tourists and spots fill up quickly!

Family-Friendly Fun

Planning a Gatlinburg vacation is perfect for those searching for family-friendly attractions for all ages. No matter if you’re organizing a family reunion or a trip with your young ones, there’s an attraction for every type of family to enjoy.

A few of Gatlinburg’s top family attractions include:

Of course, if your family isn’t the type to visit tourist attractions, check out Gatlinburg’s non-touristy things to do and hidden gems!

Gatlinburg Shows

When in the Smoky Mountains, you have to go to a show! Gatlinburg shows range from comedy specials to dinner shows to high-flying acrobatics. You’ll find yourself stunned as these talented performers captivate audiences night after night.

Related Post: 15 Things to Do in the Smoky Mountains for Outdoor Fun

Some of the most popular shows in the area are:

If you elect to see a dinner show, come hungry. These Southern shows know how to cook a big meal!

Ways to Save

With so many things to see and do in Gatlinburg, it can demolish a travel budget in no time. Fortunately, there are several ways to save money while maximizing your time in the Smoky Mountains.

Book Tickets in Advance
No matter if you want to visit Dollywood or see a show, get your tickets before your trip. Not only will you be able to take advantage of online discounts, but you’ll also guarantee your spot at the show or attraction. Plus, you’ll skip the ticket line and head on in!

Take Advantage of Direct Deals
Instead of scouring the Internet for Gatlinburg discounts (most of which can be pretty shady) check out the assortment of deals from Tripster. You’ll find great savings on everything from mini-golf to your favorite Gatlinburg shows.

ground exterior view of old Tipton Place cabin located near Cades Cove near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA

photo credit: Smoky Mountain Ziplines via Facebook

Decide Where to Stay in Gatlinburg

Once you’ve put together your itinerary, it’s time to decide what type of accommodations you’ll need.

The beauty of planning a Gatlinburg vacation is the wealth of accommodation choices at your fingertips. Would you rather stay in a convenient hotel in downtown Gatlinburg or a quaint cabin with majestic mountain views? The choice is yours!

Of course, each option comes with its fair share of advantages and disadvantages.

Gatlinburg Hotels

When staying in Gatlinburg, you’ll have a multitude of hotels to choose from. While the first factor will be the price, also consider what amenities you might need such as:

  • Free WiFi
  • Pet-friendly accommodations
  • An indoor pool
  • Free breakfast
  • Ample parking
  • Accessible accommodations

Hotels are ideal for families who want to be close to the action. If you plan to spend a lot of time at downtown Gatlinburg attractions such as Ripley’s Aquarium and the national park, a hotel in this area is perfect for your trip.

However, this also comes at a disadvantage as all of the other tourists are doing the same exact thing. As a result, the cost of nearby hotels as well as certain amenities at the hotel increases.

Gatlinburg Cabins

Personally, I think the best Gatlinburg accommodations are the cabins tucked away on the mountainside. These luxurious cabins are also super affordable, especially if you divide up the cost between multiple people or families.

The cabins come with excellent amenities such as hot tubs, free WiFi, and fully equipped kitchens. You can’t beat cooking meals with family and friends or sitting on the balcony with a cup of coffee overlooking the Smoky Mountain views.

Of course, cabins have their downsides too. Cabins do not include housekeeping, so that’s all on you! And, these cabins aren’t easy to get to. If you have a smaller vehicle, you may have trouble accessing your cabin high on a mountain.

Ways to Save

As with all aspects of planning a Gatlinburg vacation, there are several ways to save on your hotel room or cabin accommodations.

Book in Advance
Depending on when you book your hotel room or cabin, you may be able to take advantage of seasonal rates, special discounts, or exclusive promotions. Shop around for the right cabin or hotel and see what discounts are available.

The longer you wait to reserve your room, the higher the price may be!

Bundle it!
With Reserve Direct, anytime you add a hotel room to your order, you’ll take advantage of huge savings. Bundle your attractions, activity reservations, and show tickets with a hotel room for an affordable Gatlinburg vacation.

woman traveler walking outside of an airport with luggage

Book Your Transportation

Now that you know where you’re staying and what you’re doing in Gatlinburg, you have to figure out how to get there!

For those who prefer to fly, the closest and most convenient airport is the McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, Tennessee. As you determine when to visit Gatlinburg, look at flight prices during those times too.

If you do fly into the area, you will need to rent a car. While there are taxis in the area and ride-sharing services are slowly being introduced, these are not reliable transportation options, especially if you plan to embark on several outdoor adventures. Having a rental car will provide guaranteed transportation throughout your trip.

Ways to Save

Find Rental Car Discounts
On top of planning your Gatlinburg vacation around seasonal trends and rates, search for rental car deals, too. These deals can be found online, with the companies themselves, or even with your car insurance provider. There’s no need to pay full price for a rental car with all the discounts available!

Man setting a blue checked shirt into a suitcase that has a hat and assortment of other clothes and belongings

Pack Appropriately

With your Gatlinburg getaway fully planned and booked, the only thing left to do is pack! But, be careful. It’s all too easy to pack the wrong things for a Gatlinburg vacation.

While the forecast may be nice and sunny, it can be chilly up in the mountains. And, certain outdoor excursions and activities require guests wear specific clothing items for their safety.

With all this in mind, use our packing guide to prepare for your upcoming Gatlinburg trip.


Aerial View of Gatlinburg on a Gatlinburg Vacation Cover Page

Planning a Gatlinburg Vacation Doesn’t Have to Be Stressful

Still have questions about organizing your Gatlinburg trip? Let us know! We’re here to help plan your perfect vacation in the Smokies.

Have something to add? Post it here:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>