5If you’re planning a family vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains, then you must check out this list of essential things to do in Gatlinburg, TN. These are the top rated Gatlinburg, TN attractions for families and a few things to do near Gatlinburg, too. Check them out and let us know if there are any more that should be added to the list.
Nature Lover Fun in Gatlinburg
Gatlinburg Trolley – There are more than 50 miles of Gatlinburg to explore on the Gatlinburg trolley system. Just board one of the 20 trolleys anywhere you see the Street Trolley sign and take a ride on one of the seven different routes for as little as fifty cents a ride. With 100 locations, there is sure to be one close to your family’s destination.
Gatlinburg Sky Lift – After taking a ride to the mountain’s top, you’ll have spectacular views from an area surrounded on three sides by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. During the day, you can pick out the sights of Gatlinburg but at night, you’re treated to a view of Gatlinburg’s glittering lights and amazing views.
Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway – The Aerial Tramway departs from downtown Gatlinburg to the Ober Amusement Park and Ski area. It takes you on a two mile, twenty minute ride up the side of the mountain in the counter balanced tram.
Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area – The Ski Area offers access to the ski slopes for a single session of skiing or snowboarding during day or night sessions. For families hitting the slopes the first time, there are ski classes for children (starting at age 4) and adults as well as snowboarding classes. A limited number of jackets, pants and helmets are available for rental.
Ober Gatlinburg Ski Mountain Coaster – The Ski Mountain Coaster climbs 1000 feet uphill before racing downhill to almost 3000 feet of turns, dips, zip-zags and corkscrews. The ride is perfect for any age and each two person pair chooses how they want to experience it. You can zoom at up to speeds of 25 MPH or use the handbrakes for a more relaxed pace.
CLIMBWorks Mountain Biking– You can explore the only mountain bike trail in Gatlinburg with a guided experience where all you do is show up. CLIMBWorks provides the bikes, helmets and prepared trail for everyone from beginners through expert level mountain bikers for anyone 12 and over.
CLIMBWorks Zipline – The CLIMBWorks tour takes keeps you above the ground for more than two hours with nine ziplines and three sky bridges over trees, ravines, streams and maybe even wildlife. The tour starts with an escorted ATV ride to the top of the mountainside.
ZipGatlinburg – ZipGatlinburg offers three different options for all members of the family (even those as young as 5) to experience the fun of zip lining. In addition to the traditional zip lining through the treetops on a guided tour, Tree Trek is a 27 obstacle tree canopy maze that takes place entirely in a tree canopy. There’s also chance to bounce on a trapeze net 30ft high if you’re looking for a different take on the zip line experience.
Smoky Mountain Riding Stables – With no experience necessary to ride, Smoky Mountain Riding Stables has over 40 head of mountain trail horses from 13 to 17 hands tall to meet the needs of all riders. The trail rides are at a walking pace through the terrain of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Smoky Mountain Angler Trout Fishing – As the oldest fly shop in Gatlinburg, Smoky Mountain Anglers are the first place to head for trout fishing gear, guided trips and information. They are a Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency license agent and can get you licensed for fishing. When you stop buy, they can point you in the direction for “kids only” designated areas in the city of Gatlinburg stocked weekly or provide guides for experienced fly fishermen to have a trip to remember.
Down South Outdoor Adventure Rentals – This family owned business offers rentals of the three wheeled motorcycle – a Polaris Slingshot, RZR and 4 Seaters for your family to cruise through the Smoky Mountain National Park and Gatlinburg Townsend with the top down and enjoy the great outdoors. You can even bring along the children as long as they’re at least one year old and have a front facing car seat.
Nantahala Outdoor Center – The NOC offers rafting trips for guests as young as three years old on the Lower Pigeon section of the Big Pigeon River. It’s a short float trip with gentle rapids, swimming holes and beautiful scenery. For older adventurers, you can take on the Class III rapids with a trip down the Upper Pigeon with full on excitement and the Smoky Mountain scenery in the background.
Places to See in Gatlinburg
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies – As the home of a 340-foot underwater tunnel (one of the longest underwater tunnels in world), you’ll come face-to-face with sharks, sea turtles, stingrays and other sea animals. It’s not just underwater animals here; the Penguin Playhouse introduces visitors to endangered African blackfooted penguins though the combination of crawl tunnels, pop-up domes and a swim-through passage. The aquarium offers discounts for AAA, AARP as well as active & retired military.
Christ in the Smokies Museum and Gardens – Christ in the Smokies tells the story of Christ with life size figures, dramatic lighting, special effects and music as a walk through a Biblical world of 2000 years ago. It is one of the nation’s most notable inspirational attractions and brings to life favorite Bible stories for guests of all ages. Children under age 6 are FREE and discounted tickets are available online with advance purchase.
Hollywood Star Cars – Hollywood Star Cars offers the best cars from movies and TV in recreated settings complete with sound, lights and action. The most famous car of the collection is the Batmobile from the 1966 TV show but other cars include The Ghostbusters Ecto-1 (original movie version) and General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard. Cars from every generation are represented from the Beach Boys 1955 Thunderbird to The Fast and the Furious; even the future with the Back to the Future DeLorean. FREE entry for children under age 6.
Ripley’s Odditorium – With more than 500 exhibits and oddities from around the world, the Odditorium has 16 themed galleries. The Oddities are a mix of artifacts and just truly odd collections. Some of the oddities are authentic shrunken heads, a sculpture made from car parts and a life size skeleton of an ostrich.
Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum – With more than 20,000 pairs of Salt and Pepper shakers, Gatlinburg is home to the world’s only Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum. The collection includes salt and pepper shakers from all over the world and a huge pepper mill collection. Children ages 12 and under are FREE; the $3.00 admission per adult can be used towards purchases in the gift shop.
Guinness World Records Museum – You’ll have the opportunity to attempt to break a World Record in the interactive challenge gallery with over 20 games and challenges including Quick Draw, Lumberjack Tree Hack, Frisbee Toss and more. If that’s not quite your thing, there are exhibits, displays, trivia and themed galleries that bring the book to life.
Cooter’s Gatlinburg – Ben “Cooter” Jones is the host of Cooter’s Garage. This Dukes of Hazzard themed museum has pictures, props and memorabilia from the TV show as well as indoor themed go-karts and the Hazzard Country Club, an 18-hole mini golf course. FREE admission.
Food and Drinks in Gatlinburg
Pancake Pantry – Opened in 1960 as Tennessee’s first pancake specialty restaurant, the Pancake Pantry offers 24 different varieties of pancakes, eight different waffles and seven omelets. They also offer burgers, salads and sandwiches for their lunch menu and even box lunches to-go for a picnic in the park.
Sugarland Distilling Company – Sugarland Distilling Company offers FREE distillery tours to show all ages the process of making their Sugarland Shine and FREE Back Stage musical performances on their Sugarlands Spirit Stage with live guest bands from around the nation. If you’re looking for a more private experience, they offer premium tours that include tastings and mixology lessons, Distiller Workshops and even the Distiller for the Day experience.
Ole Smoky Moonshine – The distillery, “The Holler”, claims the title of America’s most visited distillery. Your visit gives you the true moonshine experience from the scent of fermenting grains through the whole process with authentic-working moonshine stills from beginning to end. In addition, the distillers are proud to answer your questions about the history of East Tenneesee while you sample their Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine during the FREE tastings for adults 21+. Be sure to check out their resident musicians for a special show too.
Crockett’s Breakfast Camp – Crockett’s Breakfast Camp honors the legacy of David C. “Crockett” Maples, an original frontiersman, who along with his wife, Mary were known for serving hungry travelers the best home cooked breakfast in the Smoky Mountain more than 150 years ago.
Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen – Since 1950, the Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen has made candy onsite and in full view of the public. The candy makers, in their distinctive white uniforms, stirred large copper kettles of taffy before packaging it for sell and display. The candy traditions is still going and you can purchase candy like they did in 1950 – a single piece or a boxful.
Doc Collier Moonshine Distillery – William “Doc” Collier and his family used to make moonshine in the mountains but now have duplicated their process at a distillery right in Gatlinburg. Doc’s Shine Shop is just like the country Mercantile store where his daddy first sold Moonshine and you can taste one of 15 flavors, including Moonshine Brandy, Smoky Mountain Sunrise and Mountain Blossom.
Sugarland Cellars Winery – One of the stops on the Rocky Top Wine Tour, the Sugarland Cellars produces nine different wines onsite and invites visitors to celebrate local history through their passion for winemaking. Tours are FREE winery tours and wine tastings are offered seven days a week. Children are permitted to come along for the tours but tastings are 21+ only.
Events and Attractions in Gatlinburg
Great Smoky Arts & Crafts – The Tennessee Heritage Arts & Crafts Trail is an 8-mile loop of independent artisans who create original collectibles and showcase the cultural history of the state. These artisans are the largest organized group in North America and offer a wide variety of art pieces to add to your collection.
Gatlinburg Space Needle – The Gatlinburg Space Needle offers a 360 degree view of the Great Smoky Mountains from the observation deck after taking a ride up their glass elevator over 400 feet. You’ll able to take in a full view of the tallest mountain in the Park, Mount LeConte, or use the FREE SeeCoast view finders and focus on the smallest details of the Smokies like blooming flowers or flowing creeks. The newest feature, Higher Learning, offers an educational experienced based in local history and geography of the region. Children ages 3 and under are FREE with paid adult ticket.
Impossibilities Magic Show – With more 40 years of performing, the duo of Magical Comedian Chris Collins and Master Mentalist Erik Dobell showcase family-friendly magic, mindreading and generally clean fun with a little mayhem for good measure.
Gatlinburg Mysterious Mansion – Decorated in an early 20th century Victorian person, the Mysterious Mansion is Gatlinburg’s scariest Haunted House. Their chilling atmosphere is always adding new details that will delight you in the most frightening way. Children under age 6 are FREE but the Mansion is focused on creating a terrifying experience.
Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre – If you’re a fan of musical comedy, book a ticket for the Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre. Each family friendly show includes an old-fashioned sing-a-long, Ollie’s Silent Movie and the “Dancing Trench Coats.” Discounts offered for seniors/military/AAA cardholders and children on laps are FREE.
Smoky Mountain Winterfest – The Smoky Mountain Lights & Winterfest extends the magic of Winter with a celebration of lights from November through February. Check the schedule for special events including parades and a chili cook-off.
Ripley’s Haunted Adventure – Live actors behind every corner in the Ripley Haunted Adventure will keep you jumping on your walk through their renovated mansion. This adventure has the creepiest details and rises above just a “haunted house”. No children under age 6 allowed to enter; it might scare them for life.
Ripley’s Amazing Mirror Maze – In this labyrinth of lights and mirrors, you’ll see yourself over and over and over and over again as you’re trying to find your way to the exit. Families are welcome to join in the fun but don’t worry about getting too lost.
The Captured – You must work together with other participants to escape from a room you’ve been locked in. The legend of the Craft family is that they made a fortune selling timber to the US government just after the Civil War but during a harsh winter, they resorted to cannibalism. Today, the Craft descendants are just as eager to feast on tourists unless you can find the clues to escape from the room you’ve been locked in.
Ripley’s Moving Theatre – While you’ve experienced 3-D get ready for a 5D moving theater experience. The theater brings together digital effects and motion seats that will make you feel like you’ve a role in the movie. Shows rotate but this is fun for the entire family.
Arcadia – Located below the Gatlinburg Space Needle, Arcadia is a 25,000 square foot amusement center with a wide variety of games, simulators and activities for the whole family. Play smart and win tickets to redeem at the elite redemption counter.
Davy Crockett Mini Golf – Located within the Ripley’s attraction zone, the outdoor Davy Crockett-themed 36 hole mini golf course captures the spirit of “the old days” when the Tennessee hero roamed “them thar hills”.
Wild Bear Falls Waterpark – This indoor water park allows your family to have water fun year round. The retractable roof has the option for opening in the summer but you can splash in the water even when it’s snowing outside. Wild Bear Falls is the largest indoor water park in the South and the fifth largest in the country. The attractions include a lazy river, different waterslides, treehouse play are that dumps water and a snack bar so families can play all day. FREE admission is offered for children under age 3.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – From auto touring and bicycling to horseback riding or exploring burial landscapes, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers activities beyond just “exploring nature”. If exploring nature is exactly you’re looking for, there are also areas for fishing, hiking, picnicking and waterfalls observations. Check into one of their historic buildings or stop by ranger-led programs if you’re looking for guided explorations. It’s also a great place to camp!
Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook – If you’re looking for THE perfect spot of capture a stunning view of the Smoky Mountains and take the “in the mountains” photo, make a stop at the Gatlinburg Scenic Overlooks located on the Gatlinburg By-Pass. Plus you’ll have a clear view of Gatlinburg and all of its attractions from here.
Smoky Mountain Guides – The Smoky Mountain guides offer a variety of guided hikes, auto tours and backpacking trips. Their daily tours include hikes to hidden gems in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, local history walks to farms from the early settlers, wildflower hikes and auto tours to Clingmans Dome – all guided by local guides with a history of backcountry ethics and safety.
The Gatlinburg Trail – PET FRIENDLY, the Gatlinburg Trail is one of only two trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that allows dogs and bicycles. The trail is almost two miles and offers views of the river, foundations and chimneys from several old homesites. It’s accessed from the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
Noah Ogle Place – You’ll step back in time with a visit to the homestead of Noah “Bud” Ogle. The homestead includes a cabin, barn and tub mill typical of a 19th-century Southern Appalachian mountain farm. The Ogle cabin, “a saddlebag” is a rare design for the region with two cabins joined by a common chimney. The tub mill is the last surviving operational tub mill in the Park and one of the few in the region.
Cades Cove – In addition to the valley surrounded by beautiful mountains, some of the best opportunities for viewing wildlife come during a tour of Cades Cove. White-tailed deer, black bear, coyote, groundhog, turkey, raccoon and skunk are just a few of the animals you may see. The Cove can be viewed on a leisurely drive with an 11-mile one-way loop road or via a hike through the area’s trails.
Alum Cave Bluffs – The bluffs are just over two miles from the trailhead through a hardwood forest and the narrow tunnel of Arch Rock. The Alum Cave Bluffs are a dry spot even when the air and ground outside are very wet. If you continue on the trail, the summit of Mount Le Conte provides amazing views.
Charlies Bunion – This stone outcrop is overlook along the world famous Appalachian Trail. Charlies Bunion is four miles one-way from the trailhead and if you continue hiking it, you’ll arrive all the way to Mt. Katahdin in Maine. The trailhead is 13.2 miles from the Sugarlands Visitor Center or 16 miles from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
Rainbow Falls Trail – The Rainbow Falls Trail is just over a five mile roundtrip path to the summit of Mount Le Conte. It takes its name from the rainbow produced by mist from an 80-foot high waterfall visible on sunny afternoons just a mile into the hike.
Chimney Tops Trail – The trail is a two mile path one-way that gains 1,400 feet to its summit for a steep climb and one of the most popular because of its length and views. It follows along the side of the Sugarland Mountain with a view of Mount Le Conte. The trailhead is 6.7 miles from the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail – This five mile loop driving trail takes its name from the stream next to its trail, Roaring Fork but you can choose your own pace to take in the wooded views and a partial history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There several spots to pull off the trail and enjoy the mountains while you capture a picture or you can take a drive straight through – the choice is yours.