Dabbling in Jet Lag
At the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains lies the ever-quaint Gatlinburg. With a population of 3,860, you might think there’s not much to do here, but this is one of the most visited towns in Tennessee. It’s known for jaw-dropping scenery, endless outdoor activities, traditional southern restaurants, and great shopping. There’s something for every type of traveler! So, rest assured you won’t get bored in this little mountain town.
Gatlinburg was my first stop before getting on the Blue Ridge Parkway. And I enjoyed it so much that I decided to come back at the end of my road trip. It is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful towns in Tennessee! And, to help you get the most out of your trip, I’ve put together a list of the best things to see and do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
The Best Things to See and Do in Gatlinburg, TN
1. Stand at the Highest Point in Tennessee-Clingman’s Dome
Drive down the slithering highway that is Newfound Gap Road to Clingman’s Dome Parking Lot. From there, it’s a 30-minute walk on a paved inclining trail to Clingman’s Dome. This spectacular outlook sits at 2025 meters (6643 ft.), offering unparalleled views. On a clear day, it’s said you can have up to 160 km (100 miles) of visibility over the Smoky Mountains. But keep in mind they are nicknamed ‘The Smokies’ for a reason, so don’t expect to see more than 30-50 km (20-30 miles).
Useful Tip: Clingman’s Dome Road (the stretch from Newfound Gap Road to Clingman’s Dome Parking Lot) is closed from December to March.
2. Eat at Crockett’s Breakfast Camp
If you love breakfast food, then Crockett’s Breakfast Camp is the number one place to go. Housed in a rustic wooden cabin this restaurant is known for two things: large portions and delicious food. My favorite was the big cinnamon roll. In fact, their cinnamon roll is one of the most famous foods in Gatlinburg! It’s definitely enough for two people. But, if you’re like me and don’t want to share, you can take the rest home. Make sure to have reservations or get there before opening, they are always packed!
Address: 1103 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
3. Drive the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a scenic loop at the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The length of the loop is 10 km (6 miles), but there are so many stops you could spend an entire day here. From beautiful mountain vistas to historic buildings, this is a drive for everyone. The best views can be seen from Roaring Fork Interpretive Marker 1 while the most impressive buildings are at Alfred Reagan Tub Mill. And, if you’re up for an adventure, hike to Grotto Falls. It’s the only place in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where you can stand behind a waterfall!
Useful Tip: The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is only one-way. And there is only one turnaround point, which is at the beginning of the drive. Since there are no visitor centers and no turning back be sure to bring food and water.
4. Hike to Rainbow Falls
Gatlinburg has an impressive number of waterfalls. Every hike, scenic trail, or drive finishes with a beautiful powerful gushing waterfall. But the most impressive is Rainbow Falls. From the Rainbow Falls Parking Lot, hike along a well-trodden yet rocky path for about 1.5 hours. You will pass smaller waterfalls that eventually lead to the main event. If you’re lucky to be there in the afternoon, when the sun is shining, you will see why it’s called Rainbow Falls. And, even if you don’t get to see the rainbow, it’s still worth the trek!
Useful Tip: Rainbow Falls Parking Lot is on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. But it’s before the only point where you can turn around. So, it’s possible to do this hike without having to do the entire drive.
5. Watch the Smoke Rise Over the Great Smoky Mountains
The Great Smoky Mountains are a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains and run along the Tennessee-North Carolina border. They are most noted for the natural fog that is often seen rising from the trees. In fact, this is where the name “Smoky” originates. There are several places where you can watch the fog rise over the mountains. But the best spots are the Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook (Gatlinburg Bypass) and the Morton Overlook (Newfound Gap Road). Make sure to get there early in the morning for the most dramatic scenery.
6. Devour the Best Homemade Apple Pie
On the outskirts of Gatlinburg lies a hidden gem, Carver’s Orchard & Applehouse Restaurant. From jams and jellies to syrups and pies, this small farmhouse sells everything related to apples. And the orchard next to the farmhouse is the source of all these wonderful products. The best, of course, is their apple pie. It’s served straight from the oven, so be sure to arrive hungry! You can even take a pie to go, but, if you’re like me, you won’t be able to wait.
Address: 3460 Cosby Hwy, Cosby, TN 37722
7. Wander around The Village
The Village is a quaint outdoor shopping area in the center of Gatlinburg. Here you will find one-of-a-kind boutiques, galleries, and delectable eateries. In fact, there are approximately 30 unique stores! It’s easy to spend hours wandering around. If you plan on going hiking in the area stop by The Day Hiker. They have lots of equipment for your last-minute needs. Or, if you are craving something sweet, pop into The Donut Friar. Their donuts are to die for!
Address: 634 Parkway, Gatlinburg TN 37738
8. Play Arcade Games at Fannie Farkle’s
It might sound cheesy but visiting an arcade in Gatlinburg is a must. And Fannie Farkle’s is the best. They’ve been around since the 1980s, so you can find all the classic games like skee ball, Pacman, and air hockey. And don’t forget the prizes. They have a ton! It’s a pay-as-you-go arcade so you can stop in for one game or ten. Either way, it’s a chance to reminisce about your childhood days and have a ton of fun.
Address: 656 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
9. Take in the Views from the Gatlinburg Bypass
It might seem odd to take a road that bypasses Gatlinburg, but this little detour offers some of the best views of the town. The road starts at the northern end of Gatlinburg and slithers its way along the western side until it reaches the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s a relaxing drive that takes no more than 30 minutes. And if you’re looking to escape the crowds this will surely give you a break.
10. Drive Fighting Creek Gap Road
Not far from the southern end of the Gatlinburg Bypass lies yet another fantastic drive, Fighting Creek Gap Road. It stretches from the US-441 all the way to Townsend. Here you’ll find all the best outdoor activities in Gatlinburg. From hiking trails and waterfalls to overlooks and visitor centers, it’s an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. If you want to see and do it all, you will need at least 2 days. Highlights include hiking to Laurel Falls, picnicking at Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Pavilion, and visiting Meigs Falls. And, if you’re looking to escape the heat, check out the next activity!
Useful Tip: Halfway between US-441 and Townsend the name of the road changes to Little River Gorge Road.
11. Go Swimming in The Sinks
Summers in Gatlinburg can be stifling! And what better way to escape the heat than by going for a swim? The Sinks are a series of small natural pools created by three waterfalls further upstream. Its cool crystal-clear waters provide a much-needed relief from the heat. Make sure to get there early. The parking lot is small and it fills up quickly in the summer.
Address: Little River Road – 12 miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center.
12. Enjoy the Scenery at Lynn Camp Falls
Get off the beaten path and hike down Middle Prong Trail to Lynn Camp Falls. This trail ventures deep into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, but you’ll only need to walk 1 km (0.7 miles) to reach Lynn Camp Falls. It’s a quiet well-maintained trail that is easy enough for hikers of all levels. And very few tourists make it this far, so get ready for some solitude. I recommend bringing a packed lunch and enjoying it next to the falls or at one of the many park benches along the trail.
Address: Middle Prong Trail begins at the end of Upper Tremont Road.
13. Try Some Smoky Mountain Moonshine
Smoky Mountain Moonshine is a corn whiskey originating from eastern Tennessee. While there are several distilleries in Gatlinburg, it hasn’t always been legal. In fact, this forbidden juice was once made in the mountains under the moonlight, hence the name moonshine. It was legalized in 2009, and since then, it’s become the number one thing to try. The best distilleries are Sugarland Distilling Co., Ole Smoky Moonshine, and Doc Collier Moonshine.
Tips for Visiting Gatlinburg
- Parking downtown Gatlinburg can be challenging. While there is plenty of free parking available, it fills up quickly. If you don’t want to pay, get there early, or stay near the town center and walk from your hotel.
- If there is one thing you should avoid in Gatlinburg it’s black bears. They are frequent visitors, and, while it’s cool to see one in person, they are not attractions. Keep your distance and respect their space. Here are some tips for bear safety.
- Ticks and mosquitoes are prevalent throughout the Great Smoky Mountains. If you visit in the summer months (June-August), make sure to take the necessary precautions, especially if you go hiking. Here are some tick safety tips.
- The best time to visit Gatlinburg is April-June and September-October. Prices are lower, and there are fewer people. Avoid July and August. This is the height of the tourist season and to say it’s crowded is an understatement.
- It can be very foggy in the morning. If you plan on leaving early in the morning for a nature drive, make sure the fog has cleared. Visibility can be very low, and you don’t want to have an accident.
- Not far from Gatlinburg is another small town called Pigeon Forge. You might wonder if it’s better/cheaper to stay in Pigeon Forge. I stayed in both, and I preferred Gatlinburg. Pigeon Forge was overpriced, gaudy, and too big to walk around. It’s equal to a strip mall with lights and loud music.
If you’re looking for a getaway that includes tons of nature activities with the amenities of a larger town, then Gatlinburg is for you. There’s something for everyone, whether you are an avid hiker or just want to relax. Either way, use this guide to plan your next trip!
Read More Travel Guides
Hope you enjoyed my guide to Gatlinburg and found it useful. Here are some other travel guides that I think you might find interesting.