written by
Alex Velazquez

51 Fun Things to Do in Gatlinburg!

smoky mountain vacations 17 min read

Thirsty for adventure? Welcome to Gatlinburg, home of breathtaking waterfalls, tranquil hiking Gatlinburg locals love and rest of us dream of, unforgettable sights, and majestic scenery. The truth is Gatlinburg has something for every adventurer. From Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Mountain Moonshine Tastings, Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway, Gatlinburg Space Needle...And Ober Gatlinburg Amusement Park and Ski Area. Now that we’ve gotten your attention, let’s dive into 51 fun things to do in Gatlinburg:

1. Stroll through Dollywood. Connect with the one and only Dolly Parton as you explore her personal homage to her Tennessee roots. With three Golden Ticket awards to its name and three million visitors every year, it’s easy to see why Dollywood, just like Dolly herself, is a Tennessee icon.

2. Explore Clingmans Dome. At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The trek may not be for the faint of heart (or weak of legs) but the payoff—a 360-degree, 100-mile view of the Smokies—is well worth the workout.

3. Spend the day at Ober Gatlinburg. See the Smoky Mountains from a different point of view—downhill—as you explore Tennessee’s most popular amusement park and ski area. Hop on Ober Gatlinburg’s famous aerial tram and let it whisk you away to the park. From there, check out the mountainside coaster, animal habitat, or get a little skiing in before heading back.

4. Sing your heart out at Soul of Motown Dinner Theater. It’s hard to beat dinner and a show, something that the Grand Majestic Dinner Theater knows all too well. And travelers agree—the theater’s biggest hit, Soul of Motown, has earned a five-star rating on TripAdvisor and serves up a delicious all-you-can-eat buffet to boot. Just make sure to practice your rendition of “My Girl” before you visit.

5. Walk and shop along “The Strip.” Also known as the Village Shops, Gatlinburg’s downtown strip has 27 boutiques, galleries, and eateries. So, if you’re looking to take a slice of Gatlinburg home, opt for this quaint shopping center where you can find local and unique crafts, like moonshine scented candles or handmade wind chimes.

6. Commune with nature at Cades Cove. Take a trip into the Great Smoky Mountains and find the picturesque valley of Cades Cove, the single most popular destination within the national park. As you gaze upon the valley and its thriving wildlife, consider Cade Cove’s long history: first as a Cherokee settlement known as "Tsiya'hi," or "Otter Place," then as a European settlement, and later as a center for Tennessee’s abolitionist movement.

7. Catch a show at Dolly Parton’s Stampede. A four-course meal. Horse-riding stunts. Kitschy yet entertaining musical productions. Consider it just another way to honor Dolly, the patron saint of all things Tennessee.

8. Be a part of pancake history at the Pancake Pantry. As Tennessee’s very first pancake house, the Pancake Pantry has been making Tennessean history since 1960. No trip to Gatlinburg is complete without digging into a stack of their famous buttermilk pancakes.

9. Take a trip up the Gatlinburg Space Needle. There’s more than one way to see the Smokies. Cue the Gatlinburg Space Needle. The experience starts with a glass elevator that climbs over 400 feet and then reveals an observation deck with panoramic views of the city and national park.

10. Check out the Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts Community. Established in 1937, the Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts Community is tightly intertwined with Gatlinburg history. With over 100 artisans and 8 miles of handicraft shops, the community has quickly become one of the largest groups of independent artisans in North America. While you’re there, be sure to visit the Wild Plum Tea Room, an old-world teahouse and one of Gatlinburg’s most-prized restaurants.

11. Become a baked bean at the BUSH’S Baked Beans Factory Tour. Walk like a human bean through a giant BUSH’S Baked Beans can and see how the humble bean makes its journey from the factory to your stomach. Then, travel through time as you learn about the Bush family and their legacy. Be sure to pick up a Duke holiday ornament before heading home, so that everyone knows just how much you like beans.

12. Trek up Mount LeConte | Despite being the third tallest mountain in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Mount LeConte is arguably the most famous. It’s got it all: panoramic views, unique geological features, and a rich history. The summit can be reached by five trails, but the Alum Cave Trail is easily the most popular due to its proximity to notable landmarks along the way.

13. Pig out at Bennett’s Pit BBQ. If you’re not eating barbecue during your visit to Tennessee, you’re doing it wrong. And if you’re not sampling Bennett’s Pit BBQ menu during your Gatlinburg visit, then you’re just plain missing out. With multiple awards under its belt and a serious commitment to the art of barbeque, Bennett’s Pit BBQ is a Gatlinburg gem. But don’t worry: Meat-lovers and vegetarians are equally welcome.

14. Pick a side at Lumberjack Feud. Maybe it’s never occurred to you to watch two lumberjacks duke it out through log rolls, axe throwing, and speed climbing competitions—or maybe it’s been your life-long dream, no judgement. Either way, it’s what you want. It’s what you need. It’s what you deserve.

15. Test drive the Hollywood Star Cars Museum. Car lovers, rejoice! The Hollywood Star Cars Museum is right up your alley. Browse through a collection of over 40 Hollywood-famous vehicles, like The Ghostbusters’ Ecto-1 or the Duke of Hazard’s General Lee Dodge Charger. For most cars on display, you’ll be able to get into the driver’s seat and see 50 years of Hollywood history up close.

16. Take a leisurely hike up to Grotto Falls. The Great Smoky Mountains aren’t all steep and strenuous. In fact, the hike up to Grotto Falls is a kid-friendly alternative that delivers just as many wildlife spotting and scenic views as the best of them. And it’s the only waterfall in the Smokies you can walk behind, too.

17. Take home a Tennessee tradition with Sugarlands Distilling Co. Moonshine. In Tennessee, it’s more than liquor—it’s history. So, it’s natural that a trip to Gatlinburg includes a trip to a moonshine distillery. There you can sample award-winning spirits, get a behind-the-scenes look at the production process, and even take some drinks home with you.

18. Learn to “zorb” at Outdoor Gravity Park. First things first, to “zorb” is to run downhill or through an obstacle course inside a giant, plastic (yet soft) ball. And Outdoor Gravity Park is the only zorbing park in the U.S. So, if rolling down a 1000-foot hill in an 11-foot inflatable ball sounds like your idea of a good time, here’s your chance.

19. Get a taste of Gatlinburg at the Donut Friar. Yet another Gatlinburg gem, the Donut Friar is a small donut shop that’s been around since the 1960s. Made fresh every day, the donuts found here have made the shop a classic in town. But beware: The Donut Friar is cash only.

20. Go underground with the Forbidden Caverns. Beneath the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountain range you can find a series of underground caves and caverns. That’s cool enough on its own, but add in some funky lights and psychedelic sound effects and you’ve got something special: The Forbidden Caverns.

21. Get creative at the Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair. Every fall and summer, something beautiful happens in downtown Gatlinburg. Hundreds of artisans and musicians flock to the city and set up their wares at the Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair. It’s easily the best way to pick up homemade crafts and take in the local music scene.

22. Visit the only museum that matters: The Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum. View over 20,000 pairs of shakers, some dating back to the 1500s, and learn everything there is to know about the seasoning tool you’ve probably never thought twice about. To no one’s surprise, it’s the only shaker museum in the U.S. and only one of two in the world, so be sure to check it out while in town.

23. Hike the Gregory Bald Hike. Say hello to bulging calf muscles, cracking knees, and an unrivaled sense of superiority over “lesser” Great Smoky Mountain hikers. Get all this—plus pretty amazing mountain views and glimpses of beautiful wildlife, like Flame Azaleas in bloom—when you undertake the notoriously strenuous Gregory Bald hike.

24. Spice it up at Mama’s Chicken Kitchen. You can’t come to Tennessee and not try hot chicken. Sorry, we don’t make the rules. If you’re in Gatlinburg, check out Mama’s Chicken Kitchen to cross this Tennessee classic off your bucket list.

25. Spend a Summer day at the Gatlinburg River Raft Regatta. Floating, racing, and unmanned—the Gatlinburg River Raft Regatta is sure to float the boat of any competitive boat-enthusiast. Unfortunately, the race only takes place on the Fourth of July, so plan your Independence Day celebrations accordingly.

26. See history come to life at the Glenn Cardwell Heritage Museum. From its Cherokee roots to its role in the Civil War, the Smoky Mountain region has a rich history ready to be shared. That’s where the Glenn Cardwell Heritage Museum comes in.

27. Find your thrills at Anakeesta theme park. It’s a special combination: Thrill rides with a mountain backdrop. From “dueling” ziplines to mountain coasters, Anakeesta makes the most of its environment while delivering scenic and exhilarating experiences perfect for any theme park lover.

28. Relive your childhood at the Gatlinburg Pinball Museum. This isn’t your average, run-of-the-mill museum. The Gatlinburg Pinball Museum is wholly interactive and features over 100 limited-edition pinball machines and arcade games—and playing them is covered with just one flat entrance fee. Jackpot.

29. Relax at the Smoky Mountain Brewery. What looks like a ski lodge but operates like a Bavarian beer hall? That’s right, the Smoky Mountain Brewery. Come for the micro brewed beers, stay for the burgers and mountain views.

30. Pick up some pieces at Pigeon Forge Pottery. Arts and crafts are a crucial element of Gatlinburg’s culture and Pigeon Forge Pottery is another piece to that puzzle. For over 50 years, Pigeon Forge Pottery has produced impressive yet practical pottery, each handmade and individually fired. It’s a special place in the heart of Gatlinburg and well worth a visit.

31. Take a trip to Rainbow Falls. Your journey to Rainbow Falls starts just outside Gatlinburg with the Rainbow Falls trailhead. It’s a relatively new trail that delivers an 80-foot tall waterfall. See it on a sunshiny day and you may even catch a glimmer of the mist-induced rainbows that give the waterfall its name.

32. Spend the day at Ripley’s Believe it or Not. When it comes to Ripley institutions in Gatlinburg, you have a lot of choices, including haunted adventures, mirror mazes, and aquariums. But trust us, you can’t go wrong with a classic: Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

33. Connect with history in Elkmont Ghost Town. Eerie? Check. Historical? Check. Yours to explore to your heart’s content? Triple check. The defunct Elkmont Campground was once a logging town turned vacation village. In the years since the area has been claimed by the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the town itself has landed on the National Historic Register, which means while it’s uninhabited, it is maintained and open to the public.

34. Get fudgy with it at Fudge Shoppe of the Smokies. Between all the exploring and sightseeing, you’re bound to build up an appetite. That’s where the Fudge Shoppe of the Smokies comes in. A Gatlinburg favorite, this fudge shop makes all of its sweets in-house.

35. Raft through the Smokies. Experience the Smokies by water as you raft down Upper and Lower Pigeon River, a 70-mile river that flows through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

36. Check out A Mountain Quiltfest. For 26 years, Gatlinburg has celebrated the art of the quilt with its very own quilting festival. So, if you’re in town during the five-day event, be sure to stop by to see what expert-level quilting can look like. The next event will start in May 2021!

37. Pay a visit to the Walker Sisters. Visit the cabin of the Walker Sisters—five sisters, each unmarried in their lifetimes and each staunch believers in the “old ways” of living—who helped promote the Great Smoky Mountain National Park during its infancy. It’s an educational experience that might help you better understand Gatlinburg life during the 1840s.

38. Have a family friendly day at Davy Crockett’s Mini Golf. Want to take a break from all the history and wilderness? Davy Crockett Mini Golf has you covered. It’s a relaxing way to spend the day and is great for all ages.

39. Grab a bite at Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen. Get a taste of Southern-style cooking with *the* Southern-style chef. Sure, it may be slathered in butter, but we all know that just makes everything taste better. There’s only a handful of Paula Deen restaurants around the U.S., so if you’re a fan of butter definitely check it out.

40. Dig in at the Alamo Steakhouse. You know “Remember the Alamo”? Well, the Alamo Steakhouse will have you saying “Remember the steak” instead. In addition to being an excellent steakhouse, it’s also something of an homage to Davy Crockett and the nearly 2,000 Tennessean volunteers who fought in the Mexican American War.

41. Zoom through Gatlinburg with CLIMB Works. Whether you’re interested in a thrill, in a learning moment, or some scenic views, CLIMB Works has you covered. Experience a guided ziplining adventure that takes you through some of Gatlinburg’s most breathtaking panoramas.

42. Ride the Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster. It’s exactly what it sounds like: A rollercoaster nudged against a Gatlinburg mountain. What you don’t know: It’s the fastest mountain coaster in Tennessee.

43. Pick up some souvenirs at Alewine Pottery. Have you noticed that Gatlinburg loves arts and crafts? Well, grabbing some pieces is one of the best ways to bring some of this city home with you. If you want to make that happen, visit Alewine Pottery.

44. Play a round at Hillbilly Golf. Nope, it’s not a scene out of Deliverance—it’s Hillbilly Golf. Sure, it’s a little kitschy but it’s a nice reprieve from a strenuous day hiking in the Smokies. So, kick back, enjoy the view (Hillbilly Golf sits atop a mountain), and practice your putting.

45. Bring Japan to the Smokies with Little Tokyo. You may not have thought you’d find authentic sushi in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, but contemporary Japanese steakhouse Little Tokyo is ready to change your mind. But beware, this spot is popular so there may be a line.

46. Travel through time to The Old Mill. Make sure to stop by the Old Mill, one of the oldest continually operating gristmills in the U.S. (and one of the most photographed, too). Today, you can grab a bite to eat at the Old Mill Restaurant or grab some last-minute gifts in the general store.

47. Take a scenic drive through the Roaring Fork Motor Trail. Prefer to see your nature and history within the comfort (and air conditioning) of your car? The Roaring Fork Motor Trail delivers exactly that. Drive the six-mile long road and you’ll spot 100-year-old cabins, bucolic vistas, and eventually, Ely’s Mill, where you can find locally made antiques.

48. Rehydrate at Dollywood’s Splash Country. After hiking the Great Smoky Mountains, you may want a slower day. And if you can get it by soaking in a lazy river, then that’s even better. But don’t worry, Dollywood’s Splash Country has thrilling water rides too, if you want to keep the energy going.

49. Sample the wares at the Ole Smoky Moonshine Holler. “The Holler” is the perfect place to sample flavored moonshine as well as Tennessee whiskey. If you like what you see/taste, you can always take some home with you.

50. Browse through the Smoky Mountain Art Gallery. Just in case you haven’t gotten enough arts and crafts on your Gatlinburg trip. With over 35 resident artists, the gallery features one-of-a-kind artwork and sculptures that truly capture the soul of local artists.

51. Explore every inch of the Island. Ranked a top 10 amusement park in the U.S. (for the second year in a row in fact) the Island boasts over 80 shops, restaurants, and attractions. In other words, something for every type of traveler.

Ready to start your mountain vacation? Check out the best Gatlinburg hotel to lay your head and let the adventure begin!

smoky mountain vacation