Gatlinburg, TN Travel Guide
The small mountain town sits at the Tennessee entrance of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. A tourist town, its many attractions include sweeping views of the national park, the 407 foot Space Needle observation tower, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, and many tourist shops and restaurants.
The town has the normal public services of any small town, and an abundance of hotels and eateries to accommodate the multitude of guests arriving during the tourist season. These include Memorial Day through Labor Day and the Christmas Holiday season.
The large convention center is host to craft fairs, FFA conventions, church-related gatherings and typical business conventions.
Warm weather brings an abundance of people to the area. Bring your walking shoes, because traffic is difficult to navigate in the confines of the small town. Most sites are easily within walking distance of downtown parking lots.
You will easily find hotel and cabin rentals at your disposal. If you plan to arrive during peak season, book ahead. Accommodations range from the large round Park Vista Hotel and Conference Center overlooking the city, to small and mid-size hotels. Most hotels have indoor pools, with motels having outdoor pools.
The larger hotels have restaurants, room service, and bars. You wouldn’t even need to leave the grounds if you chose. There are a few resorts in the area made for such lifestyles.
Most of the rental cabins can sleep 6 or more people easily and have hot-tubs. You’ll find many cabins rented year-round. Ober Gatlinburg ski resort is accessible via Ski-Mountain Road near the end of town, or by riding the aerial tramway to the mountain.
Don’t Feed the Bears
A word of caution – Always lock your vehicle and cabin/hotel doors.
You are in the mountains, against the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Black bears make their way around town and will climb on and into cars. We have also known them to get into unlocked cabins and trashcans. They seldom wander into businesses, but it happens.
Never offer food to bears or leave food out for them. Never approach bears, as they are wild animals and are unpredictable. Yes, they are cute we all want to take a picture of them. Take photos from a safe distance. Bears can run 35 miles an hour – can you?
During a meeting of the Tennessee Ambulance Service Association at the Park Vista Hotel, several bears climbed on a new ambulance and made themselves at home. They had no malice. They were exploring. Their claws left many deep scratches in the paint down to the metal. Their weight left several noticeable dents. So please, be mindful.
There is a lot to see and do in Gatlinburg. You’ll need a government-issued photo-identification if you plan to drink alcohol. It doesn’t matter how gray-headed and wrinkled you are, it’s the law. They must verify your age.
If you love outdoor sports, you can hike in the town or on the many trails within the national park. Go ice-skating, tubing, or downhill skiing at Ober Gatlinburg. If you’re an angler at heart, you can fish in the streams in town. You must purchase the one-day trout permit for $11.50, besides meeting any other state fishing license requirements. Gatlinburg operates its own fish farm and stocks every Thursday for year-round fishing, thus no fishing within the city limits on Thursdays.
If getting into nature isn’t your thing, you can find lots of shopping and other activities in Gatlinburg. Laser tag, mirror mazes, rides, miniature golf, Ripley’s Aquarium, and lots more.
If you want to venture into nearby Pigeon Forge, you’ll find Dollywood theme park, Dollywood Splash Country, dinner-theaters, and too many others to mention.
You’ll find access to Gatlinburg in East Tennessee, coming from Interstate 40 at exit 407, and following the signs. You can also come through the national park, through Cherokee, North Carolina.
The closest major airport is McGhee Tyson Airport, just outside of Knoxville. The airport is serviced by most major airlines. From there, you can rent a car, or schedule an Uber. The easiest route will take you north of Knoxville by Interstate, exiting at Sevierville and coming through Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
You could travel in by helicopter, as there are many helicopter tour services operating out of Pigeon Forge. There aren’t many suitable places to land in Gatlinburg. You’re best choice is to make your last leg by car.
The atmosphere is slow going, congenial, and accommodating. Many people living and working in the area are locals, with deep Southern Appalachia heritage. They come from families known for hard work, independence, and hospitality.
The people may appear simple, but do not let appearances influence you. Many of the people working in and around the area are graduates from the University of Tennessee, Emory & Henry, and other well-known colleges. Many move away, only to return with a renewed appreciation of their values.
The people here are generous to a fault and willing to help friends and strangers alike.
You must prepare for the climate. When arriving in the winter, pack your heavy winter coat, a rain jacket, and a tee-shirt. Any other time, just bring a light jacket, rain jacket, and lightweight clothing.
If you don’t like the weather here, just wait a day or two. I have known it to snow in the morning and rain before noon. It can be windy, prepare yourself. It will also rain often during the day, but not enough to alter your plans.
The “Smokies” is one of the most diverse temperate rainforests in the world. The hardwood and evergreens house a vast population of birds, mammals, and hundreds of rare plant and insect species.
Let me just close by saying, enjoy yourself!
You can travel to many places without seeing as much in one place as here. A mixture of nature and the availability of modern conveniences and attractions bring the best of both worlds together for a relaxing getaway for two or a family vacation.
The food choices are abundant, the lodging varieties are just right, and the people blend in with mother nature perfectly here.
It may not be on your bucket list, because you need to come more often than once. It’s relaxation at its best.