Downtown Gatlinburg

A Guide To A Gatlinburg Family Vacation

Even out of the many countries we’ve visited, a Gatlinburg family vacation is one of our top choices for families. Gatlinburg is a scenic town with plenty to do and fantastic scenery nearby. Living just outside Gatlinburg, we’re here all the time!


Sitting at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this charming but busy town offers a blend of shopping, outdoor adventure, and small-town charm.

Downtown Gatlinburg Road
Downtown Gatlinburg

For kids, there’s taking a chairlift to Anakeesta, riding a mountain coaster, playing mini-golf adventures, and the many stores selling sweet treats.

Adults will enjoy the mountain vistas, charming shops, exploring the trails and historic sights in the national park, and maybe even moonshine tasting.

Location and Getting to Gatlinburg

View Of Gatlinburg
View Of Gatlinburg’s Surrounding Hills

Gatlinburg is conveniently situated on the doorstep of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in eastern Tennessee. Its location makes it easily accessible from many major cities in the southeastern and midwestern United States.

It’s within a day’s drive of half the country’s population.

Getting Here:

  • By Car: Gatlinburg is a fantastic road trip destination, with major interstates like I-40 and I-75 leading toward the area. 
  • By Air: The closest major airport is McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) near Knoxville, Tennessee, about an hour’s drive from Gatlinburg. You can easily rent a car, which is almost a requirement for the area due to traveling around the national park.
  • Local Transportation: Once you’re in town, the Gatlinburg Trolley system is a convenient way to get around. But the town is small enough just to walk around, and traffic makes driving slow in the summer.

Top Places to Stay in Gatlinburg

We recommend staying in a cabin (which will be a bit of a drive from town) or staying downtown, within walking distance of all the attractions. Here’s our top pick for staying downtown.

For the rest, see our pages on the top places to stay in downtown Gatlinburg.

Top Hotel
Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg Review
Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg

Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg


Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg is a 4-star resort located on the main parkway (Hwy 441) in Gatlinburg. We have stayed at this resort several times, and while it’s not the cheapest resort in Gatlinburg, it’s by far our favorite.

The resort’s convenient location across the street from Anakeesta makes it a perfect base for exploring the best of Gatlinburg.

Read our complete review here.

Must Do Activities

See more on our guide to the top things to do in Gatlinburg. But here’s our favorite thing to do, Anakeesta.

NOTE: Our guides focus on unique local attractions. We want to explore things that can’t be found at home, and we only include places that we’ve been to.

If you search for “best things to do in (random city),” you’ll find many of the same things: wax statue museums and believe-it-or-not attractions. But if we’re flying around the world to visit somewhere, we want to see something new first.

#1 Anakeesta

This ski lift destination on the top of a mountain offers a variety of activities. It is one of the best tourist attractions for the entire family to spend the day in Downtown Gatlinburg, and usually our first stop. Check out our complete Anakeesta guide here.

As there’s not much shade at the top of Anakeesta, early morning is the best time for this attraction during summer. We’ve even seen a black bear on the ski lift to the top!


There are tons of great hiking options nearby.

Laurel Falls
Laurel Falls

A good kid-friendly option, Laurel Falls, was paved initially for firefighting access. Though the pavement is broken in many places now.

Laurel Falls is a 2.4-mile round trip. It’s a good early-morning summer activity as there is not much parking there, and the small parking lot is usually completely full by mid-morning.

Feeling like a strenuous hike? Consider a hike up to Mount LeConte, where you can stay at the highest lodge on the East Coast. Note that the lodge is usually full, and is a rustic stay (no electricity).

Mount Leconte
LeConte Lodge at Mount LeConte

Take A Scenic Drive

There’s plenty of places for a scenic drive around Gatlinburg, here’s what we’d do if we were visiting for the first time.

Cades Cove

Dsc03427 Base Result
Cades Cove in February

Cades Cove is a beautiful valley with a 13-mile road loop, a popular tourist destination for its beautiful views, abundant wildlife, and historical significance.

Cades Cove can get super busy on the weekends and holidays, so we’d recommend picking a slow day to visit. We took the picture above in February.

Even better, bring a bike and ride around in the summer on Wednesdays when it’s closed to car traffic.

Drive to Clingmans Dome

Clingman’s Dome is the highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the highest point in Tennessee.

Located near North Carolina, Clingman’s Dome rises to an elevation of 6,600 feet above sea level. The road to get here is closed in the winter.

Gatlinburg Things To Do Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome

A steep, short paved trail can reach its summit. On clear days, you can even see up to 100 miles away! Read more on our scenic drives page.

Other Nearby Suggestions

If you have time, don’t miss these other attractions within a short drive of Gatlinburg.


You can’t miss a Dollywood trip while in the area! Dollywood in nearby Pigeon Forge is one of our favorite family theme parks. We’ve had annual passes for years.

Dollywood Wildwood Grove

Tubing in Townsend

Tubing in Townsend is a great option on a hot day with the family during the summer months. See our review on tubing and the top things to do in Townsend.

Townsend Tubing

Where to Eat

You won’t go hungry in Gatlinburg, there’s plenty of options along the parkway within walking distance.

Ole Red

Ole Red Gatlinburg is where our kids ask to go every time. We’ve been here 10 times already and it’s still their favorite.

The food isn’t anything special, but the live country stage has had someone performing every time we’ve been here. Almost every table has a view of the stage, too.

See our list of breakfast restaurants too.


Gatlinburg is one of the best places for a family vacation. We travel to several new countries each year, but we still visit Gatlinburg at least once per month throughout the year.

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