Gatlinburg in May: A Magical Month in the Great Smoky Mountains
Gatlinburg, nestled in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is a picture-perfect destination for families, couples, and outdoor enthusiasts.
If you’re wondering when the best time to visit this enchanting town is, look no further than May! This article is your ultimate guide to everything Gatlinburg offers in May, from outdoor activities to special events and everything in between.
The Perks of Visiting in May: Perfect Weather and Fewer Crowds
The Delightful Climate
Visiting Gatlinburg in May means you’ll experience some of the most pleasant weather conditions of the year. With average temperatures from the mid-60s to mid-70s°F, you can comfortably explore the great outdoors without sweating! Plus, the warmer temperatures make it the perfect time to dip in a hot tub at one of the cozy cabins in the area.
Late Spring Flora and Fauna
In May, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park comes alive with blooming wildflowers, lush greenery, and the emergence of wildlife. It’s common to spot black bears, deer, and wild turkeys roaming the park during this time. Remember to give wildlife plenty of space and always practice safe viewing habits.
Fewer Crowds and Shorter Lines
While summer draws intense crowds to Gatlinburg, May is a sweet spot between the busy seasons. You’ll find fewer tourists, shorter lines, and more accessible parking lots. It’s also an excellent time to explore Pigeon Forge, a short drive away, with fun activities for kids and the whole family.
Top May Activities in Gatlinburg
- Hiking: With over 800 miles of trails, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers hikes for all skill levels. May is the ideal time to embark on popular hikes like Alum Cave Trail, Porters Creek Trail, or the Appalachian Trail, as the weather is comfortable and the trails are less crowded.
- Horseback Riding: Explore the park on horseback for a unique perspective of the area’s beauty. Numerous stables in the area offer guided trail rides for all experience levels.
- Fishing: May is a prime time for fishing in the Gatlinburg area. Cast your line in the many mountain streams and rivers, or book a guided fishing trip for an unforgettable experience.
- Scenic Drives: Take a leisurely drive along Newfound Gap Road, the Blue Ridge Parkway, or the Cades Cove Loop for breathtaking views of the mountains, valleys, and wildlife. Explore the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a 5.5-mile one-way loop that winds through lush forests, historic buildings, and serene waterfalls.
- Water Rides: As the weather heats up in May, cool off with some water rides at one of the local water parks like Soaky Mountain. Slide down exhilarating water slides, float along a lazy river, or splash around in a wave pool for some wet and wild fun. Or head over to Townsend for some family-friendly river tubing!
- Ziplining: Get your adrenaline pumping by soaring through the treetops on a zipline adventure. Experience breathtaking views of the Smoky Mountains as you glide from platform to platform with the wind in your hair.
- Mountain Biking: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers several trails for mountain biking enthusiasts, from beginner-friendly paths to challenging, technical routes. Rent a bike and hit the trails for an exhilarating ride through the stunning landscape.
Gatlinburg’s Artistic Side
- Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts Community: Explore the Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts Community, an 8-mile loop of galleries, studios, and shops showcasing local artisans and their handcrafted creations.
- Live Music: Catch some live tunes at one of Gatlinburg’s many music venues, like the Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales festival, where talented musicians perform a mix of bluegrass, country, and Appalachian folk music.
Nearby Pigeon Forge and Dollywood
Just a stone’s throw from Gatlinburg, you’ll find the bustling town of Pigeon Forge, home to the famous Dollywood theme park. Inspired by country music legend Dolly Parton, Dollywood offers thrilling rides, entertaining shows, and delicious food for the entire family.
Dollywood has attractions for all ages, from pulse-pounding roller coasters to kid-friendly rides and play areas. Don’t miss the famous Dollywood Express, a steam train that takes passengers on a scenic tour of the park and surrounding mountains. For bird-watching, the park also houses the country’s largest exhibit of non-releasable bald eagles.
Birdwatching and Wildlife Spotting
May is an excellent time to catch glimpses of various bird species in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Watch for warblers, woodpeckers, and many other species that call this region home. In addition to black bears, deer, and wild turkeys, you may encounter elusive creatures like bobcats, foxes, and salamanders in the park’s many streams and rivers.
Camping in the Smokies
With the pleasant weather and stunning natural beauty, May is an ideal month to pitch a tent or park your RV in one of the park’s numerous campgrounds. Whether you prefer a primitive backcountry site or a full-service campground with modern amenities, you’ll find the perfect spot to immerse yourself in the great outdoors.
Visiting Nearby North Carolina
While in the area, consider venturing over to the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You’ll find additional hiking trails, waterfalls, and quaint mountain towns to explore there. The nearby Blue Ridge Parkway also offers a scenic drive connecting the Smoky Mountains to Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, providing stunning vistas and picturesque overlooks.
Fall Foliage vs. Spring Blooms
Many visitors flock to Gatlinburg during the autumn months to witness the vibrant fall colors but May offer its natural spectacle: the blooming of wildflowers. As you hike through the park, you’ll encounter a kaleidoscope of colors, from delicate trilliums to vibrant rhododendrons, painting the landscape with their beauty. In addition, late spring offers a more moderate climate and fewer crowds than the busy fall foliage season.
Get Cultured at Local Museums
Gatlinburg boasts various museums catering to a wide range of interests. From the intriguing Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium to the educational Titanic Museum Attraction, there’s something for everyone. Art enthusiasts can also visit the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, which features rotating exhibits showcasing the work of local and regional artists.
Explore the Rich History of the Area
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is steeped in history, from its early settlers to the creation of the park itself. Visit preserved historical sites like Cades Cove and the Cataloochee Valley to learn about the families who once called these areas home. Take a walk through the past at the Mountain Farm Museum or the Mingus Mill, both showcasing the way of life in the 19th century.
Unwind at a Spa or Wellness Retreat
After a day of exploring Gatlinburg and the surrounding areas, treat yourself to a relaxing spa experience. Many spas in the area offer various services, from soothing massages and facials to rejuvenating body treatments. If you’re looking for a more immersive wellness retreat, consider booking a stay at a local resort specializing in health and wellness programs.
Savor the Flavors of Gatlinburg
Gatlinburg has a diverse culinary scene, with options ranging from down-home Southern comfort food to international cuisine. Try a juicy, mouthwatering steak at one of the local steakhouses or indulge in a hearty meal at a family-style restaurant. Don’t forget to sample some delicious Tennessee BBQ or visit a local distillery to taste the region’s finest spirits.
Food and Drink
- Farmers Market: Visit the Gatlinburg Farmers Market on Saturday mornings to shop for fresh, locally-sourced produce, baked goods, and artisan crafts.
- Breakfast: Start your day with a hearty meal at one of the best breakfast restaurants in town.
- Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales: Don’t miss this annual event, where musicians, storytellers, and craftsmen take to the streets of downtown Gatlinburg to share the area’s rich cultural heritage.
Make a Splash in the River
As the temperatures rise in May, there’s no better way to cool off than by taking a refreshing dip in one of the area’s pristine rivers. Float down the Little Pigeon River on a tube or raft, or take a guided whitewater rafting trip for an adrenaline-fueled adventure. If you prefer a more leisurely pace, rent a kayak or canoe and explore the river at your speed. See our guide on tubing in Townsend.
Catch a Show at a Local Theater
Gatlinburg and nearby Pigeon Forge are known for their vibrant theater scene, with various live shows and performances that cater to every taste. Enjoy a lively dinner show with singing, dancing, and comedy, or take in a breathtaking acrobatic performance.
The area also offers several magic shows, murder mystery dinners, and musical tributes to legendary artists.
Attractions and Events
- Gatlinburg Sky Lift: Soar to the top of the mountain on the Gatlinburg Sky Lift and enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and downtown Gatlinburg.
- Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort: While winter sports are out of season, the Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort offers year-round activities like the aerial tramway, mountain coaster, and wildlife encounters.
- Arts and Crafts Community: Visit North America’s largest independent artisans along an 8-mile loop road. Browse unique crafts, watch live demonstrations, and even take a workshop to learn a new skill.
- Gatlinburg Golf Course: Tee off at the Gatlinburg Golf Course for a challenging round amidst the stunning Smoky Mountain scenery.
- Cinco de Mayo: Join the festivities in downtown Gatlinburg as the town celebrates Cinco de Mayo with live music, food, and dancing.
- Memorial Day Weekend: Honor the brave men and women who have served the United States by attending a special Memorial Day ceremony in Gatlinburg.
Top Places to Stay in Gatlinburg: From Resorts to Cozy Cabins
After a day of exploring, nothing is better than retreating to a cozy cabin nestled in the mountains. Gatlinburg offers a variety of cabin rentals, ranging from rustic log cabins to luxurious mountain retreats. Many cabins feature fire pits, hot tubs, and stunning mountain views—perfect for a relaxing winter getaway.
Gatlinburg offers a variety of accommodations to suit every traveler’s taste and budget. Here are some of the top-rated places to stay in Gatlinburg, including luxurious resorts and charming vacation rentals:
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.
This tropical-inspired retreat offers well-appointed rooms and suites, an indoor and outdoor pool, a fitness center, and an on-site spa.
The resort’s convenient location across the street from Anakeesta makes it a perfect base for exploring the best of Gatlinburg.
Margaritaville Gatlinburg: A Tropical Escape in the Heart of the Smokies
After an action-packed day at Anakeesta, unwind and relax at Margaritaville Gatlinburg, a tropical oasis just a short walk from the mountaintop theme park. Inspired by the laid-back lifestyle of singer Jimmy Buffett, Margaritaville Gatlinburg offers a unique dining and entertainment experience that transports you to a tropical paradise.
Dining at Margaritaville Gatlinburg
The Margaritaville Restaurant offers a delectable menu featuring a variety of island-inspired dishes, such as the signature Cheeseburger in Paradise, Volcano Nachos, and Coconut Shrimp. Kids will love the diverse options on the Little Parakeet’s menu, ensuring that even the pickiest eaters find something they enjoy.
Try one of Margaritaville’s famous frozen concoctions or specialty cocktails, like the classic Margarita or the refreshing Rum Runner. Non-alcoholic options are also available, making Margaritaville a great destination for the entire family.
Map of the best deals on top hotels and VRBOs in Gatlinburg:
Q: When is peak season in Gatlinburg? A: The busiest times in Gatlinburg are during the summer months, typically from June through August, and during the fall foliage season, which occurs from late September to early November.
Q: What are the winter months like in Gatlinburg? A: Winter in Gatlinburg can be magical, with snowfall creating a winter wonderland at higher elevations. However, some roads and attractions may be closed due to weather conditions. Learn more about snow in Tennessee.
Q: What is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? A: The highest point is Clingmans Dome, standing at 6,643 feet. The observation tower offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Q: What is the best way to get around Gatlinburg? A: Gatlinburg is a very walkable town, but the Gatlinburg Trolley system is affordable and convenient if you prefer to leave your car behind.
Q: Are there any special events in Gatlinburg during May? A: Besides the Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales and Cinco de Mayo celebrations mentioned earlier, Gatlinburg hosts various events throughout May. These may include arts and crafts festivals, classic car shows, and outdoor concerts.
Q: When is the best time to view the fall colors in Gatlinburg? A: The fall foliage typically peaks from late September to early November, depending on the elevation and weather conditions. The higher elevations will see the colors change first, followed by the lower elevations in late October and early November.
Q: How far is Gatlinburg from the Appalachian Trail? A: The Appalachian Trail runs through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, just a short drive from Gatlinburg. The closest access point to the trail is Newfound Gap, approximately 16 miles from downtown Gatlinburg.
In a nutshell, Gatlinburg in May is a fantastic time to visit. With ideal weather, fewer crowds, and many outdoor activities and special events, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
Whether exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, taking in the sights and sounds of downtown Gatlinburg, or simply relaxing in a cozy cabin, a May vacation to Gatlinburg promises an unforgettable experience.