Best Things to Do in Gatlinburg
Gatlinburg is the perfect family-friendly destination for a vacation. We visit Gatlinburg several times yearly, and it’s one of our favorite family destinations!
There is a wide variety of top things to do in Gatlinburg, and the town is highly walkable, meaning you can easily explore. There’s also a Gatlinburg trolley, though walking can sometimes be faster with summer traffic.
From outdoor activities to unique attractions, there’s something for everyone in downtown Gatlinburg. So if you’re planning a family vacation, here are the top things to do in Gatlinburg with kids.
Living near Gatlinburg, the Smoky Mountain area is one of our favorite places to go with our kids out of all the places we’ve traveled.
Top Thing To Do: Anakeesta
Where To Stay: Margaritaville Gatlinburg is our favorite resort in the area. While it’s not the cheapest, it’s a new resort with a nice pool and a great location.
Where To Eat: Ole Red (not because the food is amazing, but because of the live nightly entertainment)
How To Get There: The closest airport is Knoxville (TYS), about an hour away. A rental car is almost a requirement due to the distance between attractions. Click here for deals on Discover rental cars. Gatlinburg is also within a day’s drive of 2/3rds of the country’s population!
Top Things to Do In Gatlinburg: Downtown Attractions
Gatlinburg, Tennessee, has something for every family! Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, thrill seeker, or family looking for adventure, you’ll find tons of family fun here. From the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Dollywood Theme Park (a short scenic drive to nearby Pigeon Forge) and Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, there are many top things to do in Gatlinburg.
It’s an incredibly popular tourist destination in Tennessee thanks to its stunning views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, plus it’s also known for having some amazing live music venues. With its natural beauty, Gatlinburg will surely give you a vacation you’ll never forget.
You’ll find downtown attractions like Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort, mini golf, laser tag, escape rooms, and plenty of village shops for souvenirs and adult moonshine tastings (Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery) – all within a short walk.
Here are some of our favorite popular attractions and top things to do in Gatlinburg for the whole family.
Anakeesta, one of the top Gatlinburg attractions, is an outdoor adventure park in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. This family-friendly destination at 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.
Visitors can experience the beauty of the mountains while riding the chairlift, exploring the treetops on the Tree Canopy Walk, or taking a ride on the Mountain Coaster. Other amenities include children’s play areas and various shopping and dining options.
Check out our complete Anakeesta guide here.
Anakeesta is also home to the Memorial Forest Walk, which honors fallen heroes. This picturesque park is the perfect place to spend a day or two, exploring the outdoors and enjoying the beauty of the Smoky Mountains.
As there’s not much shade at the top of Anakeesta, early morning is the best time for this attraction during summer. You may even spot a black bear on the ski lift to the top! Anakeesta is one of the top things to do in Gatlinburg.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is one of the best things to see with kids in Gatlinburg, especially for indoor activities. This aquarium offers visitors a chance to explore the wonders of the underwater world.
With over 10,000 exotic sea creatures, the aquarium is home to some of the most incredible aquatic life worldwide. Guests can explore the various exhibits, take in the beauty of the colorful coral reef and shark lagoon, and even get up close and personal with some of the sea creatures in the touch pools.
The aquarium also offers educational programs and interactive activities like “Sleep with the Sharks,” an overnight stay there! Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is a fun and educational experience that is a great way to spend part of a day.
Family Friendly: Experience the magic of the show ‘Impossibilities: An Evening of Magic, Mindreading, and Mayhem’ at the Iris Theater in Gatlinburg. The Iris Theater is in the lobby of the historic Gatlinburg Space Needle.
Both kids and adults can watch master magicians Chris Collins and Erik Dobell perform their popular show there.
The Gatlinburg SkyLift Park Chairlift Ride is a great way to take in the views of Gatlinburg. It is a one-mile journey up 500 feet to the top of Crockett Mountain, offering stunning mountain views of the Great Smoky Mountains. There’s no better way to take in the breathtaking panoramic views of the mountains and city below as you ascend in the chairlift. The ride is perfect for couples, families, or anyone looking for a unique way to explore the area. At the top, you can take in the view from the observation deck, enjoy a snack at the Sky Lift Cafe or walk the Gatlinburg Sky Bridge!
The Gatlinburg SkyBridge is an impressive feat of engineering and an awe-inspiring experience. It is North America’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge, 680 feet across the Great Smoky Mountains valley.
The steel bridge is supported by two massive towers, each rising 140 feet above the valley floor. The bridge features glass panels, allowing visitors to view the valley below. The SkyLift/SkyBridge combo is one of the top things to do in Gatlinburg.
Ober Gatlinburg is one of Gatlinburg’s oldest and most famous attractions. Board the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway, one of the United States’ longest tramways (over 2 miles), in downtown Gatlinburg and ride up the mountain to an amusement park that offers a variety of activities for visitors of all ages to enjoy. Ober Gatlinburg has something for everyone, from skiing to other attractions like an alpine slide, snow tubing, ice skating, and even ice bumper cars.
Ober Gatlinburg also offers a variety of dining options, ranging from fast food to fine dining. It is also home to the Ski Mountain Coaster, a unique alpine coaster ride. Ober Gatlinburg is a great place to spend a day with family or friends. With its breathtaking views and exciting attractions, it’s no wonder it’s one of Gatlinburg’s top things to do.
The Gatlinburg Space Needle, a tall observation tower, is an iconic landmark that stands 400 feet above Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This observation tower offers great views of the Great Smoky Mountains and the city below.
We haven’t climbed this attraction yet, mainly because there are already so many great views from mountaintop attractions like Anakeesta and The SkyBridge.
Take the elevator to the top and enjoy the breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding area from the observation deck. The Space Needle features a restaurant, a gift shop, and a glass-enclosed observation deck. On a clear day, visitors can see miles away.
0 miles away.
Ole Red Gatlinburg is a unique entertainment venue in the heart of Gatlinburg. Ole Red offers live music, food, drinks, and fun for all ages. The first floor is home to the main stage, where some of the best live music acts in the area can be found. The second floor features a full-service bar and tables overlooking the stage.
Ole Red is one of our favorite restaurants and top things to do in Gatlinburg, and somewhere we usually eat every time we’re in Gatlinburg. While the food isn’t anything special, the live country music keeps the kids entertained!
There are a few different options for miniature golf in Gatlinburg, including several indoor courses downtown and Hillbilly Golf which features an incline railway to reach it!
If you’re a fan of horseback riding, Gatlinburg and the surrounding Great Smoky Mountain National Park offer ample opportunities. Whether you’re a seasoned equestrian or a first-timer, riding through the lush forests and along the peaceful trails of the Smokies is an experience you won’t soon forget.
Several local stables offer guided horseback riding tours, making it easy to saddle up and explore this natural beauty. It’s also a great way to reach some of the region’s best views.
See more on our horseback riding guide to Gatlinburg here.
Horseback Riding and Outdoor Adventures in Gatlinburg
While this article is about 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, and we’ve had annual passes for the last three years. As a beloved native of East Tennessee, Dolly Parton’s spirit permeates Gatlinburg and the surrounding areas.
The renowned singer, songwriter, and philanthropist’s influence is felt all around, especially at the nearby Dollywood Theme Park. From thrilling roller coasters and live music performances to her Chasing Rainbows Museum, which documents her life and career, the park is a testament to her legacy.
The Little Pigeon River winds its way through the heart of downtown Gatlinburg, providing a tranquil backdrop for a leisurely stroll or picnic. There are several pedestrian-friendly areas where you can relax and take in the beauty of the river. Free parking is available near the River Road, so you can take your time and enjoy the serenity.
The Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community is a unique attraction in the area. Here, you can browse handmade wares from local artisans, including pottery, jewelry, and quilts. The community is just a short drive from downtown and offers free parking. If you’re looking for a unique memento of your visit, this is a great spot to find it.
If you’re a foodie, Gatlinburg won’t disappoint. The city offers various dining options, from homestyle Southern cooking to pizza, Italian food, and gourmet experiences.
Gatlinburg is home to several local breweries offering craft beer tastings for those who enjoy a good brew.
For breakfast, we’ve put together a list of the best breakfast in Gatlinburg.
In Pigeon Forge, The Old Mill, a historic grist mill turned restaurant, is famous for its must-try apple pie.
Outdoor Attractions Within a Short, Scenic Drive of Downtown Gatlinburg
Here are some of the best outdoor adventures near Gatlinburg for a break from the crowds.
A good kid-friendly option, Laurel Falls, was originally paved for firefighting access. Laurel Falls is a 2.4-mile round trip. The parking area is small and is a good early morning activity during the summer.
If you’re looking for a guided hiking tour, check out this top-rated tour from Viator.
Cades Cove is a beautiful valley 13-mile road loop, a popular tourist destination for its beautiful views, abundant wildlife, and historical significance. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park surrounds the valley, full of lush forests, meadows, and streams. Visitors can explore the area on foot, bike, or horseback, taking in stunning views of the mountains, valleys, and open meadows.
Cades Cove is also home to some historic sites, including a 19th-century homestead, churches, and a gristmill. The area is also popular for wildlife watching, with large numbers of white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, black bears, and other animals.
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 6,643 feet above sea level.
A dense spruce-fir forest surrounds it and offers spectacular views of the mountains and valleys. On a clear day, visitors can see for miles in all directions.
The area is known for its unique biodiversity, including rare plant and animal species. Clingman’s Dome is a popular destination for hikers, nature lovers, and photographers.
Its summit can be reached by a steep, half-mile paved trail or a seven-mile road that winds through the forest. On clear days, you can even see up to 100 miles away!
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a one-way loop road offering stunning scenic views and a glimpse of historical buildings. This peaceful, undisturbed forest area provides the perfect opportunity to spot wildlife or capture the perfect photograph.
Gatlinburg is open year-round, and there are plenty of activities to enjoy during the winter months. Ober Gatlinburg via the aerial tramway is one of the top things to do in Gatlinburg, offering skiing, ice skating, and snow tubing, among other activities. Even if you’re not a skier, you can ride the tramway to the top of the mountain to enjoy the stunning winter landscape.
Where to Stay in Downtown Gatlinburg
There are some great hotels in downtown Gatlinburg and cabins in the surrounding mountains. Because of how walkable Gatlinburg is, we prefer to stay in downtown Gatlinburg. Our favorite is the Margaritaville Resort, which has a great central location, a newer hotel, and a nice pool area. And real parrots!
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.
Here’s a list of some of Gatlinburg’s best hotels and VRBOs. Gatlinburg is a compact, easy-to-walk town. Our recommendation is to stay somewhere around where this map is centered on, or slightly to the right towards Margaritaville, along 441.
Why Gatlinburg is a Perfect Family Destination
Located in the beautiful mountains of East Tennessee, Gatlinburg is within a day’s drive of most of the Eastern United States! Featuring amazing views and great hiking, the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country!
If you’re looking for a beautiful mountain getaway, Gatlinburg, TN, should be at the top of your list. Come check out this amazing city in Tennessee! While summer is the most popular time to visit, winter can be one of the best times. Winter features lighter crowns several times a year; you may be lucky enough to see snow and enjoy snow tubing, as Gatlinburg is one of the best places to see snow in Tennessee.
Read more on our Gatlinburg family vacation page.
Attractions to Skip in Downtown Gatlinburg
Earthquake The Ride downtown has some of the worst reviews of any attraction, so it doesn’t make our list of top things to do in Gatlinburg!
Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge
While Pigeon Forge is larger with more attractions, it is more spread out than Gatlinburg. Pigeon Forge doesn’t have the scenery or downtown area of Gatlinburg that allows you to walk the whole city.
We hope this guide to the top things to do in Gatlinburg helps you plan your next trip.
Outdoor Adventures: Fishing, Snow Tubing, and Fun for the Whole Family
The Great Smoky Mountains offer countless opportunities for outdoor fun for visitors of all ages:
- Fishing: Spend a relaxing day fishing in the park’s abundant streams, or plan a fishing trip in Gatlinburg.
- Snow Tubing: Check out snow tubing near Gatlinburg for a thrilling winter activity and create unforgettable memories with your family.
- Fun Things to Do: Discover the top fun things to do in Gatlinburg and the surrounding area, catering to kids and adults alike.
- Start your day with a delicious breakfast at one of the Best Breakfast Restaurants in Gatlinburg.
Also, don’t miss the exciting, fun things to do in Pigeon Forge with kids for even more family-friendly attractions.
The Perfect Smoky Mountain Vacation: Cozy Cabins and Charming Small Towns
One of the best ways to experience the Great Smoky Mountains is by staying in a cozy cabin in the woods. Check out Cabins in Tennessee: Find Your Perfect Vacation Spot for inspiration.
Winter Wonderland: Exploring the Smokies in the Snow
Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains during winter offers a unique perspective on the park’s beauty. While some areas and facilities may be closed, the snow-covered landscapes and fewer crowds make for a serene and magical experience.