It’s always a great time of year to visit Gatlinburg. The Christmas lights are always up and twinkling, the mountain is open, and it takes less than an hour to get there from Knoxville, so a Gatlinburg adventure can be done is less than 36 hours, which is all it needs. It’s a quaint place, it’s beautiful, and there’s a lot to do.
Fun Stuff to Do on the Strip
Gatlinburg may or may not be owned by Ripley’s, because there are so many Ripley’s attractions, such as the Haunted Adventure, the Marvelous Mirror Maze, and Moving Theater, the Super Funzone (not really that fun), and, of course the Aquarium. Aquarium tickets come out to about $25 a person, which is expensive but actually worth it, since the Knoxville Zoo is lacking an aquarium. If you want to visit more than two Ripley’s attractions, you can purchase a package for about $40 a person, which can be bought online in advance. All of this Ripley’s nonsense is also right down the street from the Guinness World Record Museum (9am-10pm everyday except major holidays; $9.95 admission – cheap!), so you can make an afternoon of it.
If you’re coming from Knoxville, you pass through Pigeon Forge on the way, which is a cheaper, slightly trashier version of Gatlinburg. I enjoy it because there are rides, bungee jumping, floorshows, wonderfully crappy souvenir shops, and pretty much the same restaurants as Gatlinburg, but at a cheaper price. Dollywood is also located in Pigeon Forge, but in the fall and winter months the price of admission just isn’t worth it.
Fun Stuff to Buy on the Strip
Places to shop are abundant in Gatlinburg, whether you want to buy antique leather sofas, gardenia oil facial scrub, chintzy earrings for your niece or nephew, a case of hot sauce, a fake samurai sword, a Confederate flag, or wooden bookends carved into the shape of Tennessee. Nothing is super-expensive, but you’ll be hard pressed to find anything super cheap, either. My favorite stop is the Pepper Palace, a store completely devoted to numerous types of hot sauce that you can sample on tiny crackers. Free stuff is always a plus. They have wine tasting year round at the Smoky Mountain Winery, if sampling international vintages is your thing. You can also have a Yuengling at the Hard Rock Café if draft beer is your thing. Also, Gatlinburg has one of those Olde Time Photo places where you get to dress up and get a picture taken with your friends. If that doesn’t sound like fun, it will after a few rounds at the Hard Rock.
Fun Stuff to Do Outdoors
Gatlinburg is also home to Tennessee’s only ski resort, Ober Gatlinburg. A season pass runs $250, but you can also purchase a 2-day pass for somewhere between $55 and $85, depending on the day of the week. Single day passes are $30-$45, unless you just want to go night skiing, which is only $15. They also offer ski and snowboard lessons for those of us who aren’t quite ready to shred the two black diamond courses they have. The snow is mostly manmade, because, even though the Smokies seem really big, they do need some extra help from the snow machine sometimes. The scenic chairlift and aerial tramway are only kind of fun, and I don’t recommend them.
Gatlinburg is situated in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, so those who are hiking-inclined can hit trailheads just outside town. Bring water and warm clothes, though, because it does snow up there.
One Word of Warning
Parking. It doesn’t exist, at least not for free. You will have to shell out somewhere between $5-$15 if you want to park in town, if you can even find an empty space. There is a trolley station two or three miles outside town where you can park and ride the bus into the downtown area, but then you are at the mercy of the trolley’s schedule.
Gatlinburg is a lot of fun, and is certainly day-trip worthy. You’ll end up spending money quickly, but there are attractions that you can’t find anywhere else, and the mountains are always beautiful.