Planning a trip to East Tennessee? Carve out a few days in your itinerary to discover all the best things to do in Gatlinburg, TN. Known for its natural beauty and outdoor adventures, the Gateway to the Smoky Mountains is a must-see U.S. travel destination.
Visiting the top tourist attractions in Gatlinburg, you can soar to new heights at the Gatlinburg Space Needle. Find adrenaline-pumping family fun at Anakeesta or Ober Gatlinburg. Or sip authentic Tennessee moonshine at the famed Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery. There are also plenty of golf courses, gem mining, and hiking trails. With so many options, Gatlinburg is a perfect city for the entire family.
Not sure what to do on your vacation? Start planning your ultimate trip with this complete guide to the best places to visit in Gatlinburg, TN!
Best places to visit in Gatlinburg, TN
Gatlinburg Space Needle
Looking for the best view in Gatlinburg? The Gatlinburg Space Needle has a 360-degree view of the entire city and the Smoky Mountains. Featuring a glass elevator to take you all the way to the top, the tower is one of the best places to go in Gatlinburg.
The observation deck at the top gives you space to walk around and take in the scenery. With its proximity to the mountains, the Gatlinburg Space Needle delivers beautiful panoramic views. Its nature is especially stunning in the fall and summer months.
Free viewfinders are also on the deck of the Gatlinburg Space Needle, giving you an easy way to enjoy amazing views of the scenery. Before heading back down, check out the Higher Learning exhibits and the arcade games.
PRO TIP: Save 30% on admission to 3 to 5 top Gatlinburg attractions, including the Space Needle, with the Smoky Mountains Sightseeing Pass!
Gatlinburg SkyLift Park
Searching for an adrenaline rush? Gatlinburg SkyLift Park has many opportunities to get your heart thumping. Located near downtown, the Skylift takes you on a journey up 500 vertical feet to the top of Crockett Mountain. The SkyLift Park has been around since the 1950s and has long been one of the coolest places to see in Gatlinburg.
Featuring a SkyBridge and a SkyDeck, there are several opportunities to see incredible views of Gatlinburg. The SkyBridge is particularly impressive. It’s America’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge. At its vertiginous midpoint, it hangs an astounding 150 feet above the ground.
Scared of heights? The SkyTrail is a perfect alternative. Strap on some comfortable shoes and walk just one-third of a mile to get a view of the mountains. SkyLift Park is also a great place to chill and grab a slice of pizza and buy souvenirs!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Straddling Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a must-see for nature lovers. The park is the perfect place for camping, spotting wildflowers, and wildlife watching. The Smokies are one of America’s premier outdoor destinations.
Looking for a superb hiking destination? Alum Cave is 2.3 miles from the trailhead. Best for adventure seekers, the trail is steep and travels along the ridge. If you aren’t tired after reaching the cave, continue along another 5 miles to Mount LeConte. The 2.6-mile paved trail to Laurel Falls is another park favorite.
Make sure you bring your good hiking boots to explore one of the most visited national parks in North America. Most hiking routes are not paved in this 187,000-acre forest.
PRO TIP: Want some company on your Smoky Mountains hike? Join in on the Hidden Cascade Hiking Tour. The 4-hour excursion is led by a professional naturalist who will shed light on all of the area’s unique wildlife and flora.
Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster
Trying to find a place to bring the kids? The Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster has double rider cars that are perfect for parents and children. It’s located just a short drive from downtown Gatlinburg. Its cars travel at speeds up to 35 mph.
With 360-degree views of the entire city and surrounding scenery, the Mountain Coaster is a great way to start your vacation. The alpine coaster has seven minutes of twists and turns to keep the whole family on their toes.
Keep the fun going with a hike on one of the nearby trails. The Mountain Coaster is also close to picnic spots, tubing adventures, and other outdoor activities.
Traveling to Gatlinburg in the spring or summer? Anakeesta is a beautiful spot to see the flowers blooming. The mountaintop theme park’s botanical gardens encompass over 3,000 flowers and plants. It’s an incredible place to experience the nature of East Tennessee.
With its cable car and ziplining, you can explore new heights over Gatlinburg. Ride the cable car from the Chondola base station to the summit of Anakeesta Mountain. At the top, you can go on a fun tree-top ziplining adventure or just enjoy the incredible views. To add a little height to your views, scale up the 60-foot-tall AnaVista Tower for spectacular 360-degree vistas of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Hungry after all the action? Head to the Cliff Top or Pearl’s Pie in the Sky for food and drinks. You can even sip a cocktail while breathing in the fresh mountain air.
PRO TIP: Save 30% on tickets to 3 to 5 attractions, including Anakeesta, with the Smoky Mountains Sightseeing Pass!
Full of activities and venues for family fun, Ober Gatlinburg is one of the town’s best family-friendly retreats. Whether you’re searching for a summer or winter vacation spot, Ober Gatlinburg has something for every season.
Ride the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway from downtown Gatlinburg to the top of the mountain. In the winter, you and your family can go to the ice skating rink, go snowboarding or snow tubing, or try the ice bumper cars. Ice skating can even be found year-round in the all-season rink section.
Put on your snow clothes and get ready to experience Ober Gatlinburg’s Ski Mountain Coaster. The Alpine Slide is also open year-round. It’s one of the best excursions to experience thrills and fun in Gatlinburg.
Hollywood Star Cars Museum
Want to put your car obsession to the test? See how many of the famous cars you recognize at Hollywood Star Cars Museum. Including original lights and sounds, all the cars are part of Hollywood history starting from the 1950s.
Located right off The Parkway in the heart of downtown, the museum’s collection is constantly evolving. George Barris created most of the cars, including the 1966 Batmobile.
The collection also includes cars owned by Elvis, Paul McCartney, and Michael Jackson. Since you’re mere minutes from the downtown strip, you can walk to grab a bite to eat or go shopping after your visit.
Ole Smoky Moonshine
Searching for the perfect place to try local moonshine? Ole Smoky Moonshine is America’s most visited moonshine distillery. Take a tour to see the fermenting and creation process from start to finish or just spend the day sampling.
Ole Smoky Moonshine has over 20 selections of flavored moonshine. Varieties include Apple Pie, Butter Pecan, and Sour Watermelon. The guided tour includes a 13 flavor sampling of authentic moonshine and whiskey.
Also known at The Holler, Ole Smoky Moonshine has earned several international awards. The distillery is Tennessee’s top moonshine maker. Grab your ID for the tour and get sampling!
PRO TIP: Want to learn more about Tennessee’s moonshine culture? Join in on a Moonshine and Wine Tasting Tour. Departing from Pigeon Forge, the tour visits three distilleries and three wineries. The tour includes both wine & moonshine tastings.
Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook
Trying to find the perfect place to get a family or couple photo? Right on the Gatlinburg Bypass, you’ll find the Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook. It’s wedged between the Gatlinburg Spur and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
From the Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook, you’ll marvel at beautiful views over the town. It’s also a great place to see the Smoky Mountains. You can drive up to the top; no hiking or walking is required.
Leave your vehicle in one of the lots and escape the bustle of downtown for a few hours. The Scenic Overlook is the perfect place to get some fresh air.
Searching for a walking or jogging trail in the Smoky Mountains? Gatlinburg Trail has the most foot traffic in the area. Locals and travelers love exercising in the lush forest.
The Gatlinburg Trail is 1.9 miles long and offers incredible scenic views of Little Pigeon River. Grab your walking or running shoes and head to Gatlinburg Trail to take in some breathtaking views and burn off those vacation calories.
Old homesites can also be spotted along the nature trail, including their original chimneys. If you’re looking to bike or bring a pet, go to the Oconaluftee River Trail. It runs next to the Gatlinburg Trail.
Ripley’s Haunted Adventure
Looking for some Halloween fun during your vacation? Ripley’s Haunted Adventure is a 10,000 square feet haunted house. They’ve been repeatedly voted the number one house in Gatlinburg. It’s open 365 days a year.
One of the many Ripley attractions in the city, Haunted Adventure offers family fun for kids over 6 years old. There’s someone waiting to scare you behind every corner, keeping your heart racing the whole time.
Hold on tight to your family or friends so you don’t get left alone! Get a one-day ticket or Ripley’s pass and get ready for a ghost to welcome you into the haunted house.
PRO TIP: Save 30% on admission to 3 to 5 of Ripley’s fun-filled attractions with the Smoky Mountains Sightseeing Pass!
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Including a visit to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is a great way to see some exotic sea creatures inland. Voted one of the Best Aquariums in North America, it has thousands of marine life animals. There are also ample opportunities to swim with certain species.
The aquarium is one of the top points of interest in Gatlinburg for the entire family. You’ll enjoy penguin counter exhibits, education programs, and behind-the-scenes tours. If you’re not afraid of the animals, make sure to bring some pants you don’t mind getting wet so you can splash with the stingrays.
Open 365 days a year, the aquarium also has regular events. Spend the night scavenger hunting and sleeping next to sharks. In the morning, you can even have breakfast with mermaids.
PRO TIP: Want to save 30% on your aquarium ticket? Pick up the Smoky Mountains Sightseeing Pass to save admission on 3 to 5 top Gatlinburg points of interest.
Trying to find a way to explore the city without driving? Gatlinburg Trolley takes you to over 100 locations around Gatlinburg. The basic ticket gives you unlimited rides throughout the day.
The trolley signs are easy to spot throughout the city and the routes are organized by different colors. Along the way, you can soak in gorgeous views of the mountains, rivers, and downtown area. The Gatlinburg Trolley gives you an easy way to get everywhere in the city without worrying about driving and parking.
Gatlinburg Pinball Museum
Wanting to play some pinball in the heart of the Smokies? Gatlinburg Pinball Museum has the largest collection of pinball machines in the area. Some of the retro games date as far back as the 1960s. Several machines are rare limited editions.
Part museum, part arcade, the Pinball Museum is a great way to learn about arcade history and have some fun. Located right off The Parkway, the museum features games like Attack from Mars, The Walking Dead, and The Addam’s Family Gold Edition.
Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort
Looking to stay up in the mountains instead of the city? Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort is just a few minutes away from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Featuring large rooms, stunning views, and Southern comfort food, it’s one of the area’s best hotels.
Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort also has a heated indoor water park, making this hotel a great getaway for kids. For the adults, there’s an amazing fitness center and spa. Relax with a facial, pedicure, body wrap, or massage treatment.
Bring your competitive spirit and take the family for a game of mini-golf. The resort’s activities change with the seasons. Most popular are summer tubing, water rafting, and horseback riding.
Roaring Fork Motor Trail
Roaring Fork Motor Trail is one of the largest mountain streams in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For those with car sickness, drive the winding 5.5-mile road slowly to take in the sights of all the streams and trees.
Looking to learn some history? Stop at the Ogle Farmstead before starting the scenic drive. The nature trail shows you an authentic mountain farmstead. It also has one of the first wooden flume plumbing systems.
Rainbow Falls is a 5.4-mile hike roundtrip. Bring your sturdy shoes and plenty of water as the trail does have some rocky patches. The historic nature trail also has one of the state’s most beautiful falls. The journey ends with Grotto Falls followed by Place of a Thousand Drops.
PRO TIP: Don’t have your own wheels? Explore the nature trail in style on Roaring Fork Jeep Tour! The 2.5-hour excursion slips past the trail’s top sightseeing spots, ending with an exciting 4×4 adventure.
Ready to explore another city? Pigeon Forge is just 15 minutes from Gatlinburg on The Parkway. Traveling to the mountain town of Pigeon Forge gives you even more options for dining, shopping, and hiking. Just up the road from the park trailheads, Pigeon Forge is an ideal spot for outdoor enthusiasts.
Pigeon Forge is also home to Dollywood. The Dolly Parton theme park is chock-loaded with festival rides and a water park. Bring your appetite and go to Dolly Parton’s Stampede. Featuring a 4-course meal, horse stunt shows, and live music, Dolly Parton’s country spirit is evident in the entire venue.
Want to get some awesome souvenirs to bring home? Pigeon Forge Pottery is famous throughout the Smoky Mountains and Tennessee. Its colors and designs are inspired by the mountains. The amazing potters follow a clay recipe that’s 70 years old.
Sugarlands Distilling Company
Can’t get enough of Tennessee’s moonshine culture? Pop in for a visit at the Sugarlands Distilling Company. Located at the heart of the Parkway, the popular distiller offers fun & informative stillhouse tours and moonshine tastings in its rustic, industrial-chic barnhouse.
After trying its award-winning Sugarlands Shine and Appalachian Sippin’ Creams, slide out to the Back Porch for some craft cocktails and live music.
Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, Clingmans Dome is the state’s highest point and the third-tallest peak east of the Mississippi River. About 50 minutes north of the city, the peak is one of the top things to see in Gatlinburg and a must-visit for any East Tennessee itinerary.
Take the 7-mile Clingmans Dome Road, winding past scenic outlooks offering spectacular views over the beautiful mountain range. When you reach the end of the line, you’ll find a 0.5-mile hiking trail. Although it’s steep, the trail is well worth the strain once you reach the summit.
For an extra special view, climb to the top of the observation tower for dramatic 360-degree views over the Smokies. On a clear day, the vistas can stretch over 100 miles!
To get to Clingmans Dome, you’ll need to visit between April and November. The road leading to the summit is closed between early December and late March.
Whenever you decide to visit, be sure to bundle up in layers, even in summer. The temperatures at the summit can be 10ºF to 20ºF cooler than the forest floor below.
Although it sits at an elevation of over 5,000 feet, the Newfound Gap is the lowest driveable mountain pass through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The road trip through Newfound Gap presents a sneak peek of what you’d find along the legendary Appalachian Trail, meandering through the Appalachian Mountains between Maine and Georgia.
From Gatlinburg, you’ll ascend about 3,000 feet, whisking you away from a hardwood forest to an evergreen forest resembling the boreal forests further north. Temperatures at Newfound Gap are often 10ºF cooler than the low lands, with snow falling often in the cooler months.
On your visit to the Newfound Gap, you can even hike part of the Appalachian Trail. Stretch out your journey to a multi-day trek if you really want to up the adventure quotient.
Smoky Mountain Outdoors
Looking to add an adrenaline rush to your Gatlinburg trip? Arrange a rafting excursion with Smoky Mountain Outdoors. Operating since 1993, this family-run outfitter in Hartford, TN, offers whitewater rafting trips through the Pigeon River Gorge. For adventurous travelers, it’s one of the must-do outdoor activities in Gatlinburg.
Choose between the 6.5-mile Upper River Trip, featuring Class III to IV whitewater rapids. Or, for a more relaxing excursion, opt for the 5-mile scenic Lower River Trip, floating through more leisurely Class I to II rapids.
Whichever trip you choose, Smoky Mountain Outdoors’ award-winning professional guides will ensure a safe and memorable ride on the Pigeon River.
Best places to stay in Gatlinburg for sightseeing
For travelers, the best places to stay in Gatlinburg lie along The Parkway, River Road, and Historic Nature Trail. These areas are home to many of the town’s best hotels and close to its main sightseeing opportunities.
For a budget-friendly stay, nothing beats this popular motel. Its charming rustic rooms are the perfect place to end your day. Enjoy a dip in the seasonal outdoor pool to cool down in summer.
Located steps from The Parkway, this inn is one of the town’s top mid-range picks. The rooms are spacious & modern and feature balconies. Kids will love floating on a tube in the outdoor pool.
Sitting on The Parkway, this top-notch resort is the perfect escape for couples. You’ll luxuriate in extras like spa treatments and a hot tub. The property also offers two indoor pools and a seasonal outdoor pool.