Gatlinburg, nestled at the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, offers visitors a range of activities that encapsulate both natural wonder and human ingenuity. 

Whether you’re looking to hike amidst the tranquil beauty of the Smokies or enjoy some good old-fashioned family fun, Gatlinburg has something for everyone. Below are some must-try experiences that offer an authentic flavor of this charming mountain town.

Explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Let’s start with the crown jewel of Gatlinburg — the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Covering over 522,000 acres, this iconic destination offers countless hiking trails, picturesque vistas, and opportunities for wildlife spotting. 

The park is especially renowned for its bio-diversity, housing more than 1,600 species of flowering plants, dozens of mammals, and a plethora of birds. Popular trails include Alum Cave Trail, leading to the iconic Mount LeConte, and Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the Smokies, offering panoramic views of the mist-covered mountains.

For a truly immersive experience, consider camping within the park boundaries. Listening to the sounds of nature while staring up at a clear, star-studded sky is an experience you won’t soon forget.

A Thrilling Experience at the Moonshine Mountain Coaster

If you’re looking for an adrenaline-pumping activity, the Moonshine Mountain Coaster is a must-try. Unlike traditional roller coasters, this one puts you in the driver’s seat. The coaster descends on a winding track through the hillside, allowing you to control your speed with handbrakes as you navigate the turns and dips. 

The first time down, you might be tempted to use those brakes frequently, but as you gain confidence, you’ll find yourself letting go more and more, fully experiencing the thrill of the ride. 

At night, the track is illuminated, offering a different yet equally exciting experience. It’s the perfect blend of natural beauty and human-made thrill, capturing the essence of Gatlinburg itself.

Take a Ride on the lift at the Gatlinburg SkyPark

The Gatlinburg SkyPark offers a gentler way to get a bird’s-eye view of the Smoky Mountains and the surrounding town. The ride starts in the heart of downtown Gatlinburg and lifts you up to the top of Crockett Mountain. 

The ascent is just as enjoyable as reaching the summit. As you rise above the treetops, the view expands into a breathtaking panorama of the town against the backdrop of the sprawling mountain range. 

At the top, you can enjoy some time at the SkyDeck, where you can lounge on comfy chairs, sip on beverages, and take in unparalleled views. If you’re with your loved one, it’s a perfect setting to share a serene moment.

Sample Local Fare and Enjoy Live Music at Ole Red

For an authentic taste of Southern hospitality, head to Ole Red, a restaurant and entertainment venue that captures the spirit of the region. Named after Blake Shelton’s breakout song, Ole Red offers live music performances, a down-home atmosphere, and a menu featuring Southern classics. 

Think fried chicken, BBQ ribs, and mouthwatering cornbread. The laid-back ambiance makes it a great spot to kick back and relax after a day of sightseeing or hiking. Whether you’re a fan of country music or just in the mood for some good food and live entertainment, Ole Red delivers.

Discover the Artistic Community at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts

The Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts gives visitors a chance to connect with Gatlinburg’s rich artistic heritage. Founded in 1912, this educational center offers workshops in everything from woodworking and ceramics to painting and textiles. 

If you’re not interested in a full-length course, consider taking a short class to dip your toes into the artistic world. The campus also features galleries where you can view or purchase the work of local artisans. 

The picturesque setting, amid serene gardens and traditional Appalachian architecture, adds another layer of allure. It’s a unique and enriching way to immerse yourself in the local culture.

Visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies for an Underwater Adventure

When you think of Gatlinburg, an aquarium might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is truly a standout experience. This award-winning facility offers a variety of exhibits that showcase aquatic life from around the world. 

One of the highlights is the Ocean Voyager tunnel, where you can walk through a glass tunnel and have 360-degree views of a giant tank filled with thousands of tropical fish, rays, and even sharks. There’s also a Penguin Playhouse, where you can get up close and personal with adorable African penguins. 

For those looking to be more hands-on, there are touch pools where you can feel the texture of a horseshoe crab or a stingray. Ripley’s Aquarium is a fantastic place for families, offering both educational and entertaining experiences. It’s a nice change of pace if you’ve spent the last few days hiking or taking in mountain views.

Enjoy the Tranquil Beauty of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

If you’re in the mood for a more laid-back nature experience, consider driving the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This 5.5-mile loop road offers stunning views of the mountain landscape, waterfalls, and historic buildings. 

There are numerous pullouts along the way, so you can safely park your car and take short walks to explore the sights. The lush greenery, the sound of water rushing over rocks, and the occasional wildlife sighting make this one of the most relaxing ways to appreciate the natural beauty of the Smokies. 

One of the most famous stops along this trail is the place known as the “Place of a Thousand Drips,” a fascinating area where water trickles down rocks, creating a multitude of tiny waterfalls. It’s a photographer’s dream and a peaceful spot just to stand and listen to the gentle sounds of nature.


Gatlinburg is a place that allows you to reconnect with nature while offering a variety of other activities to keep the whole family entertained. Whether you’re an adventure junkie, a foodie, or someone just looking for a peaceful escape, this charming Tennessee town has something for you. Enjoy your stay!

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