If you’re looking for a winter getaway that’s a little less busy than the more popular tourist destinations, Gatlinburg is the perfect place to go. It’s a fun place that our whole family enjoys any time of year, but in January it can really be a winter wonderland.
While many businesses have scaled back their hours or closed down completely due to the colder weather, there are still plenty of things to do in town. In this post, we’ll give you a rundown of the best things to do in Gatlinburg in January, as well as some tips for making the most of your trip.
Overview of Gatlinburg in the Winter
One of the best things about visiting Gatlinburg in January is that you’ll have the chance to see snowfall. The Smoky Mountains are known for their breathtaking views, and they’re even more beautiful when they’re blanketed in snow.
Of course, with the colder weather comes shorter days, so you’ll want to make sure to plan your activities accordingly. Many attractions and restaurants in Gatlinburg close early during the winter months, so it’s important to check operating hours before you go.
Weather for Gatlinburg in January
The average temperature in the daytime for Gatlinburg is around 47 in January (that’s the average high temp), but it’s not uncommon to see snow at this time of year because the average low temperature is around 29 degrees F.
So while there might not be snow, there is a good chance of seeing some at this elevation in January, especially as the night time temperatures dip down lower.
The average snowfall for January in Gatlinburg is around 4 inches of snow, but it also has a lot of rainy days in January, so be prepared for wet weather.
Attractions that Close in January in the Smokies
If you have your heart set on one of these attractions, don’t plan your vacation at this time of year because they will be closed.
Dollywood – Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge closes just after New Year’s weekend and does not reopen until mid-March. This is one of the area’s major attractions and it draws huge crowds, and its closure is one of the reason the Smokies are less crowded this time of year.
Clingman’s Dome – This popular hike and observation tower closes to road traffic from December 1 until March 31. When we went in October there was a 20 degree temperature drop from Gatlinburg to this elevation, and there was ice even then! I can’t imagine how cold it would be in January!
What to do in Gatlinburg in January
Anakeesta is one of the newer attractions in Gatlinburg, and this fun family park is right in the heart of Gatlinburg. You pay for admission in town, then ride either a Chondola or Ridge Rambler up to Firefly Village where you can shop, eat and take in the amazing Smoky Mountain views.
Take a walk on the Treetop Skywalk or take in the beautiful scenery from AnaVista Tower, the tallest point in Gatlinburg. You can see peaks as far away as Kentucky! Work your way through TreeVista or take a stroll through Vista Gardens. There’s a lot to do here!
Location: 576 Parkway, Gatlinburg
Visit the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Ripley’s Aquarium is one of the most popular attractions in Gatlinburg, and for good reason. This world-class aquarium is home to over 10,000 animals and 350 individual species, including sharks, rays, penguins, eels and more. They even have several interactive exhibits and a large indoor play structure our kids enjoy when it’s cold out.
The aquarium offers several different ways to experience the underwater world, from behind-the-scenes tours to hands-on animal encounters. You can even feed the stingrays!
Location: 88 River Rd, Gatlinburg
Explore Gatlinburg’s Craftsman’s Community
Gatlinburg is home to a large community of artisans and craftspeople, many of whom have their own studios and galleries that are open to the public. This is the perfect place to find a unique souvenir or gift for someone special.
The Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community is an eight-mile loop that passes by amazing galleries, studios and shops. You can find everything from paintings and pottery to jewelry and woodwork. We especially loved the glass blower and handmade soaps!
Many of the galleries offer free demonstrations so you can see the artists at work. Please check winter hours for these craftsmen, as some have limited hours in the winter.
Location: Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community, Gatlinburg
Enjoy Winter Sports at Ober Gatlinburg
Take the tram up to Ober Gatlinburg for winter sports. The tram is a wonderful experience all on its own! This is the only place to ski in the area, and there are hills for all skill levels. January is a wonderful time for skiing in the Smokies.
Ober Gatlinburg is an amusement park and ski resort all in one. In the winter, you can enjoy skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing. Other outdoor activities include a Ski Mountain Coaster, Scenic Chair Lift and Wildlife Adventure. Inside, there’s also an ice skating rink, arcade and shopping.
Location: 1339 Ski Mountain Rd, Gatlinburg
Ride an Alpine Coaster
There are many great alpine coasters in the Smoky Mountains. An alpine coaster is like a roller coaster, but you ride in your own little car down the mountain. It’s a lot of fun!
The Moonshine Mountain Coaster is one of the most popular in the area. You can control your speed as you zoom down the track, and there are great views of Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains. There are also other wonderful alpine coasters in the area.
Location: 306 Parkway, Gatlinburg for the Moonshine Mountain Coaster
Visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
January is a great time to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park is open year-round, and there are many different activities to enjoy in the winter. You can go hiking, camping, picnicking, fishing, horseback riding and more.
Please note that some roads in the park may be closed due to weather conditions, so be sure to check the road closures before you go. You can also stop by a visitor center to get more information about what to do in the park.
I would suggest the lower elevation hikes and waterfalls if you are looking for an outdoor adventure because they are more likely to be accessible and open. Some of the waterfalls get some truly impressive ice! (Learn more about Gatlinburg waterfalls here)
Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Explore Downtown Gatlinburg
Downtown Gatlinburg is a very popular destination and usually packed with tourists, but in January you can enjoy the attractions and shops with fewer people around. This is a great time to explore all that Gatlinburg has to offer!
There are many different shops, restaurants and attractions in downtown Gatlinburg. You can find everything from souvenirs to clothing to art. There are also a lot of great places to eat, ranging from fast food to fine dining. And, of course, there are plenty of attractions like Ripley’s Aquarium, the Gatlinburg Space Needle and Ober Gatlinburg.
This is one thing I used to love to do when I was younger, before we had kids. We rarely visit downtown Gatlinburg with the boys because we have so many other activities on our itinerary, but when the hubs and I went by ourselves we loved to stroll the shops and eat downtown.
Location: Downtown Gatlinburg
Tips for visiting Gatlinburg in January
Dress in layers: The weather in Gatlinburg can be unpredictable, so it’s always a good idea to dress in layers. That way, you can easily add or remove clothing as needed to stay comfortable.
Bring a camera: The Smoky Mountains are especially beautiful in the winter, so make sure to bring a camera to capture all the stunning scenery.
Check operating hours: As we mentioned before, many businesses in Gatlinburg have reduced hours during the winter months. To avoid disappointment, be sure to check the operating hours of any places you want to visit before you go.
Consider a four wheel drive: A lot of cabins have steep drives and roads, and we ended up with a super steep driveway to our cabin one year with a two wheel drive truck. It was a scary drive down the mountain on the day we had to check out!
Stock up on groceries in case you get snowed in: It’s always a possibility that you might get snowed in when you visit at this time of year, so have some extra food on hand just in case because those tiny mountain roads and driveways do not get cleared when it snows.
Where to stay in Gatlinburg in January
One of the best reasons to come during the winter months is to save money on cabins and other rentals! It’s a much slower season, especially during the week, so if you book a weekday rental in January you’re going to save a lot of money.
There are many great hotels in downtown Gatlinburg and the surrounding areas, and you can also book a cozy cabin in the area and just get away from it all and enjoy the beauty of the Smokies in the winter.
If we do pick a hotel for our stay, we love to choose one that has a daily complimentary breakfast to help offset vacation costs for our family of six. We also look for an indoor pool for something else for the kids to do. (Although the last time we went in December we had to walk outside from the pool to our room and it was soooo cold!)
If we rent a cabin, we do breakfast in the cabin most of the time as they usually have a full kitchen or at least a kitchenette so you can easily whip up a quick breakfast and not break the bank.
What to eat and drink in Gatlinburg in January
There are so many wonderful things to eat and drink in this tiny town.
Here are some of our favorites:
That’s by no means an exhaustive list, but we’re trying to keep it short here.
Gatlinburg is a beautiful place to take a winter vacation, and there are still plenty of things to do even though some businesses have reduced hours or are closed for the season. It’s really an affordable time of year to go, so if you want to experience Gatlinburg winter magic, this is the perfect time.
Be sure to dress in layers, bring a camera and check operating hours before you go. And if you’re planning on staying in a cabin, consider a four wheel drive vehicle to make getting around easier.
Most importantly, have fun and enjoy all that Gatlinburg has to offer! It’s our favorite place to be!