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We head to the Smoky Mountains several times a year and alawys find unique things to do in Gatlinburg. Every time we visit we try to find an activity we haven’t done before, and we still haven’t run out of ideas!
Today we’ve put together a list of must-see attractions that showcase the best of what Gatlinburg has to offer, ensuring you have an unforgettable time.
On top of the area’s natural beauty, Gatlinburg boasts an impressive array of one-of-a-kind activities that cater to all interests.
From the thrilling SkyBridge at the Gatlinburg SkyLift Park to the hands-on experience at Fowler’s Clayworks, there’s no shortage of ways to make lasting memories.
Join us as we explore some of the hidden gems and unique things to do in this captivating mountain town, sure to leave you planning your next visit.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Cades Cove is one of the most popular destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s a picturesque valley surrounded by mountains where we can enjoy beautiful scenery and wildlife. In this historical area, we can explore various historic buildings, such as grist mills, churches, and log cabins that date back to the early settlers of the region.
While visiting Cades Cove, it’s not uncommon to spot black bears, deer, and other wildlife. As we drive along the 11-mile loop, there are numerous overlooks providing stunning views of the mountains and meadows. Here’s a brief list of points of interest in Cades Cove:
- John Oliver Cabin
- Primitive Baptist Church
- Cable Mill Area
- Cades Cove Visitor Center
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, straddling the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. At 6,643 feet, it provides us with breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. On a clear day, we can even see up to 100 miles away!
Reaching the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower involves a steep half-mile hike, but the majestic views make it well worth the effort. The area is also an excellent spot for bird watching and witnessing a stunning sunrise or sunset.
Keep in mind it’s often about 20 degrees colder up at this elevation, so the year we went it was 50 degrees in town and absolutely frigid at the observation tower! Like, ice on the trees and brutal winds… so dress accordingly and check the weather!
Roaring Fork Motor Trail
The Roaring Fork Motor Trail is a 5.5-mile-long one-way scenic drive that takes us through lush forests, past gushing streams, and historical homesteads. Along this winding road, we’ll find several stops to explore, including:
- Rainbow Falls Trailhead
- Grotto Falls Trailhead
- Jim Bales Place (historic homestead)
- Ephraim Bales Place (historic homestead)
While driving along the Roaring Fork Motor Trail, we can soak in the natural beauty, spot wildlife, and learn about the early settlers’ way of life in the Smoky Mountains. This enchanting drive offers us an opportunity to slow down and appreciate the serenity of nature.
Gatlinburg offers plenty of unique experiences that will leave lasting memories. In this section, we’ll focus on some of our favorite attractions located in downtown Gatlinburg.
Gatlinburg Space Needle
We highly recommend visiting the Gatlinburg Space Needle, a 407-foot tall observation tower that provides breathtaking panoramic views of the city and the surrounding mountains. When you reach the observation deck, you’ll be amazed by the sight of the picturesque Little Pigeon River, the bustling main road of downtown Gatlinburg, and the historic nature trail. On a clear day, you can even spot the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the distance.
Gatlinburg Skylift Park
Another must-see attraction is the Gatlinburg Skylift Park, which offers a scenic chairlift ride to the top of Crockett Mountain. At 1,800 feet high, you’ll enjoy unforgettable views of downtown Gatlinburg and the surrounding mountains. The park also features a 100-year-old historic nature trail that takes you through the beautiful mountain landscape.
It doesn’t cost much more to get unlimited rides for the day than it does for just a single trip. We got the single trip and then the kids wanted to ride several more times, so luckily they let you upgrade a single ride ticket. Make sure you ride it both during the day and at night!
Located within the Gatlinburg Skylift Park is the Gatlinburg Skybridge, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America. As we walk across the 680-foot long bridge (part of which is glass at the bottom!), let’s take in the stunning views of downtown Gatlinburg and the lush Smoky Mountains. It truly is a one-of-a-kind experience you won’t find anywhere else!
Hollywood Star Cars Museum
For car enthusiasts, the Hollywood Star Cars Museum is an excellent stop during our downtown Gatlinburg adventure. This museum features over 40 iconic vehicles from famous movies and television shows, including the DeLorean from Back to the Future, the Batmobile, and the General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard. We can appreciate the artistry and history behind each automobile while reminiscing about our favorite on-screen moments.
With these attractions, downtown Gatlinburg offers a variety of unique experiences just a short walk from our convenient location. From stunning views to legendary cars, we have the perfect itinerary for unforgettable memories.
Our visit to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies was a highlight of our trip. This unique attraction offers a plethora of aquatic life, including sharks, jellyfish, and colorful fish from around the world.
We particularly enjoyed the interactive exhibits, like the touch-a-ray bay and petting a jellyfish. Our boys also love the shark tunnel, giant kid’s play area and penguin encounter. It’s a must-see for anyone visiting Gatlinburg.
Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community
We discovered the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community during our trip, and it turned out to be a treasure-trove of unique experiences. This community is home to talented artisans who create beautiful handcrafted items, such as pottery, jewelry, paintings, and more.
As we strolled through the various shops and studios, we couldn’t help but appreciate the dedication and skill of the artists that make up this special part of Gatlinburg.
Fowler’s Clay Works
Fowler’s Clay Works in Gatlinburg, TN offers a pottery experience where visitors can sign up for a Make Your Own Pottery class to learn beginner pottery skills from the experts.
During the class, visitors will be taught the process of wheel throwing and shown how to make their own clay creation. They can also make a small bowl or vase by hand in the Make a Pot Experience, which is perfect for beginners.
Fowler’s Clay Works is a family-owned pottery shop that has been welcoming visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains since 2015. The shop features the works of Mike, Cheryl, Ava, and the Fowler’s Clay Works crew, and all pieces are one of a kind, functional, and decorative.
Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
One of the most unique attractions we stumbled upon was the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum. This fascinating collection boasts thousands of salt and pepper shakers from around the world.
Ranging from antique to modern designs, the variety was truly impressive. We were amazed by the creativity and ingenuity behind each piece and enjoyed learning about the history and cultural significance of these everyday items.
Throughout our time in Gatlinburg, we discovered many unique places and experiences that made our trip truly special. From the enchanting world of Ripley’s Aquarium to the creative talent of the Arts and Crafts Community, we were amazed at what this vibrant town has to offer.
Amusement Parks and Activities
Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area
Our trip to Gatlinburg wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area. This ski resort offers much more than just skiing. At the top, we discovered shopping, dining, an amusement park, an ice skating rink, and even a small zoo.
All of these extra attractions do require additional fees not included in the ski lift ticket, but we found it well worth the experience. The alpine slide was a particular favorite of ours, and we had to do the scenic chairlift since we had done the SkyLift the trip before.
If we were looking for a unique mini golf experience, Hillbilly Golf has you covered. This unique course is built on the side of a hill, making for an exciting game amid the stunning Smoky Mountain scenery.
We really loved the small incline railway you ride to the top (pic above!) and you play your way down the hill, eventually getting to ride the incline about halfway down.
The boys loved both the golfing and riding the incline rail car! There is a parking lot nearby with very reasonable parking rates, too. We left our car there to explore some nearby attractions, like walking to the Aquarium.
Wild Bear Falls Water Park
Lastly, we cooled off at Wild Bear Falls Water Park. The park offers an exciting array of water slides and pools suitable for all ages. We also appreciated that it was conveniently located, making it easy for us to explore other nearby attractions in Pigeon Forge.
Throughout our Gatlinburg adventure, we found fantastic amusement parks and activities suitable for everyone, whether we were seeking an adrenaline-pumping experience or a more relaxed and family-friendly outing.
Scenic Drives and Tours
One of the best ways to experience the beauty of Gatlinburg is by taking a ride on the Aerial Tramway to Ober Gatlinburg. We can enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and forests while gliding above the treetops. The tramway departs from downtown Gatlinburg and takes us on a two-mile journey to the top of the mountain, offering spectacular panoramic vistas along the way.
Roaring Fork Motor Trail
For those who prefer to explore by car, the Roaring Fork Motor Trail is an excellent option. This scenic drive takes us through the lush forests and past cascading waterfalls of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We’ll discover well-preserved historic cabins, mills, and other structures that offer a glimpse into the lives of early settlers in the area. Be sure to make stops at some of the picturesque viewpoints along the way – there are plenty of opportunities for us to capture stunning photos!
East Tennessee Scenic Drives
East Tennessee is home to several other scenic drives that showcase the region’s diverse and majestic landscapes. One of our favorites is the Newfound Gap Road, which stretches from Gatlinburg, TN to Cherokee, NC. As we traverse the winding road, we’ll encounter a myriad of trees and beautiful mountain views. Don’t forget to take advantage of the pull-offs to pause and admire the scenery or snap some memorable pictures!
Another must-visit is Cades Cove Loop Road, which takes us on an 11-mile journey through a historic valley once inhabited by early settlers. As we drive through the loop, we’ll come across well-preserved cabins, churches, and mills, and if we’re lucky, we might even spot some wildlife like deer, turkeys, or black bears.
In addition to these drives, there are many other scenic routes across East Tennessee that are sure to delight us. Whether we choose to explore by car or venture out on foot, the beauty of the Gatlinburg area and its surroundings are guaranteed to create unforgettable memories.
Entertainment and Dining
Gatlinburg offers a variety of unique entertainment and dining options for visitors of all ages. In this section, we’ll highlight some of the best live music venues, the Wild Plum Tea Room, unique ice cream shops, and Gatlinburg arcades.
Live Music Venues
In Gatlinburg, you can find live music venues that cater to various tastes. Whether you prefer country, bluegrass, or rock, there’s something for everyone. Some of our favorite spots include:
- Smoky Mountain Brewery: Offering live music on weekends, this brewery is a great spot for craft beer and local tunes.
- Three Jimmy’s: With a lively atmosphere, great food, and talented musicians, this is the perfect place for an entertaining evening.
Wild Plum Tea Room
One unique dining experience in Gatlinburg is the Wild Plum Tea Room. Located in the Arts and Crafts Community, this charming tea room offers a delightful lunch menu with homemade soups, sandwiches, and desserts. Don’t forget to try their delicious Wild Plum tea!
Unique Ice Cream Shops
There’s no better way to cool off on a hot day than with a scoop of ice cream. Gatlinburg is home to several unique ice cream shops that offer a variety of flavors and options for every palate. Check out:
- Glades Soda Fountain: This vintage-style soda fountain offers delicious ice creams, milkshakes, and floats.
- Buzzed Bull Creamery: For an adults-only treat, try their alcohol-infused ice cream!
Arcades are a fun attraction for the whole family, and Gatlinburg has several options to choose from. Both kids and adults will love the wide selection of games available. Some of our favorites include:
- Fannie Farkle’s Family Fun Parlor: With a mix of classic and modern arcade games, skeeball, and some tasty food options, Fannie Farkle’s is perfect for the entire family.
- Gatlin’s Fun Center: Offering mini-golf, laser tag, escape rooms, and an abundance of arcade games, this center is a one-stop-shop for a whole day of fun.
Whether it’s dining at delicious restaurants or enjoying the many entertainment options, Gatlinburg offers unique experiences for the entire family.
Final Thoughts on Unique Things to Do in Gatlinburg
This area of Tennessee is such a great one, and it’s where we return again and again thanks to all the wonderful things to do in Gatlinburg and the surrounding areas.
Whatever type of vacation you’re looking for, whether it’s action-packed, full of relaxation, or somewhere in between, you’re bound to find it in this small mountain area.
I hope we will see you there soon!