Deep in the Smokey Mountains is the little town of Gatlinburg—a town with a population under 4,000 but with vacationing attractions galore. The streets are packed with places to visit and shows to watch, and the surrounding forests provide endless opportunities for enjoying the great outdoors.
The most distinctive element of Gatlinburg’s skyline is the Space Needle. At the top of the tower you can take in a panoramic view of the area from a height of 400+ feet and learn about the history and geography of the area from the numerous educational displays. A quick glass-elevator ride down and you’ll enter Arcadia, a family fun destination with video games, laser tag, a hurricane simulator and an Old West photo booth. Right next door is the Flying Saucer Italian Bistro, offering some of the area’s most acclaimed pizza.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is one of the town’s main attractions, featuring over twice as many fish as Gatlinburg has people from more than 350 different species. Visitors can take a tunnel through the middle of the main tank, watching sharks swim overhead, or marvel at sea turtles, swordfish, deadly rays and jellyfish. The Aquarium even has penguins, for those who need a little above-water wildlife.
The Ripley’s franchise has more than just fish to offer, owning a number of exciting locations in town. The Believe It Or Not! Odditorium has the classic collection of anomalies that Ripley’s is known for the world over, while the Haunted Adventure provides endless scares in a Victorian mansion. A Wonkaesque Mirror Maze and Candy Factory, the Moving Theater combining motion simulation and 3D films, two miniature golf courses and the Guinness World Records Museum round out the collection.
If you’re looking for live entertainment, Gatlinburg has a lot to offer. The Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre regularly performs original musical comedies and vaudeville-style comedy shows, bringing back a taste of the golden age of the American stage. For something a little more non-traditional, try the Iris Theater, home to several unusual performances. Bill Gladwell the Mentalist’s show “Head Case” is a mystifying experience of psychological illusion, involving audience members in a sophisticated performance of mind-reading and hypnosis. If you’d rather laugh than gasp, try Guy Michael’s show “Hypnotized”—a comedy hypnosis routine that’s hilarious and family-friendly.
But Gatlinburg has even more to offer in the surrounding mountains and waterways. If whitewater rafting is your thing, Gatlinburg is the place to be. The passenger pigeon is long extinct, but its name lives on in the Big Pigeon River, an exhilarating waterway that thunders past the little town. There are a total of twelve Class III and and three Class IV rapids found on the upper Pigeon, providing an unforgettable ride for experienced and amateur rafters alike. The popularity of rafting in Gatlinburg has resulted in a multiplicity of rental companies—you can choose between Rafting in the Smokies, the Nantahala Outdoor Center and Smoky Mountain Outdoors.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an essential part of the Gatlinburg experience. Home to numerous waterfalls, luscious forests and the breathtaking Cades Cove, the park is one of the most beautiful places in Tennessee and among the largest protected areas in the eastern United States. Whether you enjoy camping, fishing, bicycling, horseback riding or hiking, the park has a lot to offer.
While exploring the forests on the ground level is a great way to experience nature, there’s nothing quite like seeing it from above. Gatlinburg Ziplines offers airborne adventure for the whole family that’s both safe and affordable. Children as young as five years old can whiz through the trees on lines operated by professional guides—no training or handbrakes necessary. The nine ziplines of increasing height start with a simple skybridge and gradually escalate to a 30-foot freefall designed for the bravest souls.
No respectable tourist town nestled in the heart of the Smokies could be without skiing opportunities, and Gatlinburg certainly provides. Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort and Amusement Park has something to offer year-round. Miniature golf, wildlife encounters and arcades fill the summer months while downhill skiing and snowboarding take over when winter comes. The chairlifts and aerial tramway aren’t only there to bring skiers to the top, however—operating daily throughout the year they provide visitors with one of the most stunning views of the Great Smoky Mountains.