Whether you go for the Great Smoky Mountains or for the mountains of family fun, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is an all-encompassing travel destination. You can explore the great outdoors alongside great attractions. When my family visited Gatlinburg with our children and my husband’s parents, we loved that there was something for each generation to enjoy at this gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains.
Known as the “Gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains,” Gatlinburg is located on the northern edge of the national park named for these epic hills. Nearby Pigeon Forge is another bustling tourist spot, while the small towns of Townsend and Cosby offer quieter locales to soak in the natural beauty and the rich Appalachian culture.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
With over 11.4 million visitors per year, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the nation, with many drawn in by the natural landscape, the abundant wildlife, and the outdoor recreation.
Named for the blue mist that creates a transparent veil along the ridges and peaks, the Smokies offer wondrous views. After picking up an information pamphlet and map at one of the visitor centers, our family set out to drive across the park — a daunting task due to its sprawling size.
The Cades Cove Loop Road is known for offering some of the best opportunities to spot wildlife, but we struck out there, spotting none of the park’s beloved black bears. Luckily, a quiet drive along the Roaring Fork Motor Trail gave us our chance to see a mama bear and her cubs romping in the woods, their black coats silhouetted against a plush, verdant forest.
Hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, and fishing are active ways to enjoy the Smokies. Over 800 miles of trail offer all kinds of experiences, set against diverse landscapes. We hiked to Grotto Falls, which took us behind a 25-foot waterfall. There’s nothing like the splash of the spray on a hot summer day. One of our favorite spots was the Chimney Picnic Area, where a small creek rippled around massive moss-covered boulders.
Almost 3,000 miles of mountain streams snake through the park, providing bounteous fishing grounds. These cool creeks abound with trout and smallmouth bass.
Set against a backdrop of rolling hills, the Gatlinburg Strip is a treasure chest overflowing with colors and sparkle. Popular attractions like Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and the Ripley’s Guinness World Records Museum draw visitors in with their eye-catching exteriors and promises of thrills. Nearby, all kinds of mini-golf courses and amusement attractions readily compete. Whether you have itty-bitty kids or surly teens, there truly is something for everyone.
One of the best places to combine the mountainous scenery with boundless family fun is Ober Gatlinburg. One part ski park, one part amusement park, Ober Gatlinburg offers a ton of activities all year round. What’s the best way to reach the peak? Taking the aerial tramway, of course. Glide up the mountain while taking in views of the surrounding landscapes. Our young sons were a little scared at first, but they soon relaxed as the smooth ride won them over.
Once you get to the top of Ober Gatlinburg, part of the fun is finding ways to get back down the mountain. Whether you take a tube, an alpine slide, a mountain coaster, or hit the ski hills, you’ll get a thrill. Or, stay at the top and enjoy shopping, eating, and the amusement park attractions.
Gatlinburg is home to North America’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge. The new 680-foot long Gatlinburg SkyBridge is a sight to behold. Stretching 680-feet across a deep valley, the SkyBridge offers an unparalleled experience.
Sipping Local Libations
Some parts of Gatlinburg are best appreciated by adults, and this includes the wineries, distilleries and breweries that provide a taste of the regional beverages. Drawing from Scottish and Irish traditions, unaged whiskey was produced in the Appalachian hills for centuries before becoming taxed and outlawed.
Soon, illicit production began “under the light of the moon,” leading to the name “moonshine.” Now a legal beverage, moonshine is produced as a nod to the region’s culture and history. Gatlinburg is home to several distilleries that offer samples, live music, and all kinds of wares made from popular spirits.
The Appalachian Way
The sweet twang of a fiddle, the hand-hewn wood of a chair, the careful stitch in a quilt. The Appalachian region has a rich culture that lives on today in the arts, crafts, music, and foods. Far from the bright lights of the Gatlinburg Strip, you’ll find Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. Since 1912, Arrowmont has been sharing an appreciation for the regional arts through its classes, galleries, and special events.
Throughout the summer months, the streets of downtown Gatlinburg come alive with traditional music, dancing, and storytelling thanks to the annual Smoky Mountains Tunes & Tales celebration.
Gatlinburg and the surrounding small towns are home to dozens of top-rated Good Sam parks, which are the best choice for those seeking hookups and amenities. Take your pick from quiet, rustic campgrounds to energetic, family-friendly RV resorts. Some RV parks are located on the Gatlinburg trolley line, which makes it easy to explore the area without having to find a parking spot. A stay in Gatlinburg makes it easy to access all of the beauty and family fun of this Smoky Mountain hotspot.
Located in Gatlinburg, close to the border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Twin Creek RV Resort plans to open for the season on March 31. The resort offers two pools along with a Ladies Boutique with great spring fashions.