Tucked away at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, lies the charming town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This picturesque town boasts a wealth of breathtaking natural wonders, thrilling outdoor recreational opportunities, and exciting family-friendly attractions that are sure to leave you spellbound.
Whether you are a nature lover, an adrenaline junkie, or someone who just loves to relax and unwind in a serene atmosphere, Gatlinburg has a wide range of choices and options.
In this travel article, we will take a closer look at the wonders of Gatlinburg and discover what makes it a top destination for tourists.
History: From Native Americans to Modern Tourism
Native Americans were the first inhabitants of the area now known as Gatlinburg. The Cherokee tribe resided in the region and hunted and fished in what is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
All went well for many centuries until the European settlers arrived This led to the displacement of the Cherokee people and their forced migration to Oklahoma. This event is better known as the Trail of Tears.
Today, Gatlinburg pays homage to the Cherokee’s rich culture and history via the Oconaluftee Indian Village Museum.
Rise of tourism in the late 19th century
Fast forward to the late 19th century, when tourism began to take off in the area. Gatlinburg was an ideal destination for tourists seeking relaxation and outdoor adventures.
Initially, tourists visited the town to escape the heat and humidity of the southern states. The town’s natural beauty and its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park soon became a significant attraction for tourists.
Also, the town’s easy accessibility via the Knoxville and Charleston Railway helped bolster tourism in the area.
Great Depression and the Growth of Tourism
During the Great Depression era, Gatlinburg residents recognized the potential of tourism in the area and developed new strategies to attract visitors. In 1934, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park officially opened, which helped increase tourist numbers in the area.
The town eventually implemented various tourist attractions, such as moonshine distilleries, which are still popular today, as well as museums and souvenir shops that nowadays regularly draw tourists to the area.
Gatlinburg is a major tourist destination today
During the 1940s and 1950s, Gatlinburg underwent significant growth. The town’s streets were widened, and infrastructure improvements were made. The arrival of large-scale commercial enterprises helped attract even more tourists to the area.
Hotels, motels, and family-owned restaurants began to pop up in the town, offering tourists comfortable accommodations and tasty meals. Consequently, Gatlinburg became one of America’s major tourist destinations.
Today, Gatlinburg is a buzzing town that offers tourists a wide variety of entertainment and adventure options. From its unique attractions like the Guinness World Record Museum and the Hollywood Cars Museum to thrilling activities like skiing and zip-lining, Gatlinburg caters to every tourist’s taste.
The town still holds tightly to its history and culture by hosting various festivals and events, like the Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair and the Smoky Mountain Tunes and Tales Festival.
Local Culture: Arts, Crafts, and Music Scene
Gatlinburg boasts a rich local culture that’s vibrant and diverse, and it’s expressed through its arts, crafts, and music scene. Whether you’re an art enthusiast, a music lover, or simply curious about Tennessee’s cultural heritage, Gatlinburg has something in store for you.
Gatlinburg’s Arts Community
One of the most notable aspects of Gatlinburg’s art scene is the town’s Arts and Crafts Community. Founded in the 1930s, this community is a collective of artisans and craftsmen who work together to create unique and high-quality handmade artworks.
From pottery and woodworking to painting and weaving, you’ll find a wide range of art forms that showcase Tennessee’s cultural heritage.
You can visit the community and explore the studios and galleries, interact with the artists, and purchase one-of-a-kind pieces to take home as souvenirs.
Gatlinburg’s Community Crafts
If you’re looking for authentic locally made souvenirs, Gatlinburg’s craft shops should be your go-to destination. From handmade quilts and baskets to wooden carvings and leatherwork, you’ll find an abundance of traditional crafts that reflect the culture and history of the town.
Some of the standout craft shops include the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community, Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen, and Smoky Mountain Farms Jelly House. Don’t forget to try the delicious mountain taffy and fudge while you’re exploring the shops.
Celebrating the Town’s Music Scene
Apart from its visual arts, Gatlinburg also has a vibrant music scene that celebrates the town’s country and bluegrass roots. You can catch live performances by local musicians at various venues around town, including Ole Smoky Moonshine Holler, The Island in Pigeon Forge, and the Hard Rock Cafe.
During the summer, Gatlinburg hosts the Smoky Mountains Songwriters Festival, where aspiring and established songwriters gather to perform and showcase their talents.
You can also attend the annual Gatlinburg Mountain Music Festival, which features a lineup of local and regional musicians and offers a fun-filled day of music, food, and crafts.
Immersing in Gatlinburg’s culture and heritage
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that exploring Gatlinburg’s arts, crafts, and music scene is not just an entertaining experience, but also a meaningful way to connect with the town’s culture and heritage.
Through its art, crafts, and music, Gatlinburg honors the traditions and values of Tennessee’s mountain communities and showcases the creativity and resilience of its people.
Whether you’re a history buff or an art lover, Gatlinburg’s cultural scene will leave you with a sense of appreciation and respect for the town’s heritage.
Attractions: Top Things to See and Do
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States, and it is easy to see why. The park boasts over 500,000 acres of rugged terrain, diverse wildlife, and over 800 miles of hiking trails.
Whether you are an avid hiker, nature lover, or simply looking to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a must-visit destination.
The Gatlinburg SkyBridge is one of the town’s most iconic attractions. At 680 feet long, the SkyBridge is North America’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge.
From atop the bridge, visitors can marvel at the stunning views of the Smoky Mountains and the town of Gatlinburg. Visitors can walk across the bridge during the day or at night when the bridge is illuminated.
Ober Gatlinburg is a year-round ski resort and amusement park located high above Gatlinburg. In the winter months, visitors can hit the slopes, go ice skating, and enjoy snow tubing.
In the summer months, visitors can enjoy an alpine slide, rock climbing, and wildlife encounters. Whatever the season, Ober Gatlinburg is the perfect destination for family-friendly fun.
Dollywood is a theme park located in nearby Pigeon Forge, just a short drive from Gatlinburg. Owned by country music legend Dolly Parton, the park is full of thrilling rides, live entertainment, and delicious Southern cuisine.
During the summer, visitors can enjoy Dollywood’s Splash Country, a water park with more than 35 water attractions.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
If you love marine life, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is a must-visit attraction. The aquarium boasts over 10,000 exotic sea creatures, including penguins, stingrays, and sea turtles.
Visitors can watch penguins swim, touch stingrays in the interactive touch tank, or take a ride on the glass-bottom boat.
Food Scene: Southern Comfort Food and More
The city boasts of a diverse food culture that caters to every palate. From Southern comfort food to fusion cuisine, the food scene in Gatlinburg has a lot to offer the casual visitor.
Indulging in Southern Comfort Food
When it comes to comfort food, the South knows how to do it right. The cuisine is all about flavor and hearty portions that leave you wanting more. Gatlinburg is no exception to this and has some of the best Southern comfort food you can get your hands on.
Some of the must-haves include chicken and dumplings, fried chicken, shrimp and grits, and macaroni and cheese. These dishes will make you feel right at home with their soulful flavors and filling portions.
Experiencing the Best Barbecues
Barbecue is a staple food in the South, and Gatlinburg offers some of the best barbecues in the country. The city is known for its tender and juicy meat that is cooked to perfection. The barbecue joints use a special blend of spices and hardwood for smoking the meat which gives it a distinct flavor.
Whether you like pulled pork or brisket, you will find some of the best barbecue joints in Gatlinburg.
Exploring International Cuisine Options
If you are craving international cuisine, then Gatlinburg has got you covered. The city has a diverse food culture, and you can find some of the best Italian, Mexican, and Chinese food in the area.
For Italian, head over to Best Italian Cafe and Pizzeria, which offers some of the best pasta and pizza in town.
For Mexican, you can try some of the delicious tacos and burritos at El Soñador Mexican Restaurant. And if you are in the mood for Chinese food, the China Town restaurant will surely satisfy your cravings.
Catering to Vegetarian and Vegan Foodies
Gatlinburg has plenty of options for vegetarian and vegan foodies. Whether you are a strict vegetarian or a vegan, you will find some amazing options to satisfy your taste buds.
Some of the popular options include The Wild Plum Tea Room, which offers vegan and gluten-free options, and Nourish Knoxville, which is a completely plant-based restaurant. These restaurants offer some of the most delicious and nutritious meals that cater to a diverse clientele.
Discovering local cuisine delights
Another must-try in Gatlinburg is the local cuisine. The city has many locally owned restaurants that offer authentic Southern and Appalachian cuisine. The cuisine is based on fresh, local ingredients and hearty portions that you will remember for a long time.
Some of the must-try dishes include fried green tomatoes, country ham, and biscuits and gravy. These dishes are a perfect representation of the Southern food culture and its love for hearty, flavorful food.
Accommodations: Where to Stay in Gatlinburg
Hotels and Resorts:
Gatlinburg has a wide range of hotels and resorts to choose from, ranging from budget-friendly options to luxurious resorts. Many hotels are located within walking distance of the downtown area and offer stunning mountain views.
The most popular hotels in Gatlinburg include The Park Vista by Doubletree and Margaritaville Resort in Gatlinburg.
For a more rustic and private experience, staying in a cabin can be a great option. Gatlinburg offers a vast selection of cabins, many of which are located in secluded areas with scenic views.
Cabins can accommodate larger groups, making them ideal for families and groups of friends. Some popular cabin rental companies include Gatlinburg Falls Resort and Cabins USA.
Bed and Breakfasts
If you’re looking for a cozy and personalized experience, a bed and breakfast could be just the place for you. Gatlinburg has a few great bed and breakfasts, each offering its own unique charm and atmosphere.
The Buckhorn Inn and Laurel Springs Lodge Bed and Breakfast are both great options for a comfortable stay with a home-like feel.
Campgrounds and RV Parks
For the adventurous traveler, camping or RVing is a great option. Gatlinburg has a few campgrounds and RV parks to choose from, each offering a unique outdoor experience.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers 10 different camping sites, ranging from backcountry camping to developed campgrounds. Consider checking out the Elkmont Campground or the Cosby Campground for a rustic camping experience.
Condos and Vacation Rentals
For a more home-like experience, consider renting a condo or vacation rental. Condos and vacation rentals offer more space and amenities for guests and are typically located in more residential areas of Gatlinburg.
Some popular vacation rental companies in the area include Mountain Laurel Chalets and Jackson Mountain Homes.
The Natural Beauty of Gatlinburg
Gatlinburg is a town that is surrounded by natural beauty. Nestled amidst the vast expanse of the Great Smoky Mountains, this area is home to breathtaking natural wonders such as cascading waterfalls, sparkling streams, and old-growth forests.
One of the most popular ways to experience the natural beauty of this area is by taking a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With over 800 miles of hiking trails that range from easy walks to strenuous climbs, there is no shortage of options for nature lovers.
Some of the most popular trails include the Alum Cave Trail, the Rainbow Falls Trail, and the Chimney Tops Trail.
Thrilling Outdoor Recreational Opportunities
Gatlinburg is also a hub for outdoor recreational activities, where visitors can indulge in a host of exciting activities. If you are an adrenaline junkie, you will love the white water rafting, zip-lining, and rock-climbing opportunities in the area.
There are several tour operators in the town who offer guided tours of the nearby mountains and rivers. You can also enjoy horseback riding, mountain biking, and fishing in the area.
Family-Friendly Attractions for All Ages
Gatlinburg is a great place for families with kids of all ages. One of the most popular attractions in the town is Dollywood, a family-friendly theme park that offers a range of thrill rides, shows, and attractions.
The park is open throughout the year and offers special events like the Harvest Festival and the Smoky Mountain Christmas.
Other popular family-friendly attractions in the town include the Gatlinburg Sky Bridge, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, and the Ober Gatlinburg Amusement Park and Ski Area.
Unique Shopping and Dining Experiences
After a day of exploring the natural beauty of Gatlinburg and indulging in outdoor activities, you can unwind by exploring the town’s unique shopping and dining options.
The town is home to several quaint boutiques, art galleries, and souvenir stores that offer unique gifts and souvenirs. You can also indulge in some local cuisine by trying out the delicious Appalachian-style dishes that are unique to the area.
Some of the most popular restaurants in the town include The Peddler Steakhouse, The Wild Plum Tea Room, and Pancake Pantry.
Gatlinburg truly is a top destination for the traveler who loves natural beauty, outdoor recreation, and family-friendly attractions.
From the breathtaking Great Smoky Mountains to the thrilling white water rapids, there is no shortage of things to see and do in this charming town.
Whether you are looking for adventure or relaxation, you are sure to find it in Gatlinburg. So pack your bags, grab your hiking boots, and head to Gatlinburg, the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains!