The 10 Best Things to Do in Gatlinburg TN (2023-2024)

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Tucked in a gap in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, Gatlinburg is a tourist-driven mountain town with two different levels.

The heart of Downtown Gatlinburg is chock full of restaurants, shops, and fun attractions.

But there are also an array of mountaintop attractions that can be accessed by a short chair lift, gondola, or bus ride.

When you’re on Gatlinburg’s Main Street (which is vaguely reminiscent of a coastal boardwalk), you’ll be fascinated by the massive mountains that encircle the city.

And when you visit the mountaintop attractions, you’ll see panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains and the neon signs of Main Street below.

Most Gatlinburg restaurants are designed to take full advantage of the stellar views, with balcony and rooftop seating. The mountaintop attractions offer treehouses, a Sky Bridge, ziplines, and a Bar at the Top of the World.

You’ll likely spend your time here not knowing whether to look up or look down. We highly recommend doing both!

Read on for our in-depth guide to the best things to do in Gatlinburg TN, including popular favorites such as the Anakeesta theme park, Ober Mountain, Sky Park, the Space Needle, and more.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Smoky Mountains Hotels to Visit in NC & TN

Best Things to Do in Gatlinburg TN Guide

(Arranged Alphabetically)

  1. Anakeesta
  2. Gatlinburg SkyPark
  3. Gatlinburg Space Needle
  4. Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community
  5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  6. Main Street Gatlinburg
  7. Ober Mountain
  8. Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery
  9. Ripley’s Believe It or Not
  10. Sample Gatlinburg Restaurants

READ MORE: The 10 Best Places to See Christmas Lights in Tennessee

things to do in Gatlinburg TN for couples - Anakeesta Theme Park
Anakeesta Theme Park in Gatlinburg TN

1. Anakeesta

576 Parkway, Gatlinburg TN • (865) 325-2400 • Official Website 

Anakeesta (“place of high ground” in the Cherokee language) is an award-winning Gatlinburg theme park.

To reach Anakeesta Mountain, take a chairlift or the Ridge Rambler Shuttle Bus to the summit. There you’ll enter the Firefly Village, where there are shops and restaurants with stunning views of the Smoky Mountains. 

One of our favorite experiences was AnaVista, an observation tower at Downtown Gatlinburg’s highest point. We enjoyed wandering the lush botanical garden, with walking trails that surround the base of AnaVista.

Anakeesta also boasts several thrilling rides. The Rail Runner Smoky Mountains Coaster is a unique single-rail ride with 1,500+ feet of downhill fun. For the ultimate rollercoaster experience, check out the Hellbender Mountain Coaster.

For a quieter way to enjoy the area, try the Canopy Treetop Skywalk, the longest in North America. Bears are common here, but we didn’t see any. Still, we saw plenty of other Tennessee wildlife from our 60-foot-high vantage point!

For a romantic end to a busy day, try Astra Lumina, an unforgettable walking tour with magical lights and sound.

READ MORE: The 20 Best Places to See Fall Foliage in the Smoky Mountains

Gatlinburg TN attractions - Skybridge
Skybridge Gatlinburg

2. Gatlinburg SkyPark

765 Parkway, Gatlinburg TN • (865) 436-4307 • Official Website

The excitement of Gatlinburg SkyPark begins with a 10-minute chairlift ride up Crockett Mountain. Once you reach the SkyDeck amphitheater, you’ll get stunning 360º views of Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains.

The SkyCenter is nearby if you need a souvenir, a snack, or a sit-down meal with a bird’s eye view of the town.

Our goal at SkyPark was to conquer the SkyBridge, the longest pedestrian cable bridge in North America. At 700 feet long and 500 feet high, this is truly a walk like no other!

Keep an eye out for the occasional Black Bear in the valley below. At the halfway point, there’s a 30-foot section of glass to heighten the experience of walking on air.

We enjoyed the SkyTrail as we continued to look for Tennessee wildlife, and finished our visit with a cold beer at the SkyCenter while drinking in the views.

SkyPark is one of the more relaxing attractions in Gatlinburg, so we made a point to return in the evening for a wondrous night sky full of stars and dazzling lights shimmering in the town below.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Places to See Fall in Tennessee

what to do in Gatlinburg TN - Space Needle
Gatlinburg Space Needle

3. Gatlinburg Space Needle

115 Historic Nature Trail, Gatlinburg TN • (865) 436-4629 • Official Website 

The Gatlinburg Space Needle is an iconic downtown attraction. Wherever we went in the ever-popular mountain town, this towering landmark beckoned to us, so we had to fit it into our Tennessee road trip.

After a quick ride up in a glass elevator, we were on the observation deck, with a panoramic view of Gatlinburg below.

At 407 feet above Main Street, we were able to see almost all the places we’d been that morning, not to mention getting sensational views of the Great Smokies in all their glory.

On the ground level, kids will love Arcadia. This 25,000 square-foot arcade has video games, simulators, and ticket redemption games that will entertain children and teens for hours.

If you want to catch a magic show or other live entertainment, the Iris Theater at the base of the Space Needle features unique acts sure to please the entire family.

We finished our time at the “Needle” by sharing a calzone from Slice Pizza Bakery, which serves up traditional Italian favorites and appetizers that bring a little taste of New York City to Tennessee.

READ MORE:  The 15 Best Great Smoky Mountains Campgrounds to Visit

what to do in Gatlinburg Tennessee - Arts and Crafts Loop
Arts and Crafts Loop Gatlinburg

4. Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community

Official Website

The day we departed Gatlinburg, we visited the nearby Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community, an 8-mile loop that features more than 90 artists, craftsmen, and restaurants.

The loop offers woodcrafts, basket makers, leatherwork, pottery, as well as hands-on workshops and three seasonal shows at the Gatlinburg Convention Center. 

Our first stop was at Smoky Mountains Dulcimers, which offered handcrafted dulcimers, banjos, books, CDs, DVDs, and even a free banjo lesson!

While Heather got a lesson from Marilyn (she can now play a halting rendition of “You Are My Sunshine”), I talked to Victor about their careers as live entertainers.

Our next stop was the Jim Gray Gallery, which is located in a 125-year-old church building and spotlights Jim’s gorgeous paintings, which capture the beautiful essence of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Lastly, we had a fine lunch at Split Rail Eats, which specializes in signature tater bowls, sandwiches, ice cream, and boozy milkshakes.

READ MORE: What is Bluegrass? The History & Evolution of Appalachian Music

things to do near Gatlinburg Tennessee Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Official Website 

The Tennessee mountain town of Gatlinburg is filled with fun attractions, but the area’s biggest draw is two miles away. 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited National Park, with hiking trails, beautiful Smoky Mountain waterfalls, unspoiled forest, historic mills, and seemingly endless mountain vistas.

Our tour of the park, provided by Smoky Mountain Guides, was an all-day adventure with myriad majestic views. Our guide, Phil, was part historian, part storyteller, and very knowledgeable about the winding Smoky Mountain roads. 

Newfound Gap is one of the most popular scenic destinations in the park, with a section of the Appalachian Trail accessible from the parking lot. 

Next we hiked to Clingmans Dome, a peak that towers at 6,643 feet, the highest point in the Smoky Mountains and the third tallest mountain east of the Mississippi.

Heather’s favorite spot was Cades Cove, an 11-mile loop through a glade with a history going back to the Cherokee Indians. 

The company provides drinks and snacks to sustain you, and also takes visitors to a lesser-known spot called “The Wye,” a favorite swimming hole among locals in the Great Smoky Mountains!

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

best things to see in Gatlinburg - Main street Gatlinburg
Main Street Gatlinburg, photo via Canva

6. Main Street Gatlinburg (a.k.a. Parkway)

Official Website 

Main Street Gatlinburg (a.k.a. the Parkway) is a man-made thoroughfare that’s bustling with pedestrians and cars. It’s also an increasingly popular gateway to the Smokies.

Mountaintop attractions will draw your eyes upward, but take some time to explore shops selling souvenirs, pop culture museums, a Davy Crockett mini golf course, and an aquarium.

Like Tennessee moonshine, Gatlinburg’s Main Street really packs a punch, and we spent two days trying to experience all there was to offer.

Highlights included a sampling of a moonshine truffle from a chocolatier at the Village Shops, and a hard apple cider tasting at the Tennessee Cider Company.

At just over 2.5 square miles, Gatlinburg TN is quite walkable, but you can also hop on the free Gatlinburg Trolley.

Like any small resort town, parking spaces here are at a premium. While you may find street parking available, the plentiful paid ($20 per day) parking lots usually are the easiest option.

READ MORE: 20 Ways to Celebrate Christmas in the Smoky Mountains (NC & TN)

Gatlinburg things to do - Ober Mountain
Ober Mountain Gatlinburg TN

7. Ober Mountain

1339 Ski Mountain Rd, Gatlinburg TN • (865) 436-5423 • Official Website 

Originally known as the Gatlinburg Ski Resort, Ober Mountain is a winter playground for snow tubing, snow skiing, and snowboarding.

German for “upper mountain,” Ober Mountain (which is perched atop Mount Harrison) offers 4-season fun, which you can access via a 2.1-mile gondola ride that offers exceptional Smoky Mountains scenery.

The Aerial Tramway leaves regularly from the station on Gatlinburg’s Main Street. With room for 120 passengers, the climb to 300+ feet above the town was smooth and enjoyable.

Once you reach the top, you’re greeted with shopping, restaurants, and fun activities for the entire family. From mini-golf to thrilling rides, the mountaintop park offers a full day of excitement.

On the Tennessee Flyer Mountain Coaster, you can control your speed (up to 25 MPH) for an exhilarating ride. For a year-round treat, try their ice bumper cars or go ice skating at Ober Mountain’s indoor arena.

They also have a wildlife habitat with owls, otters, bears, and more. Although the bears are hidden when hibernating, all the other animals (including bobcats) can be seen year-round.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Fairs in Tennessee to Visit

Gatlinburg activities - Ole Smoky Moonshine
Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery in Gatlinburg

8. Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery

903 Parkway, Gatlinburg TN • (865) 436-6995 • Official Website

Moonshine typically conjures up images, songs, and stories of Appalachia.

Some enterprising Gatlinburg residents have turned what use to be an illegal craft into a celebration of local Appalachian history and flavors.

We loved our private tour of the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery, whose founders turned a 200-year-old family moonshine recipe into a multimillion dollar business (and the most visited distillery in the world)! 

After the guided tour, we got to try small samples of ‘shine. They were dispensed in tiny thimble-size cups, which our guide Johnny Baker called “Hillbilly Communion.”

In the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, legendary moonshiners like Popcorn Sutton are as iconic as outlaws like Billy the Kid and Jesse James are out west.

This regional pride in history and heritage is one of the many charms that makes Gatlinburg TN an ideal destination.

READ MORE: 30 Fun Facts About Appalachian Scots-Irish History & Culture

fun things to do in Gatlinburg - Ripley's Believe it or not
Ripley’s Believe it or not Gatlinburg

9. Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

800 Parkway, Gatlinburg TN • (865) 436-5096 • Official Website

Several of the most eye-catching attractions on Gatlinburg’s Main Street are from Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

Much to Heather’s chagrin, I have a fascination with trivia and odd facts, so the Ripley’s Museum was a must-see for me. It cost me $29 and some gentle ribbing from my wife.

Ripley’s “Odditorium” has over 600 exhibits that range from the informative to the bizarre. Heather, a Harry Potter fan, loved their Matchstick Hogwarts exhibit, a 600,000-matchstick recreation of the famous school for wizards. 

In addition to the museum, you can also visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, Mirror Maze, Moving Theater, and Super Fun Zone, which are all on Main Street.

If you visit Gatlinburg in October, check out Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, whose special effects, animatronics, and live actors make it one of the most popular haunted houses in Tennessee

Be sure to check out their combo passes, which can save you a lot of money!

READ MORE: The Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol TN/VA

activities in Gatlinburg TN - Gatlinburg Restaurants
Crockett’s Breakfast Camp Gatlinburg TN

10. Sample Gatlinburg Restaurants

Fried chicken, southern barbecue, cornbread, and pecan pie all come to mind when dreaming of southern cuisine. If you enjoy traditional Souther cuisine, the restaurants in Gatlinburg TN are an attraction all on their own.

Among the array of fabulous Gatlinburg restaurants, we chose Crockett’s Breakfast Camp for breakfast and enjoyed the charming Appalachian Mountain interior, which was full of rustic antique decor.

Heather enjoyed their famous Fried Cinnamon Roll with caramel sauce and fresh whipped cream. I chose the massive, savory Crockett’s Mountain Omelet with cheese, bacon, sausage, and jalapenos.

We enjoyed our favorite lunch on the rooftop of Loco Burro Fresh Mex Cantina. They won us over with their Baja Fish Tacos, sweet Grilled Mexican Street Corn, and refreshing Margaritas and Mojitos.

For a dinner that delivers a real Smoky Mountain experience, try the Park Grill, which is located just a stone’s throw from the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We chose the perfectly grilled Fresh Rainbow Trout, which was honestly the best trout we’ve ever had. Their massive salad bar is also beloved by locals and tourists alike.

READ MORE: 10 Best Caverns and Underground Caves in Tennessee

Best Places to Stay in Gatlinburg
Park Vista Hotel in Gatlinburg TN

Best Places to Stay in Gatlinburg

For lodging in Gatlinburg TN we chose the Park Vista Hotel, a towering cylindrical building where every room has a view of the stunning mountains that surround it.

Our suite had two balconies with floor-to-ceiling glass doors, affording us exceptional views of the mysterious blue smoke on the mountains, a full moon, and sparkling morning sunshine.

The Park Vista is one of several full-service Gatlinburg hotels, offering a buffet breakfast, bar, restaurant, indoor water park, and other amenities to make your stay memorable. Free parking and a free shuttle service were added perks.

If you’re looking for the best places to stay on Main Street, check out the Hilton Garden Inn and the Margaritaville Resort, with are within easy walking distance of everything Downtown Gatlinburg has to offer.

For a historic option, check out the Historic Gatlinburg Inn, which has been designated a Tennessee Music Pathways destination for its role in TN music history.

The legendary TN state song, “Rocky Top,” was written at the Inn by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant in 1967. You can even reserve the Rocky Top Room for your own stay!  –by Heather Taylor and Jon Weaver; all photos by Jon Weaver & Heather Taylor unless otherwise noted; lead image via Canva

Leave No Trace logo

We encourage anyone who loves the Blue Ridge region to learn about the Leave No Trace principles of responsible environmental stewardship. 

Stay on marked trails, take only pictures, pack out your trash, and be considerate of others who share the trails and parks you explore. 

Remember that waterfalls and rocky summits can be dangerous. Never try to climb waterfalls or get close to a ledge to get a selfie.

When you're exploring the wilderness, it's better to be safe than to be a statistic!

The universities brought Jon and Heather to Harrisonburg Virginia in the 1980s and the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley has kept them there to this day. Heather has a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education and 10 years of experience as an editor and technical writer for online training sites. After college, Jon worked several years at a weekly newspaper before joining his family business which he ran until retirement. Jon and Heather enjoy traveling and sharing their stories with others. Locally, they love exploring the towns and mountains of the Blue Ridge near their hometown of Harrisonburg VA.