The 10 Best Things to Do in the Great Smoky Mountains in Winter

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The Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee are spectacular at any time of year, including Winter.

Sure, the chilly Smoky Mountains Winter weather drives some folks indoors. But for visitors interested in snow skiing, snow tubing, snowboarding, hiking, and/or exploring waterfalls, Winter is a perfect time to visit!

Whichever category you fall into, there are plenty of fun activities in the Smoky Mountains in Winter to keep you busy, whether it’s a short romantic getaway for Valentine’s Day or a full-on vacation. 
Read on for our guide to things to do during Winter in the Smokies, including our favorite attractions in Gatlinburg TN, Pigeon Forge TN, Bryson City NC, Cherokee NC, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Are you planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains in Winter?

If you need recommendations for things to do during Winter in the Smoky Mountains, check out our tips for some of the top hotels, guided tours, and more!

Top Places to Stay in the Smoky Mountains

  1. Pigeon Forge TN: Twin Mountain Inn & Suites (free breakfast & fire pit overlooking the river)
  2. Pigeon Forge TN: Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa (indoor pool, on-site dining & spa)
  3. Gatlinburg TN: Margaritaville Resort (excellent location with on-site restaurant & spa)
  4. Gatlinburg TN: Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott (downtown hotel with breakfast included)
  5. Cherokee NC: Stonebrook Lodge (across from Harrah’s Cherokee Casino)
  6. Bryson City NC: Sleep Inn (budget-friendly hotel with continental breakfast)

Popular Tours & Activities in the Smoky Mountains:

  1. Pigeon Forge: Rocky Top Mountain Coaster Ride (go 30 mph on a thrilling 9-minute ride)
  2. Pigeon Forge: Titanic Museum Advance Purchase Ticket (ride on a replica of the Titanic)
  3. Gatlinburg: Impossibilities Magic and Mind-Reading Show (80 minutes of family fun!)
  4. Gatlinburg: Ghosts of the Smokies Haunted Walking Tour (1-hour guided walking tour)
  5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park Self-Guided Driving Tour (download app)

Need a car rental for your Smoky Mountains winter trip? Find the best rental car options here!

Great Smoky Mountains in Winter Guide

  1. Play in the Snow at Ober Mountain Gatlinburg
  2. Get Great Views at Gatlinburg SkyPark
  3. Festivities at Pigeon Forge Winterfest
  4. Rowdy Bear’s Smoky Mountain Snowpark in Pigeon Forge
  5. Winter Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  6. Drive Through Cades Cove
  7. Visit Mingo and Soco Falls in Cherokee 
  8. Tour the Museum of the Cherokee People
  9. Explore The Road to Nowhere in Bryson City
  10. Take a Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Train Ride

READ MORE: 15 Fun Things to Do in Winter in Tennessee


Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee

Christmas vacations in Tennessee - Snow Tubing Ober Mountain
Photo courtesy of

1. Play in the Snow at Ober Mountain Gatlinburg

There are loads of fun things to do in Gatlinburg in Winter. Main Street is packed with plenty of museums, restaurants, shops, and breweries to keep you busy indoors.

But if you’re looking to play in the snow, head up to Ober Mountain Gatlinburg. For snow skiing in Tennessee, Ober Mountain is not just the best, but the ONLY option!

This beloved mountaintop attraction offers fun Winter activities such as snow tubing, snowboarding, ice skating, and a Family Snow Zone where everyone can make snow angels, snowmen, snow forts, and more.

When Jack Frost starts nipping at your nose and toes, just pop into one of the Ober Mountain restaurants to grab a bite and/or sip some hot cocoa to get warm.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Gatlinburg TN

Gatlinburg TN winter - Skylift
Photo courtesy of Gatlinburg SkyPark

2. Get Great Views at Gatlinburg SkyPark

Imagine seeing snow-capped mountains and forest canopies from a bird‘s eye view. You can at Gatlinburg SkyPark, where you’ll find the longest pedestrian cable bridge in North America!

Walk across the bridge for magnificent scenic views and hike the SkyTrail up to the Tulip Tower observation deck. There you can enjoy panoramic vistas of the city of Gatlinburg TN and the Smoky Mountains. 

If you’re there in the evening, take a ride on the SkyLift to see stunning nighttime views of the city below lit up like the stars. This is especially heartwarming if you’re visiting Tennessee for Christmas

This popular Gatlinburg attraction will stay open if it snows, but will close for safety reasons if there is too much ice build-up. We recommend calling before you visit in order to avoid disappointment.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Romantic Getaways in Tennessee

Tennessee Christmas vacation - Pigeon Forge - Winterfest Light Display
Winterfest Light Display, photo courtesy of

3. Festivities at Pigeon Forge Winterfest

Pigeon Forge’s Winterfest runs until February 18, 2024, offering endless attractions (including myriad Christmas-themed events) to keep you busy this Winter.

One of our favorite attractions during Winter in Pigeon Forge TN is SkyLand’s Festival of Lights, which runs from early November through mid-February.

Guests can marvel at hundreds of thousands of Tennessee Christmas lights and enjoy decadent sweet treats at the SkyLand Café & Bakery (which is decorated as the North Pole for the holidays).

If you want to be part of a magical New Year tradition, ring in the New Year at The Island in Pigeon Forge on December 31, when they host a magnificent fireworks display as the clock strikes midnight. 

READ MORE: The 10 Best Tennessee Mountain Towns to Visit

snow tubing Pigeon Forge Smoky Mountains TN
Photo courtesy of Rowdy Bear’s Smoky Mountain Snowpark

4. Rowdy Bear’s Smoky Mountain Snowpark 

Rowdy Bear’s Smoky Mountain Snowpark in Pigeon Forge TN is the place to go for top-notch snow tubing in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Guests can experience the longest hill (500 feet) and fastest snow tubing in TN, with a 70-foot drop along the way. You can also take an exhilarating ride on the Avalanche Snow Coaster, where you control the speed. 

They also have an outdoor playground for kids, while grownups can try their hand at axe throwing with help from Rowdy Bear’s trained staff. 

There aren’t any restaurants at the park, but nearby eateries include the Local GoatBlue Moose, and Sunline Diner

READ MORE: The 10 Best Campgrounds in Tennessee to Visit


Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Winter

Winter in Great Smoky Mountains

5. Winter Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Winter in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is simply breathtaking. If you’re fortunate enough to see it covered in snow, it’s a picture-perfect Winter wonderland!

With the leaves from the deciduous trees gone, many of the national park’s 100+ hiking trails offer magical vistas that are usually hidden in summer. 

The Allum Cave Bluff Trail and Metcalf Bottoms Trail (to the quaint ghost town of Little Greenbrier) are especially pretty in the snow. 

Although the popular Roaring Fork Motor Trail is closed to cars in Winter, you can still hike some amazing trails, including the picturesque Grotto Falls Trail.

Note that Smoky Mountain waterfalls can get very slippery in Winter. So be cautious, and be sure to check the official NPS official site for info on trail closures and weather warnings. 

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

winter in Smoky Mountains - Cades Cove

6. Drive Through Cades Cove

If you prefer to stay in the car on cold Winter days, we recommend taking a ride through Cades Cove. It’s a wonderful drive at any time of year, but the 11-mile road is especially magical in the snow. 

You can easily spend two hours here, especially if you stop to look at some of the historic buildings, enjoy spotting wildlife (including Black Bears and birds), or get out to take a stroll. 

This area was settled by Europeans between 1818 and 1821, and holds the widest variety of historic buildings in the park. Visitors can see churches, a grist mill, barns, log cabins, and more. 

Guests are encouraged to pick up a tour booklet at the entrance to the loop road and take their own self-guided tour.

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


Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina

Mingo Falls in Cherokee NC
Mingo Falls in Cherokee NC, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

7. Visit Mingo Falls & Soco Falls in Cherokee NC

Located in Cherokee NC (a.k.a. the Qualla Boundary), Mingo Falls is one of the tallest and most magnificent waterfalls in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.

The hike is just 1/4-mile, but it’s straight up 161 steps. At the top you can see water cascading down a 120-foot drop into the pool below, with a spectacular view from a wooden observation bridge. 

Soco Falls is another one of our favorite waterfalls in Cherokee NC, offering two falls for the price of one. The great thing about visiting in Winter is that you can see both falls without having to scramble down to the bottom.

There’s a small roadside parking area, with a very short walk to reach the viewing platform. Sure-footed visitors can climb down to the base of the falls, but we recommend using the guide ropes, because the rocks are really slippery! 

Note that these and other North Carolina waterfalls can be slick at the best of times. Be especially cautious when there is snow and ice on the ground.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Waterfalls Near Cherokee NC to Visit

Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee NC
Museum of the Cherokee People, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

8. Tour the Museum of the Cherokee People

If you find yourself wanting to be indoors on a cold Winter day, the Museum of the Cherokee People in Cherokee NC is an excellent place to start. 

This is one of the longest-operating tribal museums in the USA, and it’s packed with fascinating info about Cherokee culture and history

Extensive exhibits tell the story of the Cherokee people and Cherokee legends. The museum is a great place to take children, too, who will enjoy the immersive and interactive environment.

They also have a large gift shop stocked with art, books, clothing, jewelry, and home decor, many of which have been made by local Cherokee artists and craftsmen.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Cabins in Cherokee NC for Rent

The Road to Nowhere Tunnel in Bryson City NC
The Road to Nowhere Tunnel in Bryson City NC, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

9. Explore The Road to Nowhere in Bryson City

If it’s too chilly outside, a scenic drive offers a great opportunity to learn about Bryson City‘s “Road to Nowhere.” This unusual landmark came about after the Fontana Dam flooded other access roads, and a replacement road was started.

Due to environmental concerns, construction was stopped at the end of a one-mile tunnel. But the road is now considered a beautiful hiking destination.

Taking the drive to reach it will offer you many breathtaking overlooks of Fontana Lake, which we consider one of the most beautiful lakes in North Carolina.

Once you reach the tunnel, you must get out of your car and go through the tunnel on foot.

On the other side, you’ll find trailheads for the Noland Creek Trail, Goldmine Loop, and Lakeshore Trails, all of which offer a wonderful way to spend a day during Winter in the Great Smoky Mountains.

READ MORE: The 20 Best Things to Do in Bryson City NC

smoky mountains in winter - Great Smoky Mountains Railroad - Nantahala Gorge Excursion

10. Take a Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Train Ride

Whether you visit Bryson City for the Polar Express Train at Christmas or to take a train ride along the Nantahala River on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, both are fun Winter activities.

The 4.5-hour Nantahala Gorge trip departs from Bryson City, traveling 44 miles to the Nantahala Gorge and back.Along the way, you’ll enjoy breathtaking sights of the Great Smoky Mountains and Fontana Lake.

Once you reach the Nantahala Outdoor Center outpost, there’s a one-hour layover where you can grab a bite to eat or chill by the river while awaiting your train ride back to the train depot. 

There are various tour packages available, ranging from traveling in First Class (which includes dining) to open-air gondolas where guests are invited to bring a pre-packed box lunch.

Don’t forget to bring blankets to snuggle up in if you’re taking the open-air cars. But the First, Crown, and Coach Class cars all have heating.  -by Emma Gallagher; featured photo of Great Smoky Mountains in Winter 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!

Born in Britain, writer/photographer Emma Gallagher lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of NC on a permaculture homestead with her husband, Jonathon. While traveling the world for 13 years, she fell in love with the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge region when she lived at an artist retreat in Burnsville NC before moving to Brevard. Today Emma lives near Stone Mountain State Park and Doughton Park volunteers at the Surry County Fiddlers Convention, and cares for the gardens at the Reeves Downtown School of Music in Elkin. She's also a volunteer for the Elkin Valley Trails Association, which maintains segment 6 of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.