Ripley’s Aquarium is one of the most visited attractions in Gatlinburg and for good reason. It is literally teeming with aquatic life, with over 10,000 exotic sea creatures comprising more than 350 individual species. Diverse sections of the aquarium highlight coral reefs, sting rays and even local creatures like catfish.

There’s so much to see and do at the Aquarium of the Smokies, it’s easy to spend several hours here exploring all of the exhibits and displays. However, the most popular exhibit at Ripley’s Aquarium Gatlinburg is the Shark Lagoon. Visitors travel along a 340-foot long glidepath, winding their way through an underwater tunnel while coming face-to-face with snappers, tarpons, grunts, squirrelfish, a green sea turtle, giant stingrays, sawfish and very large sharks.

Take a look at what the Shark Lagoon is all about:

The Ripley’s Aquarium Shark Lagoon is so impressive, I recommend going through the tunnel several times to fully experience the immersive environment.

Voted One of the Top 5 Aquariums in the USA & the World by TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice, the Ripley’s Aquarium is a must-visit for any family vacationing in Gatlinburg. At this amazing aquarium, not only can you marvel at 12-foot sharks, giant sea turtles, thousands of exotic sea creatures, you can also view playful penguins swimming in the Penguin Playhouse exhibit. Moreover, their are interactive activities you can add to your day that make the trip to the aquarium that much more engaging.

Purchase Ripley’s Aquarium tickets today to experience the Shark Lagoon, and many more exhibits, in Gatlinburg Tennessee.

Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting Gatlinburg to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information. With over 10 years of experience in first-hand-travel adventures, she shares her stories, advice, and current events to help you stay in the know.

Filled with endless activities, shows, restaurants, and of course, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it’s no wonder Gatlinburg is such a popular vacation destination. While visiting Gatlinburg will provide you with lifelong travel memories, there are a few things you need to know before you go.


Gatlinburg Has Something for Everyone

Whether you’re on your honeymoon or traveling to the Smoky Mountains for a vacation with the kids, everyone will love spending time in Gatlinburg. Be sure to enjoy one or more of these iconic activities and attractions while visiting Gatlinburg:

Outdoor Activities in Gatlinburg

If you love the great outdoors, then a vacation in Gatlinburg is exactly what you need. When planning your Smoky Mountains vacation, make sure these outdoor activities are part of your plans:


Of course, this is only a handful of the exciting outdoor adventures that await you in Gatlinburg!

Shopping in Gatlinburg

Those visiting Gatlinburg for the first time need to take advantage of the prime shopping opportunities. Browse through these shopping malls during your trip to the Smokies:


If you’re looking for a handcrafted gift or work of art, head over to the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community where you’ll find shops such as:


Gatlinburg Attractions

When visiting Gatlinburg, there are specific attractions that you must experience in order to have a true Smoky Mountain vacation. In addition to exploring the magnificent national park, make sure these top-rated Gatlinburg attractions are part of your itinerary:


Whether you want to see the Gatlinburg landscape from high in the sky or your children want to play mini golf, there’s something for everyone in Gatlinburg.

Shows in Gatlinburg

Lastly, you have to reserve seats for one of the many jaw-dropping shows. From the mesmerizing production quality to the side-splitting humor, the shows in Gatlinburg and just next door in Pigeon Forge are a must-see. Get your tickets for one of these phenomenal shows:


From the great outdoors to show-stopping performances, Gatlinburg has something for everyone in the family to enjoy.


Where to Stay in Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg offers visitors a wide range of lodging options. Visiting Gatlinburg is a breeze when you stay at one of the many hotels, cabins, resorts, or camping sites.

The hotels in Gatlinburg are second to none. With luxurious amenities and comfortable rooms, every type of traveler will enjoy staying at one of these top hotels:


For those who want a more laid-back vacation when visiting Gatlinburg, consider staying at one of the premium cabins available. Cozy cabins are located all over the Smoky Mountain region, so you can find one near the specific attractions and activities you’d like to experience. Reserve a cabin for your family with one of these cabin companies in Gatlinburg:


Perhaps you prefer the all-inclusive route when on vacation. The Smoky Mountain region offers several different resorts to choose from, including the Resort at Governor’s Crossing and RiverStone Resort and Spa.

Of course, if you want to rough it in the wilderness, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers plenty of campsites. Follow all rules, regulations, and guidelines laid out by Park Rangers and the National Park Service. Also, be on the lookout for wild animals such as bears. Should you choose to go camping when visiting Gatlinburg, make sure you understand what to do if you encounter a bear!


Where to Eat in Gatlinburg

Now to the most important part of any vacation — the food. Gatlinburg is home to a wide assortment of restaurants, distilleries, breweries, cafes and so much more. Trust me, you won’t regret visiting or dining at any of Gatlinburg’s top food and drink spots:


From a home cooked meal to sampling moonshine, you won’t be disappointed with the food choices when visiting Gatlinburg on vacation!

Visiting Gatlinburg

Tips for Visiting Gatlinburg for the First Time

Once you know what to do, where to stay, and where to eat, it’s time to answer your Gatlinburg vacation questions

When Should I Visit?
As you might have guessed, the Gatlinburg area can become extremely congested during the peak seasons, which are:

  • Early January
  • June through August
  • October
  • December


For fewer crowds, visiting Gatlinburg during the months of February, March, April, May, September, and November is your best bet.

How Bad is the Traffic?
Brace yourself for the infamous Gatlinburg traffic. No matter when you decide to travel to Gatlinburg, you will encounter traffic. One way to avoid this is to utilize the Gatlinburg Trolley. Not only is it a great way to see the area, it also eliminates parking fees and pesky traffic.

Also, driving through Gatlinburg at off-peak times of the day will help you combat traffic. Try driving in the middle of the morning or afternoon, rather than at typical rush hour times.

What Should I Pack?
The Gatlinburg area experiences all four seasons, so pack accordingly! Even if you plan on visiting Gatlinburg in the summer, you’ll want to have a sweatshirt or two on hand. It tends to be chilly during the evening and early mornings in the mountains.

In addition, don’t forget to bring:

  • Sneakers
  • Hiking Boots
  • A Swim Suit
  • A Camera
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug Spray
  • Weather Appropriate Clothing


Will Visiting Gatlinburg Break the Bank?
With so many activities, attractions, and shows, it may feel as though visiting Gatlinburg will break your vacation budget. Not true! Thanks to discounted tickets and lodging rates at Reserve Gatlinburg, and free activities such as hiking in the Smoky Mountains, visiting Gatlinburg is incredibly affordable.

Now that you know everything about visiting Gatlinburg for the first time, start planning your vacation!

Now is the time to start planning your Gatlinburg winter vacation.  The quaint mountain village has plenty to offer, with numerous attractions, shopping, dining and, of course, the great outdoors available to visitors.  Likewise, Winterfest is a highlight of the season, offering wintertime activities, dazzling light displays and special events.  Ready to makes the next steps on your Gatlinburg winter vacation?  Read on to discover tips, insight and the best things to do this winter. 

Gatlinburg winter vacation

The Great Smoky Mountains with a dusting of snow.

Before You Go

Weather during a Gatlinburg winter vacation is generally pretty comfortable, with an average temperature of 50°. Keep in mind, this weather forecast is for the lower elevations. While you’re out exploring, you’ll no doubt gain elevation seeking those stunning Smoky Mountain sights. The higher you go, the colder it gets and the chance for snow increases greatly. Plan your day accordingly, as well as your suitcase!  With conditions changing frequently, you’ll want to wear layers and have plenty of cold weather gear. Above all, plan to stay comfortable–it is vacation after all.

Gatlinburg winter vacation

Cabins are the perfect place to stay during a Gatlinburg winter vacation.

Where to Stay

For a cozy Gatlinburg winter vacation, I highly recommend staying in a cabin. Gatlinburg cabin rentals have locations in the heart of the mountains. You’ll be surrounded by nature–you might even see some wildlife! In addition, the seclusion of your cabin gives you a sanctuary in the mountain that’s all your own. Many of these cabins are rather luxurious. For example, hot tubs, are a standard amenity. And really, what could be better than a hot tub soak on a panoramic deck?

Eden Crest Vacation Rentals
Featuring luxury one- to five-bedroom log cabins, Eden Crest Vacation Rentals offer an ideal place to unwind in the Smoky Mountains. Moreover, guests can enjoy a variety of features within each rental, including free Wi-Fi, home theaters, flat-screen TVs, pool tables, whirlpool spa baths, saunas, and more.

Hearthside at the Preserve
As the highest elevated resort in all of the Smoky Mountains, guests have a magnificent view of the mountain range and landscape. Further, these luxury cabins with 1-3 bedrooms feature picturesque views and offer extraordinary amenities like hot tubs, upscale furnishings, fireplaces and much more.

Hearthside Cabin Rentals
Hearthside cabins are nestled in and around the heart of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the Great Smoky Mountains. Cabins offer amazing mountain views, game tables, hot tubs and are pet friendly.

White Oak Lodge
Bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, White Oak Lodge offers affordable yet well-appointed cabins that provide a rustic mountain experience while still being conveniently close to all there is to do in Gatlinburg.

Gatlinburg winter vacation

Snow tubing and smiles go hand-in-hand.

What to Do

A Gatlinburg winter vacation has no shortage of things to do. Coupled with everyday fun, below are some of the seasonal highlights.

Ober Gatlinburg
This ski resort makes its own snow and is fun place to tube, ski or snowboard down the Smoky Mountains.  Ice Skating is available too.

Ripley’s Aquarium
One of my favorite downtown Gatlinburg attractions is the Ripley’s Aquarium.  Diving into life under the sea is not only interesting, but educational.  Kids love the aquarium, and during the holidays they have a Musical Christmas Tree standing 5-stories tall which entertains guests with a musical light show.

Trolley Tour of Lights
Through January 31, 2017, you can hop aboard a Gatlinburg Trolley to see the Winter Magic Light displays.  The guided, enclosed excursions leave from traffic light #5. Then, they travel through downtown and along Highway 321. For your convenience, multiple tours leave nightly.

Gatlinburg winter vacation

Snowy road during winter at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park/

Auto Tour the Smoky Mountains

It might be too chilly for a hike, but it’s never too cold to auto tour the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Stop by local coffee shop Coffee & Company for drinks and snacks. Then, hit highway! A few routes worth cruising are Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and Newfound Gap Road.

Christmas Shows

In nearby Pigeon Forge, Christmas shows help celebrate the season with songs, dancing, and of course, merriment. Even the grinchiest grinch will feel the spirit of the holidays at these productions.

Christmas at the Smoky Mountain Opry
A festive holiday experience, complete with flying sugar plum fairies and angels, dancing elves, magical reindeer and an appearance from Santa Claus. The show also features the largest living nativity in the area, as well as a huge band, beautiful costumes, special effects and more.

Dixie Stampede Christmas
Treat yourself to the christmas-themed Dixie Stampede. The North Pole vs. South Pole story has twinkling lights, evergreens, old-fashioned holiday costumes, Christmas music favorites, elves and more. A special toys segment featuring a flying Sugar Plum Fairy, larger than life toys, and a real horse mounted Toy Soldier all set to the music of the Nutcracker.

Hatfield & McCoy Christmas Dinner Disaster
The story between these two feudin’ families gets a Christmas twist for the holiday season. Accordingly, a festive spirit is at the heart of the singing and dancing, mighty feats of strength, jaw dropping stunts and side-splitting comedy. Oh, and there’s moonshine to keep you nice and toasty this holiday season!

Peddler Riverside

Peddler Steakhouse/Facebook

Where to Eat

The Gatlinburg Parkway is full of places to dine. Whether you’re looking for a laid back night out, or an elegant night for two, these Gatlinburg restaurants have you covered.

Smoky Mountain Brewery
A casual restaurant modeled after an Alpine Lodge, the Smoky Mountain Brewery offers fantastic beers, delicious pizza and calzones, as well as hearty dinners of steak and pasta.  I recommend the pretzels and beer cheese an appetizer accompanied by the Mountain Light brew.

Peddler Steakhouse
This pioneer cabin turned restaurant is a rustic yet elegant place to eat in Gatlinburg. With a creekside location, the ambiance is superb as are the top-grade steaks and service. For this reason, it’s one of the most popular places to eat in the Smoky Mountains.

Restaurant at Buckberry Creek
Fine dining and seasonal cuisine reign supreme at this restaurant, located at The Lodge at Buckberry Creek. Every evening, their chef constructs a special tasting menu of five composed courses. Notably, each day is different and dependant on seasonality and availability. As a result of this unique experience, reservations are strongly advised.

Escape to the Smokies this Winter

What are you waiting for? As you can see, a Gatlinburg winter vacation is an ideal escape. Be sure to book your hotel and attraction tickets through Reserve Gatlinburg.

Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting Gatlinburg to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information. With over 10 years of experience in first-hand-travel adventures, she shares her stories, advice, and current events to help you stay in the know.

Are you one of the many people who’ve set their sights on a vacation in Gatlinburg? Millions of visitors flock to this mountain hamlet to explore The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, quirky downtown Gatlinburg and neighboring towns such as Pigeon Forge. If you’re short on time, though, and only have a weekend in Gatlinburg, I’m here to help.

Follow this guide touting what to do and where to go for a memorable weekend in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Happy male traveler showing thumb up in summer mountains at sunset, point of view shot

Day 1

Explore the National Park

My absolute favorite thing to do in the Smoky Mountains? Explore the great Outdoors. With the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Gatlinburg’s doorstep, it’s a prime location for doing just that.

IMG_3296 Crockett Camp RSZ

Breakfast: Start your day with breakfast Crockett’s Breakfast Camp. This restaurant serves hearty portions sure to fuel your day of activity.

I recommend stopping by the Sugarlands Visitor Center to pick up any hiking maps and auto-tour guides (and maybe a souvenir or two!). Afterwards, it’s time to begin exploring.

Auto-Touring: At over 800 square miles, there’s a lot of ground to cover in the Smoky Mountains National Park. Accordingly, auto-touring is one of the best ways to see the sights. There are plenty of overlooks to stop at, providing pristine views of the park. Below are a few of the most popular auto-touring routes.

  • Cades Cove Loop Road
  • Cataloochee Valley
  • Newfound Gap Road
  • Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail


Dawn in the Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, USA.

Lunch: While you’re out exploring the National Park, there aren’t many places to stop for a bite to eat. I recommend picking up a to-go lunch so you’re not lost in the woods without a snack. Calhoun’s Restaurant will box up barbeque to-go. Alternatively, you can also stop by the local grocery for sandwich fixings, or hit up Subway.

Hiking: So many trails, so little time. This is always my struggle while at the National Park, as I want to do it all. When you only have a weekend in Gatlinburg, I’m sure you’ll think the struggle is real too. So, to make the most of your time I’ve highlighted a few of the most rewarding hikes in the Smoky Mountains.


Dinner: After a busy day of exploring, your belly will be rumbling. Treat yourself to one of the finest dinners in Gatlinburg at the Peddler Steakhouse. The food is superb, and the scenery is sublime.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA townscape in the Smoky Mountains.

Day 2

Experience Gatlinburg Attractions

On day 2 of your weekend in Gatlinburg, it’s time to experience some of Gatlinburg’s best attractions.

Breakfast: A visit to Gatlinburg isn’t complete without a pancake pit stop. For breakfast, dine at the Pancake Pantry. Just be prepared for a wait, as this place is very popular.

people are going on horse through forest

Horseback Riding: Sugarlands Riding Stables hosts guided trail rides through the Smoky Mountains, which is a unique way to see the sights just like the early settlers did.

Gatlinburg Sky Lift: For a bird-eye-view of the scenery, take an open air chair lift ride with Gatlinburg Sky Lift. As you ascend 1,800 feet to the top of Crockett Mountain, you’ll gain access to some of the most breathtaking views of Downtown Gatlinburg.

Lunch: For a quick and delicious lunch, you can’t beat the Smoky Mountain Brewery. From calzones to burgers, this Alpine lodge-style eatery will win your taste buds over. Likewise, if you didn’t pick up a to-go lunch from Calhoun’s the day before, you should stop in for lunch today.

Gatlinburg Sky Lift RSZ (11)

Ripley’s Aquarium: Home to a variety of exhibits exploring life under the sea, families can spend hours viewing tropical fish, coral reefs and interactive displays. There’s even penguins living here!

Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster: Up next is a ride aboard the Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster. Relatively new to the Gatlinburg attraction scene, this mountain coaster puts you in the driver seat—literally. You control how fast you go on this silent track, which twists and turns through scenic forests and wilderness.

Loco Burro Facebook RSZ

Loco Burro Fresh Mex Cantina/Facebook

Dinner: Loco Burro is a lively place to eat at night, especially if you can score a table on the rooftop. Twinkling lights, fire pits, live music and views of the Parkway set the scene. Of course, the large portions of fresh Mex and strong margaritas are a big draw too!

After dinner, be sure to visit a distillery or two for samples of moonshine. Ole Smoky Moonshine and Sugarlands Distillery serve some of the finest ‘shine this side of the Mississippi! Then, finish the night by going to the top of the Gatlinburg Space Needle. From it’s vantage point, the entire hamlet of Gatlinburg twinkles.

Pigeon Burg Work Trip (1021)

Day 3

If you’re lucky enough to have a 3 day weekend in Gatlinburg, it’s worth taking some time to hop over to nearby Pigeon Forge. The towns, while similar, offer different ways to experience Appalachian culture. Highlights of Pigeon Forge include:

The Island: Home to the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, Margaritaville, Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen and over 30 other rides and attractions.

Dollywood: A family-friendly theme park with over 40 rides and attractions.

The Old Mill: A fully operational 1830s grist mill anchors the Old Mill, which is home to multiple shops and a one-of-a-kind homestyle restaurant.


Where to Stay

During your weekend in Gatlinburg, I recommend staying near the Parkway. This way, you’ll never be far from all the fun! Below are some of the best places to stay in Downtown Gatlinburg.

  • Bearskin Lodge on the River
  • Old Creek Lodge
  • Hilton Garden Inn

Get Ready for a Wonderful Weekend in Gatlinburg

With this helpful guide detailing what to see and do in Gatlinburg, you’re ready for an action-packed weekend in Gatlinburg. Be sure to check out our events calendar to take advantage of seasonal events and festivities. You never know what might be brewing in the Smokies!

Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting Gatlinburg to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information. With over 10 years of experience in first-hand-travel adventures, she shares her stories, advice, and current events to help you stay in the know.

If you’re looking to get away for Labor Day, consider the Smoky Mountains of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. These two beautiful cities are tucked into the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Each offers an exciting mix of indoor and outdoor activities. With a splendid selection of shopping, shows, attractions and outdoor adventures, a quick trip to the Smokies is the perfect way to enjoy your time away from work. Find out all that you can do during a Gatlinburg Labor Day Weekend.

Gatlinburg Sky Lift RSZ (7)

See a Show

When you first arrive in Tennessee, you’ll notice the rolling mountains and blue skies that go on forever. You’ll also notice several signs pointing your way to shows like the Dixie Stampede, Country Tonite and Smoky Mountain Opry. Shows in Pigeon Forge are very popular, and with good reason. Whether you enjoy dinner and a show, a little bit of rock ‘n roll or a bit of country, there is a show to fit your style.

Experience Smoky Mountain Attractions


Dixie Stampede

Attractions in Pigeon Forge offer a mix of fast paced excitement and interesting exhibits. For those looking for speed this Labor Day, visit Lazerport Funcenter, NASCAR Speedpark and Speed Zone Go-Kart Tracks. A more leisurely way to experience the area is by visiting Scenic Helicopter Tours. This Pigeon Forge attraction takes visitors up, up and away. Soar above the clouds to beautiful areas such as Douglas Lake and the Foothills.

Gatlinburg is home to a myriad of Ripley’s Attractions. The full line-up includes Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium, Ripley’s Davy Crockett Mini-Golf, Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, Ripley’s Aquarium and Ripley’s Moving Theater. These exceptional attractions offer a little bit of something for everyone, and something no one will want to miss. Other things to do in Gatlinburg include playing a round of golf at Bent Creek Golf Course and a thrilling white water rafting adventure, courtesy of companies like Smoky Mountain Outdoors and Rafting in the Smokies.

Explore the Great Outdoors

Clingmans Dome ThinkstockPhotos-510724453_RSZ

Clingman’s Dome

With the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, you’ll certainly want to explore your beautiful surroundings. Several outdoor activities and scenic spots are at your doorstep. Some of my favorite spots are Clingman’s Dome, Laurel Falls, Newfound Gap Overlook, Cades Cove and Grotto Falls. You can also go horseback riding in the Smokies and visit historic homesteads and mills.

Sleep Sweet

Of course, when you getaway for a Gatlinburg Labor Day it’s important to have a nice place to stay. With two great cities so close together, you’ll have your options wide open. Lodging in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg provide quality yet affordable facilities. There are motels, hotels, cabins and condominiums to choose from. RiverStone Resort, Park Place Condominiums, Old Creek Lodge and Quality Inn are just a few of the places to stay in the Smokies.

This Labor Day Weekend, treat your self to something a little bit country and a little bit city. With such a great combination of activities to choose from, you’ll be glad you visited the Gateway to the Smoky Mountains for your Labor Day Getaway!

Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting Gatlinburg to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information. With over 10 years of experience in first-hand-travel adventures, she shares her stories, advice, and current events to help you stay in the know.

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is literally teeming with life.  10,000 exotic sea creatures comprise more than 350 individual species and create 10 intriguing exhibits to explore. There’s a lot to see and do at this Gatlinburg attraction, but a highlight of Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies experience is the shark lagoon.

As you leisurely travel on a moving 340-foot long glidepath, you wind your way through an underwater tunnel and come face-to-face with snappers, tarpons, grunts, squirrelfish, a green sea turtle, giant stingrays, sawfish and large sharks. You have to stop and stare as sharks swim over your head and all around you. It’s an awesome sight and one that’s worth seeing again and again.

Take a look at what the Shark Lagoon at Ripley’s Aquarium is experience is all about:

Want to see more?  Purchase Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies tickets to view the shark lagoon and other fascinating exhibits, including Penguin Playhouse, Touch a Ray Bay and the Ocean Realm. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies also has a rotating collection of special exhibits. Currently, a Pearl Harbor exhibit is on display detailing the impact of the infamous day not only on our nation but the environment.

If you’d like to explore even more Ripley’s attractions, the U-Pick Combo is the perfect option. U-Picks give you the flexibility you seek in a vacation while saving you money compared to buying all attractions separately. The U-Pick Combo includes a one day admission to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies plus your choice of ot Ripley’s attractions, including Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze, Ripley’s Moving Theater, Ripley’s Davy Crockett Mini-Golf, Guinness World Records, and Ripley’s Old MacDonald’s Farm Mini-Golf. U-Pick passes come in bundles of two, three and four attractions. Pick the money-saving option that’s right for you and your family.

Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting Gatlinburg to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information. With over 10 years of experience in first-hand-travel adventures, she shares her stories, advice, and current events to help you stay in the know.

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” This famous John Muir quote always reminds me of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The quaint town is surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and has a charm all its own. If the mountains are calling your name, it’s time to start planning a Gatlinburg getaway. Find out how to make your vacation in Gatlinburg even better with these five easy-to-use tips.

Gatlinburg Sky Lift RSZ (16)

The Gatlinburg Overlook

1) Stay in Downtown Gatlinburg

While it’s nice to stay in a cabin when you visit the Smokies, I prefer to stay near the Parkway. Gatlinburg is a walking town, and hotels in Downtown Gatlinburg make accessing shops, attractions like Ripley’s Aquarium, distilleries and restaurants super easy. Plus, you won’t have to search for a place to park your car and pay those pesky parking fees (which can really add up!). Traffic can get pretty thick during peak season, too. Avoid all those hassles by staying at Old Creek Lodge, Bearskin Lodge on the River, Historic Gatlinburg Inn or Hilton Garden Inn.

Sugarlands Visitor Center_RSZ

Sugarlands Visitor Center

2) Go to the Sugarlands Visitor Center

No matter how many times I trek through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I always start at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. There are a wealth of resources at this Center. You can pick up a park map or newspaper, have your questions answered by a ranger, and purchase books and guides to the park. I generally have an idea of the hikes I’m planning to do, but stopping here for trail guides and maps is a must. In addition, the shop here has some of the best Smoky Mountain souvenirs, ranging from historical books to picture-perfect postcards.


Rainbow Falls

3) Hiking in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Okay, this one might seem like a no-brainer but, with the Park sprawling over 500,000 acres there’s a lot of ground to cover. Every season brings highlights, from wildflower hikes in the spring to fall foliage expeditions in autumn. Some sights, though, are brilliant all year long. A few of my favorite hikes include Laurel Falls, a relatively easy 2-mile roundtrip paved hike to a cascading waterfall; Rainbow Falls, a rather strenuous 5.8 mile roundtrip hike to an 80 foot waterfall; and Abrams Falls, a moderate 5 mile roundtrip hike to the most voluminous waterfall in the park. (I may have a thing for waterfalls.) Other hikes that should be on your radar include Andrews Bald, Clingman’s Dome, Alum Cave and Porter’s Creek. There are so many places to hike in the Smoky Mountains, each beautiful in their own unique way.



4) Venture to Pigeon Forge

With only a 10-minute drive separating Gatlinburg from Pigeon Forge, I highly recommend spending at least a day or two exploring this neighbor town. Pigeon Forge has an atmosphere distinctly different from Gatlinburg: it’s bigger, more touristy and offers a wide selection of family-friendly attractions. One of the best is Dollywood, a theme park with high-flying coasters, splashtastic water rides, county fair-style rides for little ones, entertaining shows, demonstrating craftsmen and so much more. Two newer Pigeon Forge attractions that are a total blast include The Coaster at Goats on the Roof and Outdoor Gravity Park.


Rafting in the Smokies

5) Be Adventurous

Where better to be adventurous than the Smoky Mountains. The gorgeous natural landscape makes activities like horseback riding, ziplining and white water rafting even better. For horseback riding, Sugarlands Riding Stables and Five Oaks Riding Stables will get you saddled up. Ziplining opportunities are vast, but the best views are found at Legacy Mountain Ziplines, Foxfire Mountain Adventures and Adventure America Ziplines. White water rafting in Gatlinburg is highly recommended, even for novices, as the trips include a good mix of Class III and IV rapids without being pee-your-pants scary. There are also rafting trips with Class I and II rapids only, ideal for families. Outfitters like Rafting in the Smokies and Smoky Mountain Outdoors offer knowledgeable guides and excellent experiences, but you really can’t go wrong with any of the Gatlinburg rafting operators.

See how much fun a vacation in Gatlinburg can be? Put these tips to use and you’ll soon discover this mountain town is the perfect escape from the everyday.

Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting Gatlinburg to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information. With over 10 years of experience in first-hand-travel adventures, she shares her stories, advice, and current events to help you stay in the know.

The quaint town of Gatlinburg is known for its family friendly fun. Between the outdoor activities available at The Great Smoky Mountain National Park and attractions teeming with entertainment it’s easy to please the whole family on your vacation–including your children. If you’re searching for the best things to do in Gatlinburg for kids read on.


Explore the Smoky Mountains

There are over 500,000 acres to explore in the Smokies, and almost as many ways to make the experience uniquely yours. Several easy hikes, such as Laurel Falls, give you a glimpse of the beauty of the mountains while not being too strenuous for the kiddos. Plus, they usually have more energy that mom and dad anyway! You can also hitch a ride on a horse at outfits like Sugarland Riding Stables. Giddy up and take to the trails on a gentle mare to see some of scenic sights of the Smokies.


Make a Splash Rafting or Tubing

You might think white water rafting is too much adventure for your kids. Don’t worry, though, as Gatlinburg rafting companies offer a trip on the lower Pigeon River perfect for families. The 5 ½ mile rafting trip runs about 50 class I and II rapids, with one class III at the very end. With calm waters, and just enough rapids to make a splash, kids ages 3 and up can go on the lower Pigeon River float. Another leisurely way to spend the day in the Smokies is tubing the river. River Romp and River Rat offer affordable ways for families to enjoy the old-fashioned fun of river tubing. Along the way you’ll find swimming holes and rope swings, adding even more activities to your day on the river.

DW Kids Ride


Families with kids of all ages will find something to love at Dollywood. There are roller coasters like Wild Eagle ideal for big kids, and traditional fair rides for little ones at the Country Fair section of the park. Make sure you visit during the Great American Summer Festival for even more kid-themed fun. The Smoky Mountain theme park has extended operating hours during this festival and features nightly fireworks, special shows and fun geared just for kids.


Dollywood’s Splash Country

Cool off during your vacation at the only waterpark in the Smoky Mountains. Add aquatic adventure to your day on attractions like RiverRush or take it easy and lounge in the lazy river. From mild to wild thrills, Splash Country is a place where families can dive into summer fun.

Sugarlands Visitor Center_RSZ

Become a Junior Ranger

Kids ages 5-12 can become a Junior Ranger on their Gatlinburg vacation. Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet at any park visitor center. Complete the activities in the booklet then return to the visitor center, talk to a ranger and receiver your Junior Ranger badge. The Junior Ranger badge is available any time of year, but in every season but winter your can also take part in Junior Ranger programs designed especially for children.


Ripley’s Aquarium

Immerse yourself in the aquatic wonders of Ripley’s Aquarium. Even though you might be miles from the sea this attraction deftly navigates the waters of our world, highlighting a variety of species and exotic sea creatures. My favorite element is the Shark Lagoon, which includes a 340-foot underwater tunnel. Hop on the glidepath through the tunnel and gawk at the stingrays, sawfish, tarpons, sharks, eels and more. Interactive and educational exhibits challenge children while keep their interests. Be sure to touch a stingray and pose with a penguin during your trip.



Kids of all ages find WonderWorks to be engaging, entertaining and educational. Dubbed an amusement park for the mind, the attraction lets you experience an earthquake and hurricane, design your own roller coaster, explore outer space, ride an extreme 360 bike and so much more. There’s even a ropes course and laser tag course where families can challenge each other.



Are any of your kids Harry Potter fans? Then MagiQuest is for them. Using a magic wand visitor’s journey through an interactive magical adventure. Various challenges, puzzles and brave feats let you advance through levels, gaining skill and knowledge along the way. Plus, you can purchase your wand and keep it for return visits to MagiQuest locations across the nation. It remembers everything you accomplish so you can keep playing for years!

Add these popular things to do in Gatlinburg for kids to your plans for a vacation filled with smiles.

Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting Gatlinburg to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information. With over 10 years of experience in first-hand-travel adventures, she shares her stories, advice, and current events to help you stay in the know.

Located along a meandering creek in downtown Gatlinburg, Old Creek Lodge is a rustic retreat featuring cozy yet spacious accommodations. The lodge really brings home the feel of mountain living, as every room is outfitted with a balcony over the water as well as a flagstone rock gas fireplace. Plus, the property’s location makes it easy to walk to all of Gatlinburg’s shops, eateries and attractions, including Ripley’s Aquarium, and provides easy access to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

A stay at Old Creek Lodge Gatlinburg is a very pleasant one. The main room type available is a Spa Queen Room. It is equipped with every amenity one needs while on vacation, including a microwave and fridge, and upgrades like a walk-in tile shower, granite counters, flat screen TVs and fine linens. The beds are very comfortable and the two-person whirlpool is the perfect way to relax after a day of exploring the Smoky Mountains. Rooms are decorated with earth tones and log furniture, and have a plush leather chair with ottoman as well as desk. Everything feels very new and in excellent condition. Size-wise, the Spa Two Queen Room is spacious and seems larger than your everyday hotel room.

A heated pool is also available for guest enjoyment. Although somewhat small, it is certainly sufficient for a swim. You can also fill up in the morning on the property’s deluxe continental breakfast, and keep connected 24/7 as there is free Wi-Fi available throughout the property. Riding the trolley around town is also an easy way to get around, and Old Creek Lodge is located on a trolley route for your convenience.

I would recommend at stay at Old Creek Lodge to anyone looking for a true Smoky Mountain experience. When you vacation in Gatlinburg, stay in mountain style without losing the comforts of an upscale property. It’s all available at Old Creek Lodge Gatlinburg TN.

Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting Gatlinburg to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information. With over 10 years of experience in first-hand-travel adventures, she shares her stories, advice, and current events to help you stay in the know.

June 2010 045_RSZRipley’s Aquarium Gatlinburg is an engaging attraction featuring numerous exhibits dedicated to “life under the sea.” With more than 10,000 exotic sea creatures comprised of more than 350 species, the aquarium boasts a plethora of things to see and do. There are 10 main sections of the aquarium, each one dedicated to a specific region or species of aquatic life.

When I visited the Ripley’s Aquarium I really enjoyed the Ocean section of The Living Gallery, which was home to a Pacific Giant Octopus, sea anemones, living corals, jellies and weedy sea dragons. The Coral Reef section was also beautiful, and the emperor angelfish, raccoon butterflyfish and clown triggerfish were all neat to see. The coral itself was impressive too and certainly worth a second look. The largest and most popular exhibit at the aquarium is the Shark Tank, which includes a 340-foot underwater tunnel. There is a glidepath through the tunnel, allowing for a leisurely trip where you’ll see stingrays, sawfish, tarpons, sharks, eels and more.

June 2010 035_RSZA Discovery Center for kids is also available. Guests can touch a horseshoe crab, learn about marine animals, test their knowledge and solve puzzles. Some of the other fun displays and exhibits at Ripley’s Aquarium include Stingray Bay, Touch a Ray Bay and the Rainforest display, home to exotic creatures like cardinal tetras, four-eyed fish, poison dart frogs, zebra cichlids, armored catfish and piranhas. The newest exhibit at the aquarium attraction is the Penguin Playhouse. Home to African Blackfooted Penguins, the indoor/outdoor exhibit includes a clear underwater tunnel so that you can get up close and personal to the interesting animals.

The Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is a fun, interesting attraction that every member of the family will enjoy.

Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting Gatlinburg to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information. With over 10 years of experience in first-hand-travel adventures, she shares her stories, advice, and current events to help you stay in the know.