With plenty of scenics and historical sights, Gatlinburg is a small city in Tennessee providing an abode to a tiny population of 4000 people. Although this spot has a lot to offer, the primary reason for its utmost popularity is the Great Smoky Mountains, one of the most visited tourist attractions in the US.
There are two routes to explore this lush green mountainous range, one through the North Carolina State, which lies in the South of the US. And the other one passes through Gatlinburg, Tennessee, which is replete with spectacular scenes and is a hub to many restaurants, hotels, and other family adventures. Thus, making it an ideal resting point for those wanting to visit the Smoky Mountains National Park.
In addition to the forested landscapes, Gatlinburg also hosts tons of other picture-perfect and fun attractions that you must add to your itinerary. These include Ripley’s Aquarium, Anakeesta, Cars Museum, and many more.
10 high-rated attractions in Gatlinburg, TN
Below we have given a detailed account of 10 popular tourist destinations in Gatlinburg, so you don’t miss out on any remarkable attraction while planning your trip.
1. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains top our list of the top 10 attractions in Gatlinburg for its gigantic mountains covering a massive area of 2114 km2. The mountains are home to a wide range of animals, valleys, and other mountainous ranges, including the Appalachians, spread over Eastern Tennessee.
As we advance in the mountains, you will see the Cades Cove valley, which is encompassed by colossal mountains and is well-known for its peculiar wildlife and ancient buildings. Black bears, bobcats, beavers, and wild turkeys are some animals you will encounter in Cades Cove. The valley also observes a no-vehicle day every Wednesday from May to September, where the tourists venture into the valley on foot.
Apart from its extraordinary visuals, the park also offers all sorts of adventures, from skiing in winters to hiking in summer, spring, and autumn. Some of the finest hiking trails include the Grotto Falls, Clingmans Dome, and Alum Cave. Fly fishing or trout fishing is among one of the best sports in the park that is open throughout the year.
Once you are done with these adventurous rides, you can go on to explore the magical flora of the park that blooms in all four seasons. The park hosts approx 1800+ different species of plants, including red maple, black birch, tall ironweed, and trout lilies making it a haven for botanists and nature-loving people.
You can also hire a tour guide who will take you through these mighty mountains and help you make the most of your trip.
2. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Featuring a bizarre underwater universe, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies displays a world full of magical and exotic marine creatures roaming around in pellucid glass cases waiting to become friends with you.
The aquarium houses a large transparent tunnel that lets visitors encounter the most dangerous underwater animal, the shark, in the most realistic manner. You may be shocked and terrified to witness the deadliest animals up close and feel a tinge of fear building up in your muscles.
Other animals you can interact with and pet in the Ripley’s Aquarium include gelatinous Jellyfish floating around the deep blue water and stingrays. Other than that, you can visit the Penguin Playhouse, which is home to cute penguins who love to talk and play with visitors.
Furthermore, you can even book a boat ride to get a closer view of this imaginative attraction.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is undeniably a perfect place for people who like to indulge in quirky adventures and want to experience underwater life in the best way possible.
3. Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Odditorium
In addition to Aquarium, Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Odditorium is another incredible attraction, exhibiting plenty of unusual and mysterious items that will leave you both curious and puzzled. Popular items include well-preserved skulls and teeth, medieval torture tools, a two-headed calf, and old sculptures.
Along with this odd collection of items, Ripley’s also offers cinematic brilliance through a 3-D theatre with moving chairs. Hence, providing you with a memorable and interactive theatre experience.
Other fun-related activities at Ripley’s involve a spine-chilling haunted adventure with real actors disguised as creepy creatures, mini-golf courses, and cool arcade games for kids.
4. Gatlinburg Skylift Park
Nothing could be more awe-inspiring than a panoramic view of Gatlinburg through clouds. And this is what the Gatlinburg Skylift has been providing since the 1950s. The thrill ride carries the visitors over the 1800 foot Smoky Mountains in five minutes. Reading this, you might consider Gatlinburg Skylift an ordinary lift. However, there is more to this seven-decade-old ride.
The lift features a rest stop where the visitors can sit and relax amidst mother nature. The mountainous setting also serves refreshments to its guests with a homely ambiance. One key highlight of this sky ride is that it can change its pace and slow down, allowing riders to fully immerse in the picturesque sights of mighty hills, dense forests, and the splashing sound of cold-water streams flowing below the lift.
Fortunately, the glorious views of the skylift aren’t limited to the morning visitors, so the evening travelers can too witness the brightly-lit view of the city.
SkyBridge has also become a popular attraction for people willing to travel across Crockett Mountain on a suspended bridge. It’s an incredibly long bridge measuring up to 700 feet in length and elevated to the height of 150 feet. In addition, the 30-feet long glass flooring between the walk provides a lifetime experience to adventure seekers. Although quite daunting to many visitors, the SkyBridge gives a bird’s-eye view of Gatlinburg and Smokies. Hence, it’s an inevitable part of the visit.
5. Clingmans Dome
Who doesn’t enjoy climbing up an observation deck to get a complete view of the town at once? Considered the highest point in the Tennessee state, Clingmans Dome reaches an astounding height of 2025 m. The steel dome is located an hour’s drive from downtown Gatlinburg and overlooks seven US states, including Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia.
The best part of visiting the Clingmans Dome is the 23-miles ride from Gatlinburg, in which you will transition between sublime scenes of nature. Consider yourself lucky if you get to drive to Clingman at sunrise or sunset because the route presents an aesthetic view during these times. However, be mindful of the weather before climbing up the observation deck because foggy weather would not do justice to the stunning view from the Dome.
6. Ober Gatlinburg
Nothing attracts visitors more than ski resorts and recreational centers. With a wonderful Aerial Tramway, lots of indoor activities, and a kids’ playground, Ober Gatlinburg is an amusement park that has something for all age groups.
People visiting the attraction often prefer traveling via Tramway since it is more secure than a chairlift and offers a 360° view through glass panels. Also, while it takes 30-minutes to reach the summit from the chairlift, the ride via Aerial Tramway is much shorter and takes only 10-minutes. No matter what you opt for, you are going to witness some fantastic scenarios on your way to Ober Gatlinburg.
Once you reach the resort, you can participate in a wide variety of activities, from ice skating and bobsledding to an indoor carousel and mini-golf. If you are a passionate skier, consider visiting this attraction in the winter and get a chance to ski over the 550 m long Alpine slides.
Apart from the games and scenic view, Ober Gatlinburg is also an ideal habitat for the rich fauna of the town. So be prepared to encounter opossums and bears while ice skating.
A comparatively newer attraction, Anakeesta has become the crowd’s favorite in no time. Located at a 3-minutes distance from Ripley’s Aquarium, Anakeesta is a theme park with plenty of activities designed for everyone. Since the attraction sits above 600 feet from the ground, it is known as “Anakeesta”, which means “High ground” in the Cherokee language.
The ride to this elevated site in a Gondola (like the Aerial Tramway) or chair lift is what makes everything fun and exciting. Once you reach the top of the summit, you will view the majestic sights of Gatlinburg like never before. On the top of Anakeesta mountain lies a small forestry region with numerous entertainment opportunities at hand. Here you will find a children’s playground, an elevated canopy walk, a cozy restaurant, and some cute gift shops for shopaholics.
So whether you want to treat yourself with some yummy ice cream or click some memorable photos at the canopy walk, Anakeesta is the perfect place to get these done and more!
8. Hollywood Star Cars Museum
If you are a car enthusiast or fan of action movies like The Fast and Furious or Avengers, you cannot miss this antique car museum in Gatlinburg. Hosting an insane collection of more than 40 iconic automobiles used in Hollywood, the Stars Car Museum will give you a strong sense of nostalgia.
From Gone in Sixty Seconds to Dukes of Hazards and Batman Returns, these fancy and spacious cars have remained a center of attraction for people visiting the Gatlinburg state. Since the museum is continuously updating with new vehicles, visitors can expect some changes after every visit.
9. The Sugarlands
Famous for its dense maple trees, the Sugarlands is a mystical valley in the Great Smoky Mountains. Due to its photographic view, the valley is a popular travel destination in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. People visiting the Sugarlands can also travel to Grotto Falls to witness the phenomenal sight of running water from a height of 25-foot.
Another mountain you will come across during your visit to the Sugarlands is Mount Le Conte mountain in National Park. It reaches an enormous height of more than 6500 feet and adds to the magical beauty of the Sugarlands valley.
Moreover, the valley provides umpteen opportunities to hike trails and is a center of attraction for hikers of all ages. The 12 Km long Old Sugarlands Trail is an easy hike for kids and older people alike and is a great family attraction.
Visitors looking for a long hike can visit Cataract Falls, located a short walk from the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Once you start walking, you will find a wide variety of flora growing along the trail. Moving forward, there is a small stream, which you will cross on a pedestrian bridge, and right after that, the trail meets Cataract Falls.
Luckily, there is an area reserved in the valley for horse riding as well. Known as the Sugarlands Riding Stables, it provides a smooth tour across the thick forests and babbling brooks of National Park.
Some other places to visit during a trip to the Sugarlands include the Roaring Fork Trail and Chimney Tops Trials. They both are located at a 30-minutes drive from the Sugarlands.
10. Ole Smoky Moonshine
Opened almost a decade ago, the Ole Smoky Moonshine distillery makes a great stopping point for people who would love to taste the original Tennessee moonshine and get lost in the live music and comfort of this place. The vintage distillery is the quintessence of mountain life and is the right place to learn about the history of moonshine. The workers are friendly, and they take you through the distillery museum and educate you about the complicated process of making the finest moonshine.
One key highlight of the place is the free sampling bar. A small tasting bar offers free moonshine tasting, so the visitors can get a flavor of their popular drinks before ordering. Some of the famous moonshines include White Lightnin’, Apple Pie, and Original Moonshine.
All in all, Ole Smoky Moonshine is a must-go place for adults craving some soothing music along with a traditional moonshine to end their unforgettable visit to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
The staggering beauty of Gatlinburg is not limited to these ten attractions and has a lot to offer other than the gigantic, steep mountains of the Smokies. If you are a person who loves to engage in indoor entertainment, then the Iris Theatre in downtown Gatlinburg is the right spot to watch some jaw-dropping magic performances by Eric Dobell.
You can also visit the aesthetic Village Shops and eateries to enjoy their mouth-watering pizzas and donuts. In addition, there is a tea shop, art gallery, candy store, and pottery making Village Shops a worthy stop.