Travel: A Trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee
The destinations and activities to check out
Gatlinburg offers activities and destinations every member of the family will enjoy.
Photos courtesy of Audrey Payne
When I first heard of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, I thought of it as a quiet nature-based tourist spot in the Great Smoky Mountains, like Boone or Asheville here in North Carolina. As my family and I drove into the downtown area, I quickly realized I was wrong. I would describe Gatlinburg as the Myrtle Beach of the mountains — full of activities for all ages to enjoy. We spent three days in the area and found these destinations and activities to be our favorites.
COURTESY OF AUDREY PAYNE
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers an abundance of hiking trails and waterfalls.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Ranked by National Geographic as the most-visited national park in the U.S., Great Smoky Mountains National Park should be at the top your Gatlinburg to-do list. Even if you aren’t interested in hiking the park’s trails, you can tour the park by car via 384 miles of road. You’ll see beautiful foliage all year long, as well as historic buildings, burial sites and 10 waterfalls throughout the park. The Great Smoky Mountains are also famous for accommodating an abundance of wildlife, so be on the lookout for white-tailed deer, black bears and elk.
If you’re looking for a unique place to stay in Gatlinburg, this riverside resort takes the charm of the beach and brings it into the mountains. Located in downtown Gatlinburg, Margaritaville Resort is sure to please your inner beach lover. Listen to Jimmy Buffet’s easy-going songs as you dine in the lobby, play in the sparkling blue pool and glide down the waterslide with the kids. And when you’re ready to relax, St. Somewhere Spa will be ready for you. This “Paradise in the Smokies” is within walking distance to nearby restaurants, shopping and attractions — and just minutes away from Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Learn more at margaritavilleresortgatlinburg.com.
The Ober Gatlinburg amusement park and ski area features an aerial tramway that travels 2.1 miles over Gatlinburg to give guests breathtaking views of the downtown area and Great Smoky Mountains. Once you finish your journey up the mountain, more attractions await. Ride on the Ski Mountain Coaster, go ice skating on the indoor rink and enjoy a delicious meal in the Seasons of Ober restaurant, where you’ll also find an expansive view of the surrounding mountains. Visit obergatlinburg.com to see a list of additional rides and activities.
COURTESY OF AUDREY PAYNE
Parrot Mountain and Gardens in nearby Pigeon Forge serves as a preserve for more than 84 species of exotic and tropical birds.
Parrot Mountain and Gardens
Parrot Mountain and Gardens is a quick 20-minute drive from Gatlinburg, located in its sister city of Pigeon Forge. This attraction serves as a preserve for more than 84 species of exotic and tropical birds that have been neglected or abused, or that need a home. Visitors can hold, feed and take pictures with birds of all different colors and sizes while hiking the forest’s leafy walkways. My family and I enjoyed seeing toucans, parrots and small parakeets that could fit on our fingers. It was an experience we didn’t expect, and one we’ll never forget. Learn more at parrotmountainandgardens.com.
Outdoor Gravity Park
Also located in Pigeon Forge, Outdoor Gravity Park is a great option for the adventurers in your family. An activity that originated in New Zealand, zorbing involves rolling downhill inside a giant Zorb ball made of transparent plastic. At Outdoor Gravity Park, you can roll down one of three different paths. There are options for ages 5 and older and, depending on the path, up to three people can ride in one Zorb at a time. It’s like an extreme water slide and is perfect for anyone who would like to try something a little different. Be prepared to get wet if you visit during summer (dry zorbing activities are available in winter). Learn more at outdoorgravitypark.com.
For more information about things to do in Gatlinburg, visit gatlinburg.com/chamber-of-commerce/convention-visitors-bureau and start planning your family’s trip to this exciting, nature-filled destination.
Audrey Payne interned for Carolina Parent during the 2018-19 school year and is a 2019 graduate of Apex High School.