The hardest part about going to Gatlinburg, Tenn., is choosing what to do. You could spend a week outside exploring the Smoky Mountains or a week exploring everything the strip in Gatlinburg has to offer.
We had a rocky start to our trip since we blindly followed Google Maps – which is great because it gives you the shortest route – but not great when the route is not made for motorhomes. We were driving on one-lane roads in the sleet with the edge of the mountain right outside my window! Not to mention the bridge we came to that had a sign saying it could only hold half the weight of our RV.
There was nowhere to turn around, and we needed to get there, so we crossed our fingers and just went for it. Luckily, everything turned out okay!
After my nerves recovered from the drive, we headed out to explore in our SUV. I found out that driving in the Smokey Mountains, even in a car, is scary when you are not used to it. But after a couple of days I finally got the hang of it. In spite of the rocky start we really loved Gatlinburg and the Smokey Mountains.Here are some places to consider during a visit to Gatlinburg.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
The qquarium has some amazing shows where the workers dive right into the tanks with the fish or stingrays. They also have a lot of hands-on activities for kids to do and free classes the kids can take. Our favorite part was the shark tunnel where large sharks swam right over our heads as we walked through. The aquarium was not huge, but we would recommend it. http://www.ripleyaquariums.com/gatlinburg/
Moonshine and Wine
As you walk down the Streets of Gatlinburg, which have a very touristy feel to them, you come across quite a few moonshine stores. So, of course, we had to stop to check one out. My husband did sample a taste of some moonshine, which took his breath away with its unique and strong flavor! After he tried the moonshine, I did the wine sampling. Yummy, yummy. They had some really good wines. Both of these tastings were free. http://olesmoky.com/about/distillery and http://sugarlandcellars.com/home/
The Smokey Mountain Brewery
There are a ton of restaurants in Gatlinburg, which made it hard to decide which ones to visit. Luckily, another RV traveler had recommended The Smokey Mountain Brewery. It was a great recommendation. The prices were very reasonable for a resort town and my husband was able to sample their microbrew. We liked the restaurant so much we actually went back for a second time later in the week. http://www.smoky-mtn-brewery.com/locations.html
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not
Ripley’s Believe it or Not offers a handful of attractions in Gatlinburg. The Odditorium, a 5D Movie Theater, Haunted Adventure, Mirror Maze, World Records, Mini Gol, and the Aquarium. You can take advantage of package deals to get three attractions at a discount. But, it still cost a lot for a family with four kids. So we decided to just do one more thing and the kids choose the 5D Movie. Our youngest was too young, so I took the three older kids. Our twins were 4 years old at the time. My daughter was a little bit scared at first, but then she really liked it! You wear the 3D glasses and go into a theater where you sit in chairs that move. Then, throughout the movie, you feel like you are going on a roller coaster ride through the show. The best part was getting splashed with water and confetti. We weren’t expecting it at all! http://www.ripleys.com/gatlinburg/
Ober Gatlinburg – Tram ride and Ski resort
Ober Gatlinburg is a 2.1-mile, 20-minute tram ride up to a ski resort at the top of the mountain. When we went, younger kids were free, so for a family with younger kids it is a great inexpensive trip to take. Older kids are $9.50 and adults are $12. The ride up and down is worth the money. The views are beautiful and it was fun looking for bears on our way up and down and seeing all the houses built into the side of the mountain. If you don’t want to do the tram you can also drive your car up to the ski resort, but where’s the fun in that?
Once you get to the top, they have multiple activities for you to choose from including indoor ice skating (make sure you bring socks and have an adult for each younger kid), alpine slide, scenic chairlift rides, wildlife encounter, carousel, arcade, chair swing and a park. You can buy wristbands for activities or pay for activities individually. If you are hungry they have a market, cafe, restaurant or a deli. Ober Gatlinburg has a lot to offer! If you buy a tram ticket, it is good for two days, so make sure to take advantage of it, even if you just do the tram ride one day without trying any of the activities at the ski resort. http://obergatlinburg.com
You wouldn’t think this would be a good place for kids, but it was! They have a wall lined with different flavored daiquiris and you can sample them before making your decision. And there are lots of different flavors, so that is a good thing. They also have a nonalcoholic version. The woman working there was very friendly and helpful. She made Dixie cup nonalcoholic daiquiris with whip cream for the kids. They loved being up at the bar with us enjoying what they called their slushy drink. We walked by here a few times and were glad we finally decided to stop. The Mellow Mushroom pizza place is right upstairs, so you could do dinner there and have daiquiris for dessert.
Where to stay
When you are looking for a campground, make sure to check the map and decide if you want to be closer to the Gatlinburg strip or farther away up more in the mountains. From our campground it took about 45 minutes to get into Gatlinburg. Also if you want less expensive camping you may want to check out the Pigeon Forge area. We stayed at Arrowcreek campground. It was a nice campground but was geared more toward permanent residents then people just coming in for the week. Again, we were pretty far away from everyone. Next time, we would pick somewhere closer to Gatlinburg or look for a place in Pigeon Forge, since it seemed like that was closer to a lot of the Smokey Mountain activities we enjoyed. http://www.arrowcreekcamp.com
Gatlinburg’s main strip has attractions, stores, and restaurants that could keep you busy for days as long as you are willing to spend money. However, if you just want to enjoy the atmosphere, there is live music right by the moonshine store and comfortable rocking chairs you can sit in while listening. Or, just stand up and dance!
Parking can be tricky and expensive. So, if you are going into town, plan to be there for a while to get your money’s worth. They have paid lots you can park in throughout the strip, but you may want to do some upfront research to find the best place for you to park based on what you want to do. We found the best parking by Ober Gatlinburg, but it is toward the end of the strip.
When you think of the Smokey Mountains, you probably think of mountains and bears and spending hours hiking and exploring the outdoors. The nice thing about having a town like Gatlinburg at the foot of the Smokey Mountains is you can do the hiking, outdoorsy trip one day and then the restaurants, shops, and Ripley activities the next. Enjoy your trip!