Gatlinburg, Tennessee: Should You Visit Or Avoid This Rocky Mountain Tourist Hotspot?

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Chances are, you've landed on this article with the question of whether Gatlinburg is worth a visit. I've personally traveled here and want to share some must-know information about this smokey mountain town.

Where Exactly Is Gatlinburg, Tennessee?

Great Smoky Mountain Sunset Landscape Panorama. Sunset horizon over the Great Smoky Mountains from Morton overlook on the Newfound Gap

Okay. So for those asking where this Tennesse town is located, you'll find Gatlinburg nestled in Sevier County, about 39 miles southeast of Knoxville.

Now, the new question everyone asks for logistics: "Is Gatlinburg by Nashville?" That's a straightforward, "No!" Gatlinburg is actually 200+ miles away from Nashville.

Unless you are already on an all-American road trip, I don't see how you could make this work without renting a big car and turning on 'Holiday Road' by Lindsey Buckingham.

So, if you want to do Gatlinburg, you'll need to go all in.

Gatlinburg Attractions

Yes! If you're planning a family vacation, going to Gatlinburg is perfect. One thing I remember from my trip to the great state of Tennessee is all of the trees, wildlife, and attractions.

If your kids, siblings, or parents haven't ever been in a log cabin roasting marshmallows, Gatlinburg is the perfect introduction.

On top of that, there are endless travel agencies in the area where you can rent a home for the duration of your trip. Who doesn't love an entire cabin to themselves?

Quoting the official tourism site for this quaint town, "Gatlinburg is one of America's premier outdoor destinations." Having been there, I'd have to agree with that sentiment.

You can ride ziplines, go whitewater rafting, partake in world-class golf and fishing, and 800 miles of hiking trails, all at the tip of your fingers.

5 Must-do Gatlinburg Experiences

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Allow me to delve into these with a bit more detail.

Skylift Park

This is the longest pedestrian cable bridge in North America and is one of the unique ways to see the Rockies. Besides going up into the sky and overlooking the endless forest, Skylift Park offers food, drinks, and plenty of Gatlinburg merch.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee Skylift Park

These open-air chair lifts reach the top of a 1,800-foot overlook, where you can take all of your Instagram pictures. Imagine how cool of a TikTok you could also film up there (talk about reaching a new audience).

This park is perfect for the family. Like most things in Gatlinburg, you're sure to have a nail-biting ride up to the top of the Skylift.

Cades Cove

Deemed as one of the most scenic places in the national park, Cades Cove is perfect for nature lovers.

Here, you can walk an eleven-mile loop around the cove, so this is perfect for any level hiker. A bonus is that this trail is also paved, meaning it's wheelchair accessible.

A huge black bear climbing a tree in Great Smokyy Mountains National park

The views of the Smokies are at their best in Cades Cove, giving this an even better opportunity to force everyone into an awkward family photo. "Smile!"

Oh, this is also FREE. I can't believe I almost forgot to tell you!


On to one of the more fun stops in Gatlinburg, we have Anakeesta. This adventure park offers zip lining, gondola rides, a treetop play area, and plenty of food, drinks, and shopping.

If you're seeking that wow factor during your trip, Anakeesta is the place to be.

Anakeesta Gondola ride in Gatlinburg, Tennessee

An exciting feature of this park is that it's on top of a mountain. So, as long as you're not afraid of heights, you should have plenty of fun here.

Tickets start at $22.99 for children ages 4-11, $34.99 for anyone between the ages of 12-59, $27.99 for those aged 60+, and the littles (under 4) go for free.

Clingmans Dome

Another fun natural day trip you can take while in Gatlinburg is Clingmans Dome.

This is a nice drive, passing the famous Newfound Gap Road (aka US-441) in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As you know, this entire town is filled with amazing natural scenery.

Clingmans Dome is most beautiful at sunrise and sunset, so try and get there early (or later after a day at Anakeesta). Say hi to the natural wildlife while you walk! (Please stay at a comfortable distance, of course.)

Downtown Gatlinburg

Now for those who prefer civilization, there's always downtown Gatlinburg. Like most tourist towns, the downtown section of Gatlinburg is filled with shopping, food, and even tours of the nature-rich location.

Here are a few things almost any local/past traveler recommends:

  • Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies
  • The Village Shops
  • The Pancake Pantry (Yum!)
  • Visit the Gatlinburg Space Needle
  • Sample Wine at Sugarland Cellars
  • Ripley's Haunted Adventure and The Mysterious Mansion
  • Check out Gatlin's Fun Center

Again, there's plenty to do here. Some people might want to eat all day (like me), while others might want to hike, ride a chair lift, or even become besties with a local grizzly bear.

Take a virtual stroll through the main downtown area of Gatlinburg:

Is Gatlinburg Worth The Hype?

I'd say there aren't too many cons associated with traveling to Gatlinburg. However, like any tourist destination, there can be congestion at popular theme parks, trails, and public walkways.

Many people run into sweltering summer weather in Gatlinburg, so I'd also suggest going during the fall, winter, or spring. Summer traveling through the Smokies can be hard if you love the outdoors (because it gets so hot and sticky outside).

Walkability is another issue for a lot of people who come to Gatlinburg. If you don't want to be surrounded by many people everywhere you try to go, this may not be the place for you.

The busy streets of a Gatlinburg, Tennessee with lots of tourist walking around town

Like any vacation destination, there will be plenty of people in Gatlinburg at almost all times of the year.

If you don't like screaming kids, family feuds (yes, my own family did this, and we're sorry), or overpriced merch/food/experiences, Gatlinburg can be tricky to navigate.

The MAJOR downside of this Rocky Mountain town is that cell service is spotty.

Even when I went back in 2016, the cabin's WiFi was just, shall I say, "Eh," at best. So, if you work from home, on the road, or want to scroll through social media Gatlinburg puts your connectivity to the test.

Maybe take that as a sign to get some fresh air? 

Good luck planning your trip, and don't let a few drawbacks stop you from visiting this gorgeous place!

Please leave a comment to share how you enjoyed Gatlinburg or ask away for more tips if you're planning an upcoming trip.

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  1. Ive lived here in gatlinburg my entire life. And i keep seeing people hyping this place up like its some big something. ITS NOT. People in The surrounding states have totally ruind it here! There is so much traffic now that it took me over 6 hours to get home from work and i only live 20 minutes away! Not to mention everyone and i mean EVERYONE has moved here leaving us locals with absolutely nothing to rent out anymore!! You know the main thing that nobody ever mentions about “perfect” gatlinburg? Every single person is on pills. Pain pills. Now its getting worse with heroin. Everybody is on it. I worked at 6 different places over the years, one of them i worked at for 11 years in gatlinburg and there was maybe 3 people out of all those jobs that was not on any kind of drugs. Not to mention the cops there are so corrupt its scary!!

    • Sorry to hear living in Gatlinburg feels this bad. I have fond memories from our visit, but clearly sounds like the place is not set up for the amount of visitors its getting.

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