Gatlinburg at a Glance
The mountain vistas in and around Gatlinburg will take your breath away everyday.
Feb 11, 2022 at 5:00 AM in Things to Do by
If you like mountains, you will love Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Surrounded on three sides by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in Gatlinburg you feel wrapped in the beauty of these old peaks from most every vantage point. Whether in the center of this picturesque small town or from atop the iconic Gatlinburg Space Needle, the mountain vistas in and around Gatlinburg take your breath away every day of the year. And if you see the mountains on a day when they look especially smoky, you’ll gaze at panoramic scenes that might make you swoon. (The abundance of flora in the forests here releases a vapor, which when mixed with the air, creates the fog that results in the mountains’ signature look. Best time to see it is early morning when the sun nudges over the horizon.)
When in a vehicle, extraordinary views are best enjoyed on the Gatlinburg Bypass, a 3.6-mile circumvention of US Highway 441, punctuated by an abundance of overlooks carved out for your viewing pleasure. Pack a picnic and watch the sun set or just admire the jaw-dropping scenery while listening to some twangy bluegrass as you cruise along.
Hiking is to Gatlinburg as “smoke” is to these mountains, which stretch along the Tennessee-North Carolina border in the southeastern part of the United States. The Appalachian Trail passes through here, in fact, and Gatlinburg has the distinction of having the highest point along this renowned pathway; it’s at Clingman’s Dome, a summit of 6,625 feet above sea level. That’s what you call on top of old Smoky! If you’re more of a casual hiker, pick up The Gatlinburg Trail at Sugarlands Visitor Center within the park. If you’re walking, it will take you about two hours to do this almost four-mile loop, which is relatively flat and scenic. Cyclists and pets are welcome here, too, making it one of the best loved trails in the area.
Whether you’re into wildflowers or waterfalls, bears or butterflies, know that the nature in this area is tops. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country and guess what? It’s free! From fishing to horseback riding to rafting and more, there’s lots to do in the region for outdoor enthusiasts of every ability level. Just make sure you don’t feed the wildlife, which you will find in abundance as well.
If you’re lucky, you might arrive at feeding time at the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, an extraordinary facility that features about a thousand exotic sea creatures within ten themed galleries. It’s hard to believe you’re so far away from the ocean here. Maybe that’s the Ripley’s believe it or not part.
Staying within the mountain theme, a visit to Ober Gatlinburg is a must. More than just the only ski area in the state, Ober Gatlinburg offers all kinds of fun and recreation year round. Considered by many to be the top attraction of the Smoky Mountains, its 120-person aerial tramway ranks as undoubtedly the most exciting part of any visit here. Prepare yourself for mounds of Instagram-able moments as you sail over Gatlinburg; and you’ll find even more once you arrive at this unique amusement center.
Riding the tram can be thrilling but the best way to find your way around this small mountain town is the Gatlinburg Trolley. Park your car and let this convenient, eco-friendly and delightful old-timey form of transportation take you for a ride whether you have someplace in particular to go or are just taking in the sights.
The town offers many opportunities to ponder the history of the area, once prized by Native Americans for the abundant hunting found within the forests of what is today known as the Smoky Mountains. The white man eventually discovered the value of this land, first through hunting and trapping and then later by logging. The area became so deforested that by the early part of the twentieth century conservationists mobilized to buy up lands and eventually create the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It didn’t take long for visitors to find out about this magnificent region, making tourism the number one industry for these past decades.
Fortunately the natural beauty of the area has remained as Gatlinburg strives to maintain the delicate balance between tourism and undeveloped lands. Whatever you find yourself doing, have fun and remember to always look up to take in the full splendor of these endearing mountains.