Gatlinburg is a small town in Tennessee with a population of 4,000 people. Officially incorporated in 1945 and named after the preacher Radford Gatlin, this mountain resort city is one of Tennessee’s most popular destinations.
Each year, thanks to its attractions (either scenic viewpoints or thrill rides), this picturesque mountain town sees more than 10 million tourists.
While visiting Gatlinburg, I was struck by the contrast between the touristic, kitschy attractions downtown but then walking right into the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.
From chaos to quiet.
In this post I’m sharing 18 cool things to do in Gatlinburg Tennessee.
1. Gatlinburg Space Needle
One of the coolest Gatlinburg things to do is visiting the iconic Gatlinburg Space Needle.
This steel observation tower, which stands 407 feet tall and gives a one-of-a-kind 360-degree panorama of both Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains, opened in 1969.
Apart from the breathtaking views at this landmark, the tower also features a variety of escape and video games (for all ages), as well as its own magic show theater called “Impossibilities.”
2. Sky Lift
The Sky Lift is another park located just a few minutes from Gatlinburg’s downtown area.
The open-air chairlift at this entertainment park reaches a height of 1,800 feet. This attraction, which has been open since 1954, is another popular family destination that attracts millions of visitors each year.
A round-trip on the SkyLift Park takes approximately twenty minutes and provides a panoramic view of Gatlinburg and the surrounding mountains.
But you can get off the Sky Lift at the top of the mountain. There’s an observation platform called Sky Deck and a 140-foot-long bridge called Sky Bridge, in addition to the Sky Lift.
3. Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster
This unique and family friendly ride is another must see place to visit when in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
The Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster is a roller coaster that features night-ride options and individual cars with brakes.
If you are looking for a thrilling and adventurous tourist attraction in the city, especially during summertime, then this one is for you.
When you sign up for the coaster, you can soar down the mountain at speeds up to 35 mph and experience up to seven minutes of zips and plunges through the trees and forests.
4. Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook
The Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook is a popular scenic drive because of its panoramic views of the city of Gatlinburg and the surrounding mountains.
This scenic overlook is located on the Gatlinburg Bypass between the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and Gatlinburg Spur.
This place is the perfect getaway from town and provides the views of blue, pink or purple sky with the changing leaves of the trees.
The best thing about it is that there are no admission fees, and it can be visited any time of the year.
5. Distillery/Moonshine Tour
The moonshine tours are a popular attraction in the Smoky Mountains area. Granted, there are many distillery tours in Tennessee, but there are several around Gatlinburg that really stand out from the rest.
You can visit and take a tour at Ole Smokey Moonshine Distillery, Ole Smokey Barrelhouse, or Sugarlands Distilling Company.
What makes all these companies so special is that they offer free tours and events, as well as some of the best moonshine selections that you can taste.
Related article: Best Things to Do in Chattanooga Tennessee
6. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The world famous Great Smoky Mountains National Park is perhaps the most popular tourist destination in the Gatlinburg region.
This national park, established in June 1934, is home to a diverse range of flora and animals, and it stands out due to the grandeur of the old mountains.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to lush woods, year-round wildflowers, rivers, streams, and gorgeous waterfalls.
Besides hiking and nature walks the park is great for bicycling, camping, fishing, hiking, and picnics. And of course, scenic drives.
Year after year, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States.
It’s free to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. One of the few national parks with no entrance fee.
7. Cataract Falls
One of the Smoky Mountains’ hidden gems is Cataract Falls, which can be found in the national park.
Comprised of two low-flow streams that fall from 25 feet and form a small pool, these gushing waterfalls have the best location because they are less than ten minutes away from downtown Gatlinburg.
Popular among the backpackers and hikers, the Cataract Falls is perfect for anyone that wants to take a break from the town and enjoy some greenery and the beauty of nature.
8. Baskins Creek Falls
Baskins Creek Falls, which is also referred to as Baskins Falls is a picturesque family-friendly hike of 3.1 miles round trip. Allow about two hours to do the hike.
This steep trail down to the waterfall is fairly easy, but the hike back up is more difficult. The waterfall is gorgeous.
The best time to hike the trail is from March until October.
Baskins Creek Falls is the perfect combination of waterfall, forest, and wildflowers in the Smokey Mountains.
9. Anakeesta Adventure Park
The Anakeesta Adventure Park is another popular destination for visitors to Gatlinburg.
This award-winning mountaintop theme park, located in the center of Gatlinburg, has gondola rides, treetop play area, and zip lining, among other activities.
Whether you enjoy touring, relaxing, or walking about, this park has something for everyone.
Take a stroll along the Treetop Skywalk (which is made up of 14 bridges), visit the AnaVista Tower (which is the city’s highest point), or simply enjoy the beauty of nature with mountain views, flora, fauna, and waterfalls.
10. Gatlinburg Trail
Another destination that also offers many things to do in Gatlinburg TN is the Gatlinburg Trail.
This 3.9 mile long walking path is one of Gatlinburg’s two trails that runs from the Sugarlands Visitor Center to the outskirts of the city.
This place is frequently used by bicyclists, joggers, and walkers.
Both bicycles and pets are prohibited on all the other park trails except for the Oconaluftee River Trail and the Gatlinburg Trail.
Anyone traveling to Gatlinburg with a dog will especially love this trail.
11. Arrowmont School of Arts
Visit the oldest craft school in Tennessee. Arrowmont offers workshops such as ceramics, fiber arts, photography, basket weaving, painting, woodworking, drawing, glass, book arts and metalworking.
Spend some time exploring the Galleries at Arrowmont. On the campus grounds there are three exhibition spaces with art from the permanent collection, instructors, artists-in-residence, and touring exhibitions from nationally recognized artists.
The galleries are free to visit and open to the public.
When I visited Gatlinburg, I took a class at Arrowmont, and it was excellent. This art school is highly recommended for anyone interested in gaining further skills in arts and crafts, or just trying something new for fun.
12. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
The Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is a family-friendly attraction that will astonish anybody who visits.
More than 10,000 unique marine animals and 350 different species may be found in this vast aquarium.
It’s notable for having two of the world’s longest underwater tunnels, as well as shark exhibitions including 10-foot sharks.
Penguins, sea turtles, and stingrays are among the aquarium’s other popular attractions.
13. Ober Gatlinburg Amusement Park
Outdoor sports, ice skating, shopping, and dining are just a few of the many activities available at the Ober Gatlinburg Amusement Park.
The mountainous entertainment park first opened its doors in 1962. The amusement park is located between two mountains that overlook Gatlinburg.
As if there weren’t already enough to do, the Ober Gatlinburg Amusement Park just opened its own privately financed zoo called “Wildlife Encounter.”
River otters, bobcats, raccoons, flying squirrels, and birds of prey are among the creatures that may be observed in the amusement park, in addition to black bears.
14. Ripley’s Believe it or Not!
Founded in 1918 by Robert Ripley and known for its bizarre events, Ripley’s Believe it or Not is an American franchise.
One of the many places where you can find Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Is indeed Gatlinburg. Often dubbed as the “weirdest place” in the city, this place offers a lot of interesting attractions and events.
Whether it’s entering the mirror maze, spending some time in the movie theater or touring around the haunted adventure mansion, Ripley’s Believe it or Not! provides amusement for everyone.
Especially if you are a fan of strange and unusual things.
15. Hollywood Star Cars Museum
The acclaimed Hollywood Star Cars Museum also offers plenty of fun in Gatlinburg TN.
The Hollywood Star Cars Museum is in downtown Gatlinburg and just a few blocks away from the other fan favorite – the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
This top attraction first opened its doors in 1996 and ever since then has been one of the most-visited places in the area.
In addition to some of the most famous films and television series of the last 50 years, the Hollywood Star Cars Museum also highlights a unique set of cars, such as the epic 1966 Batmobile.
An interesting thing about Gatlinburg is that it is also full of golf places.
Some of the favorites among the tourists are Gatlin’s Mini Golf, Hillbilly Golf, and Ripley’s Davey Crocket Mini Golf.
Gatlin’s Mini Golf is known for its bumper cars, laser tag, miniature golf, and 3D theater, while Hillbilly Golf offers not only an unforgettable ride to over 300 feet above the city but also two courses with 18 holes.
As for Ripley’s Davey Crocket Mini Golf, this is the perfect place for a family outing, thanks to its fun-themed interactive courses with a total of 36 holes.
17. Mysterious Mansion
Perhaps the most thrilling and exciting tourist attraction in all of Gatlinburg is the Mysterious Mansion.
This terrifying haunted landmark opened doors in 1980 and has been scaring daring locals and visitors from all over the world ever since.
Whether it’s the 1900s inspired Victorian house or the spooky and terrifying surprises hidden inside it, this place is totally worth a visit.
The best thing about the Mysterious Mansion is that it’s open all four seasons and it becomes one of the most visited places in the country during Halloween week.
18. Drive (part of) the Blue Ridge Parkway
Take a day trip to drive a portion of the famous Bluer Ridge Parkway.
You can drive to Cherokee North Carolina, then take the Blue Ridge Parkway to Ashville and back.
The total trip from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, Ashville, back to Cherokee, and back to Gatlinburg is around 200 miles and takes about 4.5 hours driving time.
To drive the entire Blue Ridge Parkway takes around 10 to 12 hours without any stops.
Have fun on your Gatlinburg Tennessee vacation!