I've never had much of a desire to visit Tennessee until recently, and I'm not sure what changed, but the more I started looking into things to do there, specifically in the Smoky Mountain region, I became more and more intrigued. A few months ago, I texted two of my friends and asked if they wanted to take a weekend trip to Gatlinburg / the Smokies and they said yes! I wasn't sure what to expect when I visited Gatlinburg, but boy I was not underwhelmed, as a matter of fact, I was slightly overwhelmed. The city of Gatlinburg is located right outside of Smoky Mountain National Park, and there is so much to do! We only had about a day and a half to spend here, but we were still able to fit a lot in. In this guide I'll share some of the things I did in my weekend in Gatlinburg, but I'll also share some of the stuff that was recommend to me by others that I didn't quite get the chance to do. No matter what you like to do, you will find something you enjoy in Gatlinburg!
Day One: Take a short waterfall hike and enjoy sunset at Skylift Park
We had originally planned to get to Gatlinburg Friday around 1:30pm, however, roadtripping from Richmond, VA we hit traffic, stopped a few times for food and gas (shoutout gas shortage), and ultimately didn't arrive until closer to 4:30pm. While we had originally planned to do a 4-mile elevation hike, we decide to change our plans around, and it worked out fine! As soon as we entered Gatlinburg, we immediately headed to Laurel Falls Trail a short, easy 3-mile roundtrip hike that's leads to a beautiful waterfall. There are a few good waterfall spots that I've heard about throughout the Smokies, but this one made the most sense with the time and energy that we had after a 10+ hour car ride! Laurel Falls certainly did not disappoint, and it wasn't super crowded which was nice.
After taking some pictures and hanging out at the waterfall for a bit, we decided to head into town and pick up our wristbands for Skylift Park. Skylift Park is located at 765 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738 (it's pretty hard to miss!) and is about $28 for adults, and you get a wristband which allows you access to the Skylift, Skybridge, SkyDeck, SkyCenter, and SkyTrail (which I didn't find out about until after the fact, so now you know!) You can also buy a combination ticket for about $50 which also allows access into Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum. After purchasing your wristband, you hop on a ski lift that takes you up to the top of the Observation Deck. Here you are met with stunning views of the town below as well as the surrounding mountains. On the deck is the famous Skybridge - The longest suspension bridge in North America! You can walk the length of the bridge, and take pictures, take in the amazing views, and adventure onto the glass floor in the center of the bridge. When you are finished everything Skylift Park has to offer, you can head back down via ski lift and explore the town more. I definitely recommend visiting Skylift Park on Friday as opposed to Saturday because we noticed the crowds were much larger Saturday night. We had to be checked into our airbnb in the next town over by a certain time, so we decided to leave Gatlinburg and head to our airbnb right after Skylift Park, however, I will include some places to check out for dinner a little lower down!
Day Two: Hike the Smokies, Do Some Shopping, Visit a Distillery
We had much more time to explore on day two. We started off the morning heading to brunch in Gatlinburg, and then headed into Smoky Mountain National Park for a hike. We chose to hike the Alum Bluffs Cave Trail - a 4.6-mile out and back trail with stunning views of the mountains and the main attraction the Bluff. We had to park pretty far away from the trailhead, and stopped to take pictures of the scenery, and hang out at the bluff for a little bit, so the hike ended up taking us about 3 hours (however I believe the estimated time to complete this trail is about 2 hours).
We headed back down the trail and visited the Sugarlands Visitor Center to grab some souvenirs and stamp my passport. After spending some time at the visitor center, we grabbed an early dinner in town, did some shopping, and headed to Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine Distillery. Here they have walls of various flavors of moonshine (I personally picked up sour watermelon and blackberry to bring home), moonshine tastings, souvenirs, whiskey, candles, etc.
We headed out back into the Smokies a little bit before sunset, and while our original plan was to drive to Clingman's Dome we decided that was pretty far from our airbnb, and decided on watching the sunset at Morton's Observation Point instead. Unfortunately, it was pretty cloudy, but we were still able to catch a little sunset!
Here are some restaurant recommendations to check out in Gatlinburg!
Crockett's Breakfast Camp (some of the best waffles I've ever had!)
The Donut Friar
Lunch / Dinner:
Old Mill Restaurant
Smoky Mountain Brewery
Distillery / Breweries:
Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine Distillery
Smoky Mountain Brewery
Gatlinburg Brewing Company
Doc Collier Distillery
Ole Smoky Distillery Barrelhouse
Here are some Smoky Mountain Hikes if you only have a few hours, however, I will also be doing a more in depth post about hiking in the Smokies later on:
Grotto Falls (2.6-mile roundtrip, approximately 2-3 hours)
Grotto Falls is a 25 ft waterfall and can be accessed by the Trillium Gap Trail on the Roaring Fork Motor Trail.
Laurel Falls (2.6-mile roundtrip, approximately 2 hours)
Laurel Falls is an 80 ft waterfall and can be accessed by the Laurel Falls Trailhead. If you are coming from the Sugarlands Visitor Center, take Little River Road Towards Cade's Cove and drive about 3.5 miles. This trail is not ADA Accessible!
Rainbow Falls (5.4-mile roundtrip, approximately 4 hours)
Probably the most popular waterfall hike in the park, however it does take a little longer than some of the other waterfall trails, in my opinion, if you're shorter on time, Laurel Falls is a good substitute. Rainbow Falls is an 80 ft waterfall and can be accessed from the Rainbow Falls Parking Area.
*If hiking in the Smokies, be mindful of snakes, bears, and other wildlife...remember this is their home that we are coming into. We saw two snakes, one non-venomous and one venomous while hiking the Laurel Falls Trail, and I know there was a mama bear and her two cubs spotted at one of the neighboring trails to another hike we did that day. Be mindful, be aware of your surroundings, and do not approach the wild animals.*
Shorter Day Hikes:
Alum Cave Bluffs (4.6 miles round trip, moderate out and back trail, approximately 2-3 hours)
If coming from the Sugarlands Visitor Center, drive 8.6-miles on Newfound Gap Road to the trailhead. If coming from Oconaluftee Visitor Center, drive 20 miles on Newfound Gap Road. There is a large sign marking the trailhead, road parking, as well as two parking lots. This was one of the trails I was recommended a lot, and I'm definitely glad we were able to check it out!
Chimney Tops (4-miles round trip, difficult out and back trail, approximately 2 hours)
If coming from the Sugarlands Visitor Center, drive 6.7 miles on Newfound Gap Road to trailhead. If coming from Oconaluftee Visitor Center, drive 22 miles North on Newfound Gap Road. There is a large parking lot on the west side of the road and a sign to mark the trailhead. I've been recommended this trail multiple times, so I will definitely be adding it to my list next time I go!
Cucumber Gap and Little River Loop Trail (5.4-mile, moderate loop trail, approximately 2 hours)
This trail can be accessed from two different points: the Little River Trailhead, or Jakes Creek Trailhead. While I personally did not do this hike, when reading reviews about it, it is recommended to wear sturdy hiking shoes due to rocky portions.
While I wish I had more time to explore Gatlinburg, I am definitely pleased with what we were able to see in what short time we had in the town. My recommendation is: before heading to the city, think of some must-do / must-see things and map our your day like that. Gatlinburg has so much to offer, and the nice thing was if a line was long somewhere (ex. Sugarlands Distillery was wrapped around the side of the building) chances are, there is something very similar within walking distance! Parking can also be tricky right in the town, there is only one road of free parking (River Road) and it fills up pretty quickly, however, there are a lot of paid parking lots ranging from $10-$20 for a full day. I hope you enjoyed reading, and hope if you are planning a trip to the Smokies or Gatlinburg this post helps you out! Feel free to comment any other recommendations for things to do / see, places to eat, etc. down below! Thanks for reading, and as always, there's always more to be explored.
*Disclaimer: all photos used in this post are my own. Please give credit if using any of my images*