Beat the Heat! 5 Places to Cool Off in Gatlinburg This Summer

With temperatures regularly exceeding 80 degrees Fahrenheit — and sometimes hitting over 90 — Gatlinburg can be sweltering in the summer. As much as you’d like to enjoy the region’s outdoor beauty, sometimes, all you want is an hour or two of air-conditioned entertainment. Thankfully, both indoor and outdoor options abound if your primary objective involves cooling off. As you seek respite from the heat, don’t hesitate to check out these top destinations:

1. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

Girl standing amidst clear tunnel with fish swimming all around
If summer humidity has you feeling jealous of the marine creatures that get to spend all their time underwater, you’ll be glad to join them for a bit as you explore the many exhibits at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. During your visit, you’ll see pufferfish, horseshoe crabs, penguins, and even mermaids. Take your time to learn about the creatures of the sea as you thoroughly enjoy this climate-controlled environment. Don’t forget to sit in on one of the aquarium’s many live shows, which provide in-depth information and an up-close look at some of the ocean’s most impressive animals.

2. Smoky Mountain Outdoors Whitewater Rafting

people navigating a large wave while white water rafting
Thrills and refreshment occur simultaneously when you explore the Smoky Mountains via whitewater raft. Hit up the Pigeon River under the guidance of Smoky Mountain Outdoors’ experts, who emphasize both safety and fun. A variety of trips are designed to accommodate thrill-seekers of all ages and ability levels. The Upper River Rafting adventure, for example, spans a full 6.5 miles, running dozens of rapids that range between Class I and Class IV. As Smoky Mountain Outdoors’ longest trip, this outing could provide a full two hours of refreshment on a hot day. Otherwise, you’re welcome to enjoy a more leisurely rafting experience with the popular Lower Pigeon River Rafting trip.

3. Wild Bear Falls Water Park

aerial view of wild bear falls water park, jungle gym and lots of trees

Photo Credit: @elyzabethscj

Conveniently situated within the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa, Wild Bear Falls Water Park brings the best of Smoky Mountains scenery inside, where you can catch a break from the relentless sun and splash around without fear of developing a nasty sunburn. As one of the nation’s largest indoor water parks, Wild Bear Falls spans over 60,000 square feet. A range of attractions are available to delight visitors of all ages and energy levels.

Most of the park’s rides are named after top Smoky Mountains destinations, which you’ll be eager to check out as soon as you’ve had your fill of the water park. Wild Bear’s version of Laurel Falls, for example, consists of a 300-foot enclosed body slide that delivers just as much excitement as the real deal. For a relaxing experience, enjoy the water park’s take on Cades Cove, featuring a 900-foot lazy river in which you can experience total bliss as you float on a tube.

4. Ice Skating at Ober Gatlinburg

View of the ice skating area at Ober Gatlinburg
Ice skating might seem like a purely winter-based activity, but at Ober Gatlinburg, it can be enjoyed on a year-round basis. After you take the aerial tram up to Ober, you’ll encounter a vast indoor ice rink, which is carefully maintained to ensure winter-style fun all year long. Spanning 14 by 75 feet, this rink provides plenty of room to race your friends, test out your favorite moves, or simply make a few leisurely laps as you enjoy the refreshing chill. The region’s top skaters often hit up Ober to practice, so don’t be surprised if you see ice-based excellence on display. Novice skaters are also welcome, however, and can take advantage of a helpful handrail spanning the perimeter of the rink.

Not feeling up to skating? A unique bumper car experience is also available on the ice, with colorful cars equipped with controls zooming around a portion of the rink and careening into one another. If you’re not in the mood for skating or bumper cars, you can still easily cool off at Ober; the increased elevation alone should allow you to enjoy a drop of at least a few degrees compared to your home base in Gatlinburg.

5. Ole Smoky Moonshine


No matter your opinion on whiskey and moonshine, you’ll want to set aside a little time to experience the friendly atmosphere at the acclaimed Ole Smoky Moonshine. Sit outside by the fountain to cool off; if you’re lucky, you’ll be serenaded by the bluegrass bands that regularly stop by.

Samples are available for a reasonable price, with a discount offered if you decide to shop after your tasting experience has concluded. As you sample each unique edition of moonshine, you’ll learn the story behind the product and how it is crafted today. Along the way, you just might hear a few silly jokes or tips on hidden gems worth checking out in the Gatlinburg area.

From whitewater rafting to moonshine tastings, options abound for keeping cool in and around Gatlinburg. There’s no need to suffer in the heat; plan your itinerary around Gatlinburg’s coolest activities, and you’ll feel completely comfortable for the duration of your visit.