With all its hills, large crowds, and narrow walkways, Gatlinburg can feel less than accessible if you travel with a wheelchair, stroller, or other mobility devices. Despite that, there are many hidden gems in the city that offer a truly accessible experience to all. To help you find them, here’s a look at the top spots with minimal inclines and plenty of room to get around.
The Gatlinburg Trail
The Gatlinburg Trail offers a phenomenal view of everything there is to love about the Great Smoky Mountains but without the need to hike into the center of it all. In fact, with its largely paved surface, it’s easy to roll along the wide footpaths and simply soak in the gorgeous sights and sounds all around.
As you move along the meandering paths, you’ll eventually reach the footbridge for an over-the-top view of the river. The route turns to gravel after that, so this is a great place to stop and soak it all in before turning back.
If you have a dog, they can accompany you on this route without disrupting the native flora and fauna. The only other one that allows pets is the Oconaluftee River Trail, which is also relatively flat and wholly accessible to people with wheelchairs, strollers, and the like.
Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail
Short and sweet, the Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail takes you over the river and through the woods in just a half-mile. The fully paved surface only has a slight grade here and there, allowing you to move along at a reasonable pace without issue. As you travel down the trail, you can read the interpretive signs to learn more about the area. Even though they are a little out of date, they are still pretty neat.
Once you reach the banks of the Little River, don’t hesitate to take a moment to gaze upon the moving water and hear its gentle babbling. Little ones will love to look along the edges for signs of salamanders, including the red-cheeked and pygmy varieties. In addition, you’re sure to see the hooded warbler and other magnificent birds flitting about and singing their songs.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
After doing all that exploring in person, you can get a whole new perspective of the Smokies by traveling along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Designed to be enjoyed by car, this 5.5-mile trail loops around the old-growth forest, treating you to spectacular sights from every angle.
Along the way, you get to see historic buildings of all kinds, including log cabins and grist mills. All around that, you can take in the stellar sights of towering trees, active mountain streams, and stunning rock formations.
Plan to take it slow as you move through the loop since it’s meant to be a chill journey through the natural landscape. Also, remember that RVs and trailers are not allowed on the trail, as it’s only meant for light trucks, vans, and passenger cars.
Cades Cove Riding Stables
At Cades Cove Riding Stables, you can get another unique view of the forest on hayrides and horse-drawn carriages. Modified for wheelchair users, these rides are truly accessible to support their mission of bringing the magic of the Smokies to everyone.
The carriage rides take you on a 45-minute waltz through the forest trails, giving you a chance to sit back and relax while experiencing everything the mountains have to offer. The hayride, on the other hand, is an energetic trip down the trails that lets you learn about the 20th-century farming communities.
As you go through the forest, your guide will point out all the interesting plants and wildlife you come across, so pay close attention to what they’re saying. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see woodchucks, turkeys, and maybe even a black bear.
To check out even more amazing creatures, you’ll want to zip on over to Ripley’s Aquarium. With their wide paths and wheelchair rentals, accessibility is the name of the game at this venue. They are always willing to solve problems, too, if you come across any barriers in your way of having a great time.
As you explore the upper level, you can watch sharks, manta rays, and ocean creatures thrive in realistic recreations of their natural habitats. At the lower level, you get to meet penguins galore plus see a truly remarkable coral reef in all its glory.
To avoid the crowds, be sure to skip the weekend visits. Instead, come in early on the weekdays to have a clear view of all the awesome marine life and their exciting exhibits.
While the Ober Gatlinburg Amusement Park and Ski Area is not 100% accessible, the tram ride alone is well worth the visit. They give all mobility chair and wheelchair users priority boarding on the back ramp, so you can get comfortable in your seat before everyone else comes through. Strollers, on the other hand, must be folded up before coming onboard.
Once everyone is settled in, the aerial tram steadily climbs up the mountainside to give you fabulous views of the Smokies. You’ll get to see miles around and have a chance to see what the forest and mountain range looks like from above.
Although many of the other attractions are not accessible, you’ll want to stick around to visit the Fudge Shop, Ober Loft Lounge, and their other fantastic eateries. Once you fill up your belly, you can shop to your heart’s content at The Silver Galleon, Puzzled, and all their other quaint onsite storefronts.
Can’t Get Through All the Fun in a Day?
If you cannot get through all these venues on a day trip, you can grab an accessible cabin or condo. If you decide to stick around for the weekend, don’t hesitate to stop in at The Pancake Pantry for breakfast to start each day off right.