Are you looking for a unique and historic place to celebrate this upcoming Independence Day? Maybe some place with charm, excitement, and plenty of attractions? If so, you might consider celebrating in Gatlinburg, TN. Gatlinburg holds an interesting history and is renowned for its fantastic annual 4th of July festivities. Here’s a look at just what you should know about the town and the different activities you can expect should you choose it for your upcoming summer travels:
Independence in Gatlinburg: An American Tale
Gatlinburg and its surrounding Great Smoky lands held an interesting position at the onset of the American Revolution. Part of the desire to strike back at the British crown was a desire to push westward and expand the colonies. Before the declaration of war, the original thirteen colonies did not expand westward beyond the Great Smoky Mountains and thus Gatlinburg then belonged to the Cherokee nations.
But then revolution was declared, the war won, and the new leaders chose to expand their map. The newly forged states now featured territory stretching all the way to Mississippi. Within a decade of the Declaration of Independence, trappers and hunters started making inroads west of the Appalachians. In 1807, the very first non-Cherokee or indigenous family, the Ogles, moved into a clearing that would one day grow to become the town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Celebrating the 4th of July in Gatlinburg
The Big 4th of July Midnight Parade 2022
Gatlinburg’s 4th of July Midnight Parade is undoubtedly the headliner of this area’s festivities. This parade has been a staple of the community since 1975 and is certainly one of the more unique such events in the country. That’s because rather than happening during the day, this parade happens at the stroke of midnight. The evening when July 3rd transitions into Independence Day. Because this parade begins with the clock strikes midnight, it is also gets referred to as the First Parade in the Nation.
What we love about this is that pre-parade, you can spend a couple of hours enjoying the lovely restaurants and bars that keep downtown Gatlinburg lively and entertaining. Then, as the clock’s arms tick higher and higher, make your way to East Parkway, that wide highway that winds and cuts through the village’s downtown. The parade route will begin where this road intersects with Baskins Creek Bypass and ends at the Ski Mountain Road intersection.
Not sure if this parade is worth it? Consider the following accolades Gatlinburg’s First Independence Day Parade in the Nation has earned:
- Top Parade to See in the US — National Geographic Traveler Magazine
- Five Best Fourth of July Celebrations in Smaller Cities — Livability.com
- Grand Pinnacle Award — International Festivals and Events Association
- Top 20 Regional Event — Southeastern Tourism Society
Other Notable 4th of July Festivities in Gatlinburg
The River Raft Regatta
Don’t stay up too late as the best is yet to come in terms of Independence Day festivities. One of our personal favorite events is the creative and fun Gatlinburg River Raft Regatta. This is a river race in which contestants enter unmanned floating crafts down the Little Pigeon River in historic Gatlinburg. The first craft to pass (float) over the finish line wins.
What we love about the River Raft Regatta is that for just a few dollars anyone can enter. You can choose to grab one of the available rubber duckies and hope for the best as you unleash it at the finish line or, even better, create your own little ship. This is quite obviously a very family-friendly event as kids, teens, and creative-minded adults of all ages put together their dream flotation devices.
There are also a ton of prizes. There are trophies for first, second, and third place finishers for both the first homemade raft to cross the finish line and the first rubber duckie to pop on over. There are also prizes for most creative floatation creation.
Evening 4th of July Fireworks Show
And of course, what Independence Day is complete without some color blasting fireworks? Once you’ve had your laughs at the River Raft Regatta, enjoy a filling meal at one of Gatlinburg’s fantastic restaurants or pop back to your place for a quick nap and recharge before the big fireworks show.
You actually have a couple of fantastic choices when it comes to the Fourth of July fireworks. First, there is and will always be Dollywood. Dollywood boasts near nightly summer firework shows, including a big hoorah for the Fourth of July. Their evening day-of celebrations typically feature a 3D drone and fireworks show that starts between 9:30 and 10 pm. A good reason to choose this fireworks show is if you also want to enjoy the theme park at night. Riding their award-winning roller coasters in the cool summer evening, just before the big show can be quite the experience.
Then, naturally, the city of Gatlinburg also does their own fine fireworks show — and the best place to view it is right in that downtown area with a traditional start time of 11 p.m. So if you are not a fan of driving up and down and all around on the holiday, book yourself a nice hotel in downtown Gatlinburg and you can enjoy an amazingly full Fourth of July all within a short walk of your lodgings.
Not Sure Where to Dine or Stay? Check Out Our Other Gatlinburg Pages
Gatlinburg is a wonderful mountain town with a ton of activities and premier locations, including great places to dine and stay. So much so that it may feel overwhelming to plan everything out for your big Tennessee vacation. If so, make sure to visit our other pages to get a good idea of the top places to see and things to do! And if you are booking for the Fourth of July, make sure to book soon as Gatlinburg is a top southeast destination for this holiday thanks to the above and other Independence Day festivities.