Hidden Gems in Gatlinburg, TN: Unique Things to Do & See

There is no shortage of compelling activities in and around Gatlinburg. Hiking, dining, shopping…no matter your interests, you’ll plenty of ways to keep busy. If what you really crave, however, is something truly unique, you’ll be pleased to find several decidedly quirky options. These tend to be a bit quieter than Gatlinburg’s go-to tourist destinations, so they offer a nice break from the region’s busier venues and activities. There are some great hidden gems in Gatlinburg, TN.

Below, we’ve highlighted a few compelling options that deserve a spot on your Gatlinburg itinerary:

Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum

Name a topic and you will almost certainly find a museum or attraction dedicated to it — but few Gatlinburg visitors would expect to be so impressed when paying homage to salt and pepper shakers. Turns out, these are more versatile and compelling than you could have imagined, as you will realize when browsing the offbeat displays at the Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum.

Home to over 20,000 pairs of shakers, this affordable attraction provides an unexpected history lesson, as the evolution of the shakers clearly echoes larger societal changes. This is also an artistic marvel, as the creativity displayed in many of the shaker designs is nothing short of astounding. The modest cost of admission can apply to a salt and pepper shaker souvenir from the shop, where the offerings are just as diverse and charming as the selections within the museum itself.

Hillbilly Golf

mini gold green hole down a hill

Mini-golf is a popular activity in the Smoky Mountains region, where you’ll find lots of courses with larger-than-life displays that capture the fascination of locals and tourists alike. When you want something a bit more low-key, however, Hillbilly Golf is your best bet. This course is unique in that it is reached via cable car, which brings you partway up the mountain to the first hole.

The obstacles aren’t necessarily challenging, but they are fun nonetheless. The decor is charming and the scenery is stunning, so be prepared to take lots of photos. The camaraderie is half the fun; visitors almost inevitably end up making friends along the way. The quaint, but enjoyable excursion ends with a return cable car trip.

Cataract Falls

Photo Credit by @j_sims15 on Instagram

Gatlinburg visitors love to chase waterfalls, but many miss the region’s greatest gem of a cascade: Cataract Falls. This lesser-known hike deserves a lot more attention, in part because it’s so easily accessible when you stay in Gatlinburg. The trek is also surprisingly laid-back, making it a beginner’s dream come true.

On your way to the falls, you’ll cross plenty of well-built bridges over Fighting Creek — and if you pay attention, you’ll spot a unique tree near one of these landmarks. A short set of stairs will take you to the waterfall, which drops 25 feet and is especially amazing to behold after a recent rainfall. Add this hike to a leisurely afternoon itinerary or visit in the morning to get your day off to an amazing start.

Smoky Mountain Farms Jelly House

Photo Credit by @gatlinburgmap on Instagram

Shopping is always more fun when it involves sweet treats or the opportunity to enjoy them in the future. Better yet: a shopping expedition that allows you to indulge your sweet tooth while also supporting local producers. Head to Smoky Mountain Farms Jelly House for samples of the region’s finest preserves, jams, jellies, and honey. Many of these are available in “baby” form: tiny five-ounce jars perfect when you want to grab bread from the bakery and enjoy a casual picnic or meal at your rental accommodations.

While sweet flavors dominate at this cute little shop, there are also some savory and even spicy options worth purchasing. Check out the pickles and hot sauce, both of which are packed with flavor. Don’t hesitate to ask the staff members for insight. They are incredibly friendly — and clearly passionate about the variety of treats and condiments they sell.

Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community

The artisan community is alive and well in Gatlinburg, where you can find some of the most meaningful souvenirs imaginable. Craft sales and other special events can regularly be found throughout town, but there are also several shops that are consistently open to the public.

Make a day of it and navigate the eight-mile loop designated by the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community. This is the nation’s largest independent organization of artisans, so you’ll need to set a lot of time to explore even a small sampling of these impressive creations. Highlights include:

Painted Bear Coffee Shop & Art Gallery
Grab a cup of coffee as you check out the gorgeous works of art on display at Painted Bear Coffee Shop & Art Gallery. The friendly kitty on the front porch is another perk. The decor, products, and general vibe of this coffee shop are wonderfully cozy, so stop and linger before you move on to other arts and crafts destinations.

Fowler’s Clay Works
This family-owned studio reveals the power of pottery to blend functionality and storytelling. At Fowler’s Clay Works, each piece is distinctive and each has a special tale to tell. The glazes are inspired by the local mountains and the pottery is hand-dipped. If you’d like to try your hand at pottery, sign up for one of the studio’s workshops, which gives you the chance to nurture your inner artist.

Smoky Mountain Dulcimers
It’s impossible to truly understand the Appalachian music scene until you’ve seen the dulcimer up close. This unique instrument has a rich heritage, which you will discover as you explore Smoky Mountain Dulcimers. There, you’ll find not only hand-crafted dulcimers, but also, books, CDs, and cases — not to mention, lots of intriguing insights into the music of the Smoky Mountains.

No matter what type of Gatlinburg vacation you envision, there’s something to be said for going off the beaten path and exploring the region’s lesser-known shops and attractions. Add a few unusual destinations to your itinerary and you’ll be rewarded with a richer understanding of all that makes Gatlinburg special.