Gatlinburg is a cozy mountain town that is located in far east Tennessee. Just west of the state’s border with North Carolina. This town is often called the Gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park thanks to it boasting an official Visitor Center just a few miles from one of the park’s entrances. Many who visit those beautiful and ancient mountains shop in Gatlinburg to dine or stay. But while the Great Smoky Mountains National Park may be the big thing drawing people into Gatlinburg, it is by no means the only interesting thing this town has to offer. There are someone cool facts that make the Smokies special as well.
Let’s take a look at just some of the interesting facts about Gatlinburg that we bet you didn’t know about this fascinating Tennessee mountain town:
The City’s Namesake Was So Disliked, It’s Believed He Was Run Out of Town
In the early 1800s, this Tennessee town was officially called White Oak Flats. Then a couple came into town and disrupted just about everything. Radford and Elizabeth Gatlin moved to the area in 1854. They purchased fifty acres from an established and well-liked family, the Ogles.
But somehow, Gatlin thought it okay to add a couple of zeroes to that purchase and entered a Tennessee grant that seemed to claim over 100,000 acres. It would then dispossess hundreds of other local residents of their land. Ownership of this land and the grant’s legality would later be an argument for the courts to settle nearly a century later.
Gatlin also founded a general store and, in undoubtedly seeking to further his land claims, he finagled it so as to have the post office located within his store and Richard Reagan established as the first postmaster. When a mail route was established between the new town and other Tennessee communities, Gatlin stamped the location as Gatlinburg. Around the same time, he started a civil dispute with the Ogles and other community leaders on the alterations of the main road (he wanted it to go closer to his properties).
Within just five years of buying property and setting up shop in this new Tennessee town, the Gatlins left to live out their lives in Strawberry Plains, just outside of Knoxville. While it’s not known exactly why they left, it is known that they left behind a lot of angry residents and most locals agree the couple was run out of town. The attempted land-grabbing, road-moving, unwanted town name change, and other civil disputes initiated by Radford Gatlin made him a lot of enemies and yet, in the end, his name has endured.
Gatlinburg is the Second-Most Popular Wedding Destination in the Country
People might have hated Radford Gatlin, but they sure do love Gatlinburg! Gatlinburg is the second most popular wedding destination and certainly the wedding capital of the South. Hosting an incredible 20,000 weddings every year, the only place that has more weddings in the country is Las Vegas.
Gatlinburg has risen as such a desirable wedding destination thanks to a variety of factors. First, of course, there are the forested mountains of the Great Smokies that serve as fantastic backdrops as well as location settings. But while these mountains give the reason, there is also the convenient fact that Gatlinburg is pretty centrally located for half the country. An incredible 60% of the United States’ total population can reach Gatlinburg within a day’s drive or a short, fairly direct flight. Such a location makes it easy for wedding guests thanks to the lower associated travel costs.
Gatlinburg’s Main Attraction of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Free Thanks to a Special Clause
There are many federal parks that don’t charge entrance or drive-through fees, but most of the big ones do. Yellowstone National Park, Olympic National Park, Sequoia National Park, and Joshua Tree National Park are all great examples of this: gorgeous and popular federally-managed lands that have fees to access. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an exception to this rule and that’s because the people of Gatlinburg had a need for reliable transportation infrastructure. However, since March 1st of 2023, parking tags are required for visitors parking for longer than 15 minutes. You can learn more about the ParkItForward program here.
You see, back in 1934 when Tennessee gifted or ceded the territory that would become the Great Smoky Mountains Park, they added a special clause in the legal documents. This clause stated that “No toll or license fee shall ever be imposed [on Newfound Gap Road].” Newfound Gap Road is the primary road that cuts through the heart of the park and connects Gatlinburg with North Carolina and, a bit further along US 441, the city of Cherokee, NC. This special clause made it too difficult for the federal government to organize a pay station and so now we all get to explore the beauty of these mountains without paying excess fees and surcharges.
Being free and being easily located by so many Americans also helps the Great Smoky Mountains National Park earn another fun title. This park is the most visited National Park in the entire country. A whopping 14.1 million visitors coming through its gates in 2021.
Start Planning Your Adventure to Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Gatlinburg, TN, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park both have a fascinating history. However, they also aren’t places that are just about the past. The mountain town and the smoky mountains themselves are fantastic places to simply be present and enjoy the natural beauty around us. These are fascinating backdrops. Whether you are looking for a spot to house your wedding or simply a place to enjoy a quick escape from city life.
Although, before you pack the car and head on down to these hills, make sure you know the best places for your traveling group to go, see, and do in the area by giving our other pages a perusal. We’re here to help you enjoy the most memorable and enjoyable vacation in the Gatlinburg area!