Anyone in the Gatlinburg area can tell you that there’s no shortage of excellent spots for a picnic. All you have to do is look out nearly any window to witness a never-ending vision of beauty. Nearly every square inch outside of town beckons you to enjoy a meal or snack as you take in the splendor that surrounds. But before you just pull off to the side of the road when you’re en route, we’ll give you a few reasons why it pays to do your homework. Here are our top picks for the most scenic places in and near Gatlinburg to enjoy a picnic.
1. Greenbrier Picnic Pavillion
The starting point of two of the best trails in the Smokies (Ramsey Cascades and Porters Creek), the Greenbrier picnic spot can be found along the Little Pigeon River. The covered pavilion can fit up to 70 people and includes multiple grills for families to use. The most popular time to visit this place is in the spring. The temperatures are mild, and the wildflowers are so plentiful that it’s an overwhelming experience to be amidst all that beauty. But if you’d prefer to skip the crowds, get your color from the bright autumn leaves as they filter all that sunshine from above.
This picnic area is so close to downtown that it takes just a few minutes to drive there. Right off the Historic Nature Trail, you can dine right next to a lively creek where groups and individuals alike can really relax. Even with its basketball, baseball fields, and children’s playground, the park has a relatively quiet vibe. It’s definitely a great spot to let kids roam around as you finish off your dessert. If you happen to come right at sunset with your significant other, there’s no better time to enjoy each other’s company as sunlight turns to starlight.
To picnic by the falls, you need to make your way up nearly 700 feet of elevation over 2.5 miles. You’ll pass by plenty of forests until you reach the cascade that is Abrams. When you’ve finished taking in all the clean air provided by the trees that surround you, pull out your lunch to eat right by the water. While this area will definitely take some driving to get to, you won’t want to miss seeing it if at all possible. As a part of the famous Cades Cove area, the wildlife and views to be found near Abrams are truly unique (even when compared to the rest of the stunning Smokies).
Mount Harrison is calling your name, and all you have to do to get to the top is take the chairlift. Open every month of the year, this mountain is nearly 3.600 feet high, and its views are definitely well worth the ride up. Grab something to drink, sit on one of the many benches, and have a gourmet sandwich or two once you arrive. Ober Gatlinburg is a popular place, so popular that bluegrass bands will brave the ascent in the summer just to provide background music for picnickers just like you.
5. Metcalf Bottoms
Metcalf Bottoms has a pavilion that offers peaceful shade on even the most sweltering humid days. Much like Greenbrier, it can hold up to 70 people and also features multiple grills that you can use to give your burgers and hot dogs just the right amount of char. If you’re feeling up for a little walking to burn off those calories, try visiting the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse or the Walker Sisters Place. These historic structures date back to the 1800s and offer a vivid glimpse into what life was like for the early settlers of this historic area.
Named for the sounds of the enthusiastic streams in the area, Roaring Fork is a 5.5-mile loop that offers plenty to see along the way. But you may not have to walk for that long to find a picnic area that works for you. While there may not be a handy pavilion-like some of our other suggestions, hikers are amazed at the number of places to pull over and enjoy a picnic lunch with all the fixings. Keep your eyes peeled right around Ephraim Bales cabin for a clearing that would be perfect to spread your white-and-red checked blanket.
7. Twin Creeks Picnic Pavilion
When it comes to using the many pavilions around the Gatlinburg area, you should know that it is possible to reserve them for a variety of parties and gatherings. Some will go so far as to charge a fee due to their high demand. This is the case for the Twin Creeks pavilion, but we wouldn’t recommend it if it didn’t have some beautiful views within the Great Smoky National Park. Since you need to reserve it in advance though, you’ll at least never have to worry about finding a seat.
8. Herbert Holt Park
This park is somewhat set aside due to its location. Nestled in the valley, Herbert Holt is really more of a locals spot than it is a tourism locale. Once you arrive though, you’re treated to a park that’s stuffed with amenities, including grills, sinks, picnic tables, a covered pavilion, horseshoe pits, and even a trout rearing facility. This park has the only wheelchair-accessible fishing pier in the Gatlinburg area, and the fishing area is largely restricted to children and physically disabled. The rules state you can keep up to two fish caught from Herbert Holt.
Having a picnic is one of the most romantic (and affordable) ways to enjoy the Smoky Mountains. While there’s always the chance of ants or bees turning up, the risks are worth the rewards. As you refuel in the natural surrounding, you’ll give your body and mind every reason to really slow down and savor every morsel. It’s a way of connecting with food that few can do in our rushed society.