With so many candy shops, thrill rides, and sightseeing opportunities, one could become overwhelmed and bewildered when planning the family itinerary. Have no fear, fellow traveler! The following “Top Ten List” will guide you along your journey, and ensure that a quintessential “Gatlinburg Staple” will not be missed.
Looking for the best things to do in Gatlinburg? Our list of the 10 best Gatlinburg attractions is a must-read.
Stingrays and sharks fly overhead, their pace slow and calculating. Jellyfish float ominously about, their orange translucent bodies a stark contrast to the blue expanse beyond them. Friendly and curious penguins, looking like a gang of rambunctious schoolboys in their prom tuxes, scurry to greet the honored guest – you!
This isn’t science fiction, but every inch of the Ripley’s Aquarium convinces you otherwise. From the moment you step through the front doors, you are transported from the quaint mountain town of Gatlinburg to an underwater wonderland that seems to have been constructed from pure imagination.
What makes this aquarium magical? It makes the seemingly impossible possible. Here, you can come face to face with the prime predators of the seven seas, sharks, in one of the largest underwater tunnels in the world (340 feet!). If you are looking for a cuter and fluffier encounter, you can visit the aptly named Penguin Playhouse, where dozens of penguins eagerly await to meet you through an interactive system of crawl tunnels and viewing domes.
Whether you are looking to entertain your kids during a rainy day or get in touch with your own inner child, the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is the perfect destination.
There are few places in Gatlinburg that so perfectly display the spirit of mountain life like the Ole Smoky Moonshine distillery. Outside the shop, the air is filled with live music, jovial laughter, and the distinct smell of cooked and processed grains. As you make your way inside, the aroma and laughter grow, and the source of the banter is found: a free sampling bar, manned by an Ole Smoky Moonshine distiller. He offers each sample with a short history of how the batch was made, cheerfully answering any questions the guests inquire about and beaming with pride as he divulges the details of his craft.
This is a typical scene for the distillery. The owners and workers of this Gatlinburg gem desire to both educate and entertain their customers, offering free samples of their famous moonshine and a walkthrough museum describing the complex moonshine process.
From the live band and rocking chairs at the exterior to the free samples and museum inside, the Ole Smoky Moonshine distillery is a must-do for any adult visiting Gatlinburg.
Which is greater: the journey or the destination? Considering the Gatlinburg Sky Lift, the answer is both. Since the beginning of its operation in the 1950s, the Sky Lift has offered both thrill and scenery to thousands of visitors each year.
Simplicity is this attraction’s selling point. Although each component of the ride undergoes frequent and rigorous inspection, the owners have made a point to maintain a vintage and nostalgic ambiance. The ride seems to be preserved in time, with each slow and peaceful journey allowing riders to reminisce of simpler days.
As they begin their slow, 1,800-foot ascension to the summit of Crocket Mountain, riders are immediately immersed in breathtaking views and sights that are truly one of a kind. Stoic fir trees stand firm like soldiers ahead, babbling brooks trickle over glistening rocks below, and Gatlinburg lies behind, its entire splendor captured in one glance.
The SkyDeck and SkyBridge at the top have quickly become a crowd favorite. The SkyBridge is an astounding 700 feet long making it the longest suspended pedestrian bridge in North America. The SkyBridge connects two ridges of Crockett Mountain and reaches heights of over 150 feet! These panoramic views and SkyBridge experience are sure to be a highlight of your trip!
To say that Gatlinburg’s Hillbilly Golf is a unique experience is an understatement. With quirky obstacles such as Moonshine mills, outhouses, and covered wagons, this silly but challenging course is sure to have the entire family in fits of giggles by the third hole. To make the course even stranger, all eighteen holes wind down a mountainside, weaving through forest trees as if it were truly constructed by those of the “back woods.” Have no fear of scaling the mountainside in order to play, however: a tram runs up and down the steep incline so players can enjoy the game entirely downhill.
The combination of humorous “mountain folk” props and well-groomed landscapes makes a visit to the Hillbilly Golf Course filled with goofy fun, and many visitors can’t help but smile as they compete with friends and family over silly obstacles. It’s a simple but entertaining way to spend a sunny day in Gatlinburg.
Complete and utter darkness. Spine-tingling screams. Heart-pounding scares.
If these make you smile instead of squirming, then Ripley’s Haunted Adventure should definitely be included on your trip itinerary. With unknown fears and dangers lurking around every corner, and a name like Ripley attached to an attraction, you are guaranteed to be frightened. Faint of heart be warned: your mind will play more tricks on you than the adventure itself. If you dare to enter, we suggest bringing a friend or two; you don’t sound as weak when your screams are drowned in a group.
Laser tag, pizza, and panoramic views: what more could one ask for? The Gatlinburg Space Needle is a cornucopia of fun and has been the entertainment center and iconic attraction of the city since its opening in 1970. From its 25,000-square feet arcade on the ground floor to the thrilling 400-foot glass elevator ride, to the spectacular panoramic views on the observation deck, the Space Needle combines education, entertainment, and sightseeing for the ultimate tourist destination.
There is something so magical about mountain trams: the gentle sway as you crest each tower, the cheerful and excited waves out of bay windows as a neighboring car passes, and the mountainside rising and falling below you like ocean waves. Even the fellow passengers and conductor, who idly chat and swap stories as the tram ascends, add to this quintessential mountain experience.
The Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway is no exception. With friendly conductors full of sight information and 360° of glass windows, the trams are a perfect way to gain spectacular views in a closed and heated environment. The fun only begins on the ride up, however, as the ski resort at the summit is filled with activities such as skiing, ice skating, tubing, and even bobsledding.
Should you be looking for incredible views and winter sports, the Ober Tramway is the way to go.
Lights. Camera. Engines?
It isn’t every day that you see a car be the star of a blockbuster or the target of the paparazzi, but the Hollywood Stars Cars Museum preserves these moments in time and allows fans to reminisce over these iconic vehicles. From Herbie to the Batmobile, from Back to the Future to the Avengers, the collection of over forty cars has attracted and entertained thousands of curious onlookers over the years. With the museum constantly adapting and adding new vehicles, one can be assured that no two visits will be the same and more than one visit is necessary.
Finishing up our list is the fantastic wonders of Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. Although certainly not as beautiful as the sights of the Smoky Mountains, the Ripley’s Museum is certainly breathtaking. Witness unbelievable sights and hear incredible stories that will shock, amaze, and blow your mind. With confounding illusions, profound legends, and simple freaks of nature, the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum will have you asking what, how, and why all at the same time. Yet the true question is: Will you believe it?
Located in downtown Gatlinburg near the aquarium, Anakeesta has rapidly become an area favorite. From the downtown station, you will board your choice of a six-person, fully enclosed gondola or a four-person chair lift for your ten-minute ride to the mountaintop. Once you arrive at the top, you and your group will love the mountain vistas and views of Gatlinburg below.
In addition to beautiful views, you will find activities suited for all ages and activity levels. Here you will find an amazing playground for the children, an exhilarating mountain coaster, and a 16-bridge nature trail. In addition, there are plenty of shopping options for less active guests.
They have slated a $6 million expansion in 2020 that will include an observation tower, a water play area, a new treehouse attraction with an adventure course, and an accessible ramp to Anakeesta’s Vista Gardens, as well as additional dining options.
Whether you need a craft beer, ice cream cone, or souvenir, the gift shops and restaurants have you covered! Anakeesta is definitely worth a visit.