Gatlinburg offers plenty to keep visitors entertained on a year-round basis, and yet, vacationers and locals alike often find themselves spending the majority of the winter months indoors. That’s a shame, as many of the area’s finest attractions involve snow and ice.
If you’re willing to brave the cold, you will be rewarded with some of the region’s most impressive views. Depending on your preferred winter activity, you could also enjoy your fair share of thrills — or the ultimate in rejuvenation. Either way, you’re bound to make memories. Be sure to add at least one or two of the following Gatlinburg winter activities to your itinerary:
1. Discover the Beauty of Anakeesta
The fun doesn’t stop when winter weather strikes Anakeesta. This beloved attraction’s hours may be restricted during the winter season, but it remains open during a few of the region’s coldest and most blustery months. Take the lift and head straight for the village, where you will enjoy not only seasonal decor but also gorgeous views of Gatlinburg. Depending on when you visit, you can also take part in a variety of holiday-oriented activities, such as a visit with Santa or even a stunning glimpse of the fireworks on New Year’s Eve.
2. Hike the Old Sugarlands Trail
While Great Smoky Mountain National Park’s Old Sugarlands Trail is technically open on a year-round basis, many visitors specifically prefer hiking there after November. At this point, outdoorsy types can avoid the usual bugs and crowds while still enjoying the gorgeous scenery.
The Old Sugarlands trailhead is easily accessible even from the busiest areas of Gatlinburg. It only takes a five-minute drive to feel like you’re in a completely different world. Dress warm, as the wind chill can bother even the hardiest and most dedicated hikers. Don’t forget to stop by the Sugarlands Visitor Center, where you’ll find restrooms, exhibits, and knowledgeable rangers who are happy to lend a helping hand.
3. Check Out the Twin Creeks Trail
Like the Old Sugarlands Trail, Twin Creeks is easily accessible to those staying in Gatlinburg — and it’s open during the winter. This gentle trail is ideal for hikers of all levels. Children, in particular, will enjoy checking out the remains of an old Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp located along the trail. These remains also appeal greatly to history buffs. As with Old Sugarlands, dressing warm is essential — especially as much of this trail remains shaded even during the winter months.
4. Explore Newfound Gap
Newfound Gap is easily a top national park attraction during the peak of fall colors, but it’s just as gorgeous during the winter months. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to access when snow and ice come into play. If you’re able to get through, however, you’ll enjoy the amazing scenery. Another underrated aspect of Newfound Gap: peace and quiet. This can vary based on the time of day, however, as many visitors head to Newfound Gap in hopes of sledding, building snowmen, and otherwise recapturing the childlike joy of winter.
5. Ski on Clingmans Dome Road
Bad news for motorists intent on navigating the national park during the winter: Clingmans Dome is closed to vehicles between December and April. What annoys drivers, however, delights cross-country skiers, who use the car-free route as a pleasant trail. If you head here to ski, you’ll enjoy not only an abundance of snow, but also magnificent views from this impressive vantage point.
Unlike many backcountry trails in the Smoky Mountains, Clingmans Dome provides a reasonably accessible cross-country skiing journey for beginners. That being said, at least a little experience is recommended before you tackle this route. As you ski, keep an eye out for the Great Smoky Nordic Ski Patrol — a volunteer unit dedicated to keeping winter enthusiasts safe.
6. Take a Trolley Ride During the Winter Magic Tour of Lights
Although typically associated with the holiday season, Gatlinburg’s Winter Magic Tour of Lights actually extends through late January. During this time, you and your loved ones can enjoy the beauty of twinkling lights as you stroll along the Parkway. The local trolley also offers light tours in the evening. Don’t hesitate to hop on for the ultimate ride through Gatlinburg. Your trip on the trolley supports a great cause: the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which maintains excellent scholarship and education programs.
7. Spend a Jam-Packed Day at Ober Gatlinburg
Ober Gatlinburg is a true winter wonderland. You can easily spend an entire day exploring this top attraction’s many offerings — and you’ll still want to return for more. From skating to snowboarding, there really is something for everyone. It’s easy to see why Ober has impressed generations of visitors.
The iconic aerial tramway is a delight in and of itself. On your way up or down from Ober, you’ll observe stunning winter scenery — and maybe even the beautiful displays from the Winter Magic Tour of Lights. When you arrive, you can grab your rental gear and head for the slopes. You will be impressed not only by the meticulous grooming but also by the lessons, which are ideal for both beginners and more experienced visitors hoping to level up.
Skiing and snowboarding are a big deal at Ober, of course, but they’re only the beginning. If you’re not feeling up to navigating the slopes, you’re welcome to stop by the indoor ice rink for a relaxed skate. You can also check out the ice-based bumper cars for a more intense experience. If you prefer to stay outside, feel free to hit up the tubing hill. Not only will the trip down get your heart racing, a ‘magic carpet’ will quickly take you and your tube to the top.
Whether your idea of winter fun includes a rugged hike or a comfortable trolley ride, you’ll have no trouble finding Gatlinburg activities that make the most of this special season. Dress warm and prepare for the ultimate winter adventure. Battling the weather may seem less than appealing at first, but you’ll ultimately be glad you ventured out into the cold.