Gatlinburg, Tennessee is pretty much the picture perfect tourist town. It has a zillion hotels. It has a million restaurants. It has tons of little trinket shops. It has a ski lift for views and a cable car to overlook the town. It has it all and it’s surprisingly fun to visit.
We spent two nights there and explored in the evenings while spending the days in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Gatlinburg is the town right outside of the park on the Tennessee side and is the perfect base for exploring the park if you’re not camping in the park itself.
Our first night there we ate at Smoky Mountain Brewery and it was delicious. We parked in the Calhoun parking area which is usually $10, but with a receipt from the shopping area, it’s free. If you need a place to park and eat, consider this area. After that, we checked into the hotel and decided to walk around town a bit.
We ended up spending most of the evening in the outdoor store close to the park entrance, like right at the start of town. I wanted to buy everything, but unfortunately, I have minimal funds and couldn’t quite afford everything. Or anything, really.
The other main stop on our wander was the Ole Smoky Moonshine distillery. It’s right on the main street and you can even do a free tasting. It’s all set up in one big room with jars of moonshine on the walls and booth type things in the middle to taste at. There are quite a few with one or two people to pour at each station. They all have all of the flavors, so don’t worry about picking the right one.
There are a couple other distilleries in town, too, so if you want to taste a bunch, make an evening of it and do a little self-guided moonshine tour and grab a jar or two to bring home for later.
The next morning we ate at Crockett’s Breakfast Camp since it was right by our hotel. I got the pancakes and they were monstrous. I didn’t love them, but the bacon and coffee were pretty good. That night we had some pretty good pizza at Big Daddy’s Pizzeria, which was also right by our hotel. It wasn’t the best pizza ever, but it definitely wasn’t the worst.
The next day at breakfast I learned something really fun about Gatlinburg. We wanted to eat somewhere else, so I Googled breakfast in Gatlinburg and that’s when I learned pancakes are life. Ready to see the results?
- Crockett’s Breakfast Camp
- Flapjacks Pancake Cabin (not great)
- Log Cabin Pancake House
- Pancake Pantry
- Atrium Pancakes
- Little House of Pancakes
- Timbers Log Cabin Restaurant
I feel like there were more when I first looked, but either way, for only having eight breakfast places (outside of hotels) six of them have pancakes or flapjacks in the name. Color me impressed.
The first full day we spent most of it in the park, but I was a little unprepared weather wise. I knew it would be cool, but I didn’t really think about what it would be like in the cool all day. Ridiculous, I know. So, I only went with my Chacos and cute little suede boots. Nothing warm for hiking. We ended up back at the outdoor store looking for cheap hiking shoes that weren’t sandals, maybe a scarf, and hat. I found all of them, but the shoes hurt, the hat looked weird, and I forgot about the scarf.
I left empty-handed again and ended up just wearing socks with my Chacos. Talk about trend setting! I managed and wasn’t actually all that cold and on our last day in the park I just sucked it up and didn’t wear socks. I was fine and made it back with all my toes.
Overall I really liked Gatlinburg for what it was, a tourist town. I wouldn’t want to live there, but I would definitely go back if I was in the area or going back to the park. I would definitely recommend it if you plan on spending any time in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Cherokee, North Carolina is another option on the other side of the park and if Gatlinburg doesn’t sound great, give Pigeon Forge a shot just a short drive from Gatlinburg.
Tips for visiting Gatlinburg:
- If you’re visiting in the busy season (June 15-August 15 and all of October, especially weekends) consider booking accommodation ahead of time. There are quite a few options for all price ranges.
- Visit during the week if you can, especially during busy season. It won’t be as busy and rooms will be cheaper.
- Most hotels are right in town. That’s definitely where I would recommend staying.
- Parking is awful and expensive so I would recommend staying parked at your hotel and walking around town. If you don’t you’ll pay up the wazoo for parking and probably have to walk just as far to get wherever you’re going.
- Smoky Mountain Brewery has delicious food. It’s also a good place to park, eat, then wander around. Parking is $10, but if you have a receipt from that shopping center (like from the Brewery) it’s free. So it’s a good base to walk around town if you’re just passing through.
- If you plan on visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is literally right next to it, definitely get gas before you go.
- Head to Ole Smoky Moonshine to do a free moonshine tasting and admire the perfectly filled shelves.