More commonly known as the “Gateway to the Smoky Mountains”, Gatlinburg is a resort city in Tennessee, United States. Despite its small size, it is one of the most visited tourist spots in the U.S. where you can find all kinds of outdoorsy activities to do. The two main roads running through the city – the River Road and the Parkway, allow tourists to easily navigate around the 27 km2 area that makes up all of Gatlinburg. More importantly, every other place to visit is within a walking distance so worrying about traffic and car rentals can be wiped right off.
If you are a nature lover and are planning your next trip to Gatlinburg, here are the top 7 places that you must visit:
1. GATLINBURG SKYLIFT PARK
The best thing about this resort city is that you are constantly surrounded by breathtaking views. It doesn’t matter if you are relaxing in one of the gatlinburg cabins with a hot drink, or taking a ride high up in the mountains, a picturesque scenery is constantly guaranteed. At the Gatlinburg SkyLift Park, you can travel by chairlift to the top of the Crockett Mountain, where you can get off and explore the landscape from the SkyDeck. Fresh air, sounds of nature, various colored leaves, being near the clouds, will all leave you amazed. You can also walk across the SkyBridge. It is North America’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge going as high as 140 feet and 680 feet long. A glass panel runs the entire length of the bridge offering incomparable views of the surrounding mountains. As the seasons change, the views change as well, so every time you visit this location it is a new experience.
2. CADES COVE
Cades Cove is a beautiful mountain valley that is one of the most popular locations among locals and tourists alike. This place was once home to a thriving community. On the way, you can see restored churches, grist mills, barns, and log houses that reflect its preserved history. Cades Cove allows you to experience nature in its true form. Offering you the opportunity to spot wildlife, tourists can spot coyotes, raccoons, black bears, groundhogs, white-tailed deer, and many other animals. To truly experience this place, it is best to see it while riding a bicycle or on foot. There is a one-way 11-mile loop road that circles the cove. Throughout the road, you can enjoy the scenery at a leisurely pace and stop whenever you want to soak in the beauty of the valley.
3. CLINGMANS DOME
At an altitude of more than 6600 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. It is the most accessible mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is predominantly made of massive, coarse-grained sedimentary rocks. A half-mile steep walk into the Clingmans Dome takes you to the observation tower located at the top. This offers a panoramic full-circle view of the mountains, just as long as the weather allows it.
This region is known for its cool, wet climate, so even if you are traveling in the summer, it is a good idea to dress in layers. Endless views of valleys, ridges, and vegetation will stay with you at every turn making the trip from the Clingmans Dome Road to the top of the observation deck worthwhile. While the observation tower is open year-round, worsening weather conditions may lead to closed roads leading up to it – so make sure you plan your visit accordingly. Clingmans Dome is also the starting point for some of the most beautiful hiking trails in Gatlinburg.
4. PIGEON RIVER
Looking for an adrenaline rush? Look no further! The Pigeon River located near Gatlinburg offers whitewater rafting to splash your way across while enjoying the surrounding scenery from a whole new perspective. Most rafting companies offer two kinds of trips. You can raft through the Upper Pigeon River in a more accelerated, heart-pounding, exciting way, or float through the Lower Pigeon River much more gently and slowly. Either way, the chilly water, bumpy ride, and mountain views will make your trip down the river the best it can be.
5. CHIMNEY TOPS TRAIL
One of the most popular hikes in Gatlinburg, the Chimney Tops Trail is 3.3 miles long roundtrip. While it is relatively a short trail, it is not the easiest one. The last mile, with an elevation gain of 800 feet, is extremely strenuous making it difficult for most hikers to even reach the top. The first section of the trail mostly runs along the flowing waters of Road Prong Creek, passing a few footbridges in the process. Wildflowers like mountain laurel and rhododendron can be seen blooming along this trail during summer or springtime, adding to the neighboring beauty. Towards the end, the terrain becomes steeper and the ridge narrows offering views of the mountains towards the east. Due to a wildfire in 2016, the trail was closed for almost a full year during which a new observation deck was also constructed before the trail reopened. The Park has blocked access beyond this point to ensure the safety of the hikers, but it is expected that the last section of the trail will someday reopen.
6. RIPLEY’S AQUARIUM OF THE SMOKIES
With over 10,000 exotic sea creatures, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies has been voted the best aquarium in all of North America. This aquarium has more creatures than the entire population of Gatlinburg! On your visit, go through an underwater tunnel with giant sea turtles, big snappers, 12-foot sharks and explore the aquatic world with all kinds of species. You get to have unique experiences to pet a penguin, splash with stingrays, or just observe them all up-close through the floor-to-ceiling glass walls. You can even have a sleepover with the sharks! It is best to check scheduled live shows before you plan your visit so that you can make the most of your time there and don’t miss out on any once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Apart from these, skiing resorts and camping grounds are also immensely popular places to visit in Gatlinburg. However, these are not open year-round and are accessible depending on weather conditions.
The Last Word
For nature-lovers who are planning their next holiday trip, Gatlinburg is exactly where they need to be. From mountainside hiking trails to whitewater rafting, this city has something to offer for everyone. But, especially for those who enjoy the great outdoor adventures.