Family enjoying historical tour in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Why is Gatlinburg, Tennessee So Popular? Here are 11 Reasons!

Gatlinburg, Tennessee is the perfect family getaway and one of the most-visited vacation spots in the U.S. Take a walk through the nearby Smoky Mountains on picturesque trails filled with lush greenery, waterfalls, and wildlife. And, when you’re not enjoying the great outdoors, head to downtown Gatlinburg to visit the many shops, diners, museums, dinner theaters, and other attractions. There are endless places to go for an unforgettable experience. Literally, millions of people come to visit Gatlinburg yearly for fun year-round activities – and after one trip, you’ll know exactly why Gatlinburg is so popular!

History of Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg has a pretty interesting history, which can be traced all the way back to the mid-1800s. Noah and Martha Jane Huskey Ogle and their seven children were the first settlers in the area. The Ogles established a general store that stood for over 100 years.

Soon after the Ogle’s arrival, other settlers descended upon the area and established their homesteads. During the Civil War, the greater Gatlinburg area was occupied by the Confederates

By the 1940s, the Gatlinburg area became a tourist destination. This was largely due to the establishment of the Great Smoky Rocky Mountain National Park. Vendors by the hundreds came to the area to capitalize on the new boom. From the 1940s through the 1970s, the area became a huge draw and one of the most popular tourist attractions in North America with hundreds of eateries, attractions, hiking trails, rides, and other curiosities. While some establishments have closed their doors, others stood the test of time and still thrive to this day.

Top Attractions At Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg has hundreds of attractions for visitors to enjoy, making it a unique destination for adventurers and families alike. There is literally something for everyone!

Whether you want to hike, shop, see the sights, or chow down on some good cooking, you will find it in Gatlinburg. Here are our top 11 things to experience during your next trip!

1. Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Opened in 1940, this park is the most visited national park in the U.S. Take one of the beautiful hiking trails or drive through in your car – either way, you’ll encounter some of the most picturesque views on the planet. Enjoy hundreds of species of flowering plants, waterfalls, conifer trees, and creeks. The trails also have several resting spots and picnic areas. If you hike into the mountains, the view is spectacular.

2. Clingmans Dome Observation Tower

This structure is the highest point in Tennessee with a height of 6,643 feet. On a clear day, the view spans over 100 miles. Situated about 45 feet above Old Smoky, you can see the panorama of several states. Once you park, just follow the half mile paved walkway to behold one of the most spectacular views on earth.

3. Pancake Houses

The Gatlinburg area has nearly 2 dozen pancake houses (like the Pancake Pantry, Log Cabin Pancake House and Little House of Pancakes, just to name a few) that serve multiple flavors of pancakes and crepes with different toppings. So, whether you like chocolate chip or buckwheat, plain or blueberry filled, you can find it. And don’t forget about the sides of potatoes, country ham, bacon and sausage. As far as which pancake house is the best, it all comes down to personal preference. All have very high marks.

4. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

If you love the marine world, this is the attraction for you. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies features a spectacular underwater experience with sea creatures big and small. Tours are led by guides at the Ripley’s Believe it or Not location, all who are highly knowledgeable and eager to enhance your learning experience. Enjoy the shallow lagoon with different species of stingrays and exotic fish or the Penguin Playhouse, which gives kids an up close and personal view of the colony. Head over to the amusement park and museum to round out your experience at the theme park.

5. Anakeesta

Another theme park, Anakeesta, is equipped with a skybridge that takes you high above the 70-acre forest. If you’re brave enough, you can also go down the heart-pumping zipline. Other activities include the Mountain Coaster, the Chondola ride to the 600-foot summit, and the Vista Gardens with its wide variety of botanicals on display.

6. Local Food Specialties

Tennessee is home to a wide range of specialty foods. You can often find them inside one of the many gift shops or local flea markets. Find delicious fare like pickled chow chow made from garden fresh vegetables or jerkies made from ostrich, bear, and even alligator. You can also find some of the finest sauces, rubs, and spices in the state. The jams, jellies, and preserves are unlike any that you’ve even had before.

6. Gatlinburg Strip and Space Needle

This mile-long mini Las Vegas-like strip has everything from carnival rides and hotels to museums and food. Just off the strip you’ll find the famous 407-foot Gatlinburg Space Needle, which gives you a supreme mountain view of the rolling Appalachians and well beyond. Once you come down, check out the axe throwing competitions and chow down on some of the best pizza around at Slice Pizza Bakery.

7. Roaring Fork Nature Trail

This beautiful nature trail loops around through many historical pit stops and features a lot of natural beauty such as historical cabins, wildlife, waterfalls, and creeks. The Rainbow Falls and Grotto Falls are two of the park’s most popular sites. The hike for both is moderately difficult but the kids love it. Both falls have nearby pools with plenty of salamanders, frogs, and fish.

The area has a number of campsites, RV parks, and hotels that can fit any budget. They all have plenty of space and great amenities.

8. Ober Gatlinburg

If you’re into the great outdoors during winter, definitely hit the slopes at the well-known ski resort – Ober Gatlinburg – for some great skiing. Not only is it known for its powder, but also for the breathtaking views from the chairlift. Don’t worry if you need rentals – everything is available on-site. There’s also great shopping and dining to warm up in the winter after a day of skiing, or just enjoying the scenery throughout the rest of the year.

In the summer months, you can find whitewater rafting, ziplines, water slides, mountain biking and a wide variety of attractions to fill your day (or week) with.

9. Dollywood

Dolly Parton’s theme park, Dollywood, is in nearby Pigeon Forge, less than 10 miles from Gatlinburg and Sevierville (and about an hour from Knoxville). Roller coasters, a spa, shopping and endless resort amenities all await you at this east Tennessee wonderland.

10. Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts

Since 1912, the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts has educated its students and the public on different crafts, including drawing, woodworking, glass, photography, basket weaving and more. Programs are geared toward adding value throughout the arts and crafts community and beyond.

11. Gatlinburg SkyLift and SkyBridge

It’s the longest running attraction in Gatlinburg and one you’re sure to remember! Gatlinburg SkyLife Park is home to the first ever chairlift built in the South, which opened to the public in 1954. While you’re here, be sure to also walk along the SkyBridge, the longest pedestrian cable bridge in North America.

Other Popular Places to Scope Out

Gatlinburg activities are basically endless, so it’s hard to stop at a list of just eleven! There’s also White Oak Flats, LeConte Lodge, Cades Cove and Alum Cave. Or, spend a day learning about the prohibition era and moonshine distilleries. The choice is up to you!

Relax Gatlinburg is Your Destination Resource!

Now that you know why Gatlinburg is so popular, come experience this place for yourself.

Explore the majestic Smoky Mountains, hiking trails, eateries, and shopping. There is so much to do and see. See what makes this place so special and why it is one of the best tourist destinations in the U.S. For even more unique insight and help with planning your trip, check out our blog and website. We’ll see you soon!