Gatlinburg got its name from Radford Gatlin, who opened a general store in the then-tiny hamlet in 1856. For nearly a century thereafter, the town was quiet, sleepy and largely off the map; few people ventured through. All that changed with the opening of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934, which prompted an influx of vacationers to descend upon the small town. Suddenly, opportunities to take advantage of tourist dollars were ripe – and the people of Gatlinburg jumped at the opportunity. Since then, Gatlinburg has become a topnotch tourist mecca and is best known for being jam packed with lots of touristy attractions; still, there are plenty of hidden gems to explore in this intriguing Tennessee town.
Sightseeing and Attractions: Gatlinburg’s Best Kept Secrets
Gatlinburg has come a long way from the sleepy hamlet that it used to be. Still, escaping the noise and the crowds – and enjoying lesser-known attractions – is still perfectly possible. If you’re going to be vacationing in or near Gatlinburg, consider hitting one of these exceptional spots:
Hike Mount Le Conte
If you feel like stretching your legs a bit while visiting Gatlinburg, try hiking up the very scenic Mount Le Conte. As the third-highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Le Conte offers some truly breathtaking views. At 6,593 feet high, you’ll have to be in decent shape to make the attempt – but it’s well worth it.
Go Rafting On The Pigeon River
The Pigeon River cuts through the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and there are always plenty of opportunities to go rafting down a decent length of it. As you roll along, you’ll be treated to some remarkable scenery and will get to enjoy the majesty of Mother Nature.
Drive Down The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
If hoofing it just isn’t your forte – or if you have little ones to tend to – you can still get a great tour of the local scenery by hitting the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. When you stop at Grotto Falls, make sure you hike in; by doing so, you can explore behind the picturesque falls and see some phenomenal sights.
Visit The Walker Sisters’ Cabin
It’s easy to step back in time to get a feel for what life was like in Gatlinburg so long ago by stopping in at the Walker Sisters’ Cabin. Built in 1859 – and wonderfully well preserved – the cabin is a treat and really stands out from the other tourist attractions.
Stop By Emert’s Cove Coveed Bridge
Although it’s not old – it was built in 2000 – this covered bridge is a delightful way to spend a bit of spare time when in the Gatlinburg area and is located northeast of Gatlinburg.
Best Kept Secrets For Families & Couples
In many ways, it seems as if Gatlinburg revolves entirely around families and children. There are plenty of attractions geared toward that group, but couples can have fun too. Consider these attractions:
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino
Head out for a night of adults-only fun over at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. Located in Cherokee, North Carolina, the casino features hundreds of computerized games where you can try to earn a bit of extra cash. It is run by the local Cherokee tribe, and proceeds go to supporting impoverished Native Americans. Like any casino, it is well appointed and is geared toward glamor.
When most people think of ghost towns, the Wild West springs to mind. However, there’s a genuine ghost town to explore right near Gatlinburg: Elkmont. The town was abandoned during the 1980s and is located only six miles from Gatlinburg proper, up in the Smoky Mountains. The kids and the parents alike will enjoy the experience of checking out what used to be a thriving little town, now totally abandoned.
Visit The Biltmore Estate Winery
Believe it or not, but there are more refined pursuits to enjoy in Gatlinburg. The Biltmore Estate Winery, which offers topnotch tours, is one of them. This is a great option for couples who want to slow down the pace a bit during their honeymoons or vacations in Gatlinburg.
Eating - Sample the Local Cuisine
Gatlinburg is a great place to experience Southern cooking at its very best. There are plenty of buffets in the city, where you can sample all sorts of Southern delights. Country ham and fried catfish are available in many places, as are greens and even banana pudding. Ditch your diet and dig in to some sumptuous comfort food when you’re staying in Gatlinburg – you won’t be disappointed!
When To Go & How to Get There
Knoxville, Tennessee and Asheville, North Carolina are the two nearest cities to fly into in order to get to Gatlinburg. From there, you’ll have to drive. Keep in mind that traffic can be quite congested during the popular summer months. Due to the Great Smoky Mountains, the number of routes that are available are limited.
Most people flock to Gatlinburg in the summer, but the fall is when experienced Gatlinburg travelers tend to plan their vacations. In the fall, lower temperatures – and lower humidity – makes it a lot more bearable to spend time outside. If you do decide to head over during the summer, make a point of finding ways to beat the heat from time to time.