My parents love Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It’s a little over six hours from our home in North Carolina, and in that short drive, you go from sea level to a 5,000-foot elevation in the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s so cool. There are so many things to do in Gatlinburg that they’ve raved about, so we took a really quick trip to spend just about 24 hours in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Because it’s not too bad of a drive, we were actually able to go for a quick mini vacation. After the week I’ve had hosting two sets of company back to back, it was nice to go somewhere new, have someone else cook and clean, and just enjoy the outdoors.
Plus, Gatlinburg is home to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. And if you ever have the chance to go there, I highly recommend it.
24 Hours In Gatlinburg, Tennessee
I usually start our trip posts off after breakfast, but just with how this trip went, we got there just in time for lunch. So that’s where we’re starting this trip.
There are a few chains on the main road in Gatlinburg, but try and stick with the local mom and pop shops when you’re traveling. If they’re in tourist towns, they rely on the tourist dollar to survive. So for lunch, check out Tom and Earl’s Back Alley Grill (651 Parkway #110). It’s actually in a little alcove behind the shops on the main road. I really liked the Kickin’ Chicken Wrap, but it was a little sauce heavy. My mom was really looking forward to the beer battered fries, but they were pretty salty (unless you used ketchup). I opted for the loaded potato salad instead and it was pretty great.
Here’s a little tip. On the main road in Gatlinburg is a souvenir shop called All Sauced Up (646 Parkway). Your can buy local hot sauce, BBQ sauce, and tons of kitchen gadgets. If you make a purchase, you can bring your receipt to Tom and Earl’s for 15% off your bill. You can also bring your recipe from Tom and Earl’s to All Sauced Up to save 15%, but you’ll end up saving more if you shop at the sauce shop first and save on your meal.
Now that you have a full belly, you’ll want to fill up on moonshine. Ole Smoky Moonshine (903 Parkway #128) is actually the first legal moonshine in Tennessee. It has led the way for a ton of other distilleries. The brand also has an Ole Smoky Whiskey offshoot (650 Parkway) because, well, Tennessee Whiskey, right? There are so many whiskeys in the area that there’s actually an app for that. The Tennessee Whiskey Trail digital passport is a must download for whiskey drinkers. You can get addresses, keep track of your passport stamps, and get a t-shirt when you’re done!
And if you are a whiskey drinker, you are in luck. There’s the Sugarlands Distilling Co (805 Parkway) within walking distance. At Ole Smoky Moonshine and Sugarlands, you can pay $5 for samples. Then, that $5 is applied to your purchase at checkout. Sugarlands also has cocktails, which sets it apart from the others.
For wine drinkers, there’s the Gatlinburg Wine Cellar (702 Parkway), Sugarlands Cellars Winery (1133 Parkway), and Tennessee Homemade Wines (643 Parkway). You can sample those as well, in an attempt to help you figure out what bottles to take home.
Now, as you can kind of tell, most of Gatlinburg is on Parkway. You can walk up and down the street, checking out the very cute local shops … or you can see it from the air.
You have two choices for chair lifts: Gatlinburg Sky Lift (765 Parkway) and Anakeesta (576 Parkway). The Gatlinburg Sky Lift is the one I took when I was young. You take a ride up through the Smoky Mountains and enjoy beautiful scenic views from the top.
Anakeesta has a small treetop city at the top. There’s a zipline, a BBQ joint, ice cream, a playground, the Anakeesta Gem Mining Company, and more.
If you’d rather keep your feet on the ground, exit the city center into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s impossible to put the beauty of the park into words.
Before you start your trek through the National Park, head to the Sugarlands Visitor Center. The center is amazing. There are taxidermy animals in the museum located inside the center, a theater with a 20-minute film about the park, a gift shop, an a bunch of trail maps you can buy for $1 each.
You can go out on a hiking trail or you can check out a driving trail, like the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail where you can see waterfalls, wildflowers, and historic buildings.
We drove from Gatlinburg, through the state line, into Cherokee, North Carolina. It was a beautiful drive with a ton of lookout points. I would really caution you to take your time while driving because it is very windy with limited guardrails.
If you go that way, you can stop at the state border where there is an amazing lookout that’s 16 miles from Gatlinburg and 18 from Cherokee. There’s also Rockefeller Memorial, and you can stand where FDR stood. You can hike the Appalachian Trail from there too. I would just definitely suggest getting on to a trail early so you are back to your car before it’s dark. For now, that’s after 7pm, giving you plenty of time to hike. But during other seasons, sunset is earlier in the day.
When you’re done hiking, you’re probably going to be hungry. At the opposite end of Gatlinburg from the entrance to the park is the Arts & Crafts community. Almost at the foothill of it is Three Jimmy’s (1359 East Parkway). The restaurant has an outdoor patio, an indoor stage, and a blackberry chipotle sauce that I wish I could have taken home with me. It’s worth having dinner there just for that. I got it on the Buffalo Chicken sandwich, but you should just ask for it in a glass.
You want to stay at the Holiday Inn Express (322 Historic Nature Trail). The hotel has two water slides inside it. Two. Water. Slides. That’s in addition to indoor pools that are open until 11pm. So worth it.
Plus, the hotel is one block up from Parkway, so you can actually park at the hotel, walk around downtown, and then check in at 4pm when your room is ready.
You know my biggest perk about hotels is a complementary breakfast. The Holiday Inn Express has that. Breakfast and a pair of water slides.
On your way out of Gatlinburg, just past the main strip of stores, you’ll come to the Salt And Pepper Shaker Museum (461 Brookside Village Way). You have to stop and go to this super fun, whimsical roadside attraction. It’s $3 to get in to see over 20,000 salt and pepper shakers, and you can apply that $3 to your shaker set purchase in the gift shop.
And after that, you’ll be back to lunchtime and your 24 hours are, unfortunately, over.
Have you been here? What are you favorite things to do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee? Let us know in the comments.
Planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains?
If you’re planning on visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is right at the edge of Gatlinburg, here are a couple posts that will help you plan that trip.
Free Fun In The Smoky Mountains
What To Pack For A Drive Through The Smoky Mountains
Hiking The Great Smoky Mountains