I recently had the opportunity to hang out in Gatlinburg, Tennessee for a weekend. What an amazing trip! I had forgotten just how mesmerizing the Smoky Mountains are. They are breathtakingly beautiful and I couldn’t get enough. I took so many pictures of them. The mountains really are calling! It’s the perfect motto. Good job, Gatlinburg!
We took four kids with us and packed in as much as we possibly could. There is SO much to see and do in Gatlinburg. And, it’s such a short drive from Cincinnati. Don’t Miss Gatlinburg, Tennessee! Here are some tips to “do Gatlinburg” with kids….and we mention our favorite things from the weekend. Put them on your bucket list.
1. Maximize your time and stay close to the action.
We stayed at The Greystone Lodge. And now I wouldn’t stay anywhere else. It was perfect. It’s been family owned and operated for the last 50 years! And you can certainly feel it. The layout of the rooms were open and spacious and genius. It was so clean and so comfortable. I could have moved on in. Our family suite had three TVs, two bathrooms, two balconies, a great kitchenette and even a full kitchen table! Of course there is also free hot breakfast ….and a heated outdoor pool.
It’s located right downtown, so you can head out and do as many attractions as you can handle! I think driving to attractions and finding a parking spot at each one would be quite difficult. We parked our car in the garage and just walked almost everywhere all weekend. The other cool thing about The GreyStone Lodge, is that there’s a river running behind it, so you feel like you are out in the Smokies. I enjoyed my am coffee and pm wine on one of the balconies and listened to the babbling water! It was perfection.
2. Hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
We decided that we couldn’t be in Gatlinburg and NOT hike in the Smoky Mountains National Park. So, we did hop in the car for this adventure. The Sugarlands Visitor Center is only a couple of miles away from downtown Gatlinburg. So, it didn’t take long at all. The Sugarlands Visitor Center is a fun place, even if you don’t like hiking. They have a 20 minute movie about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, cool taxidermy, extensive nature exhibits, a rocking gift shop, clean restrooms and plenty of free parking. And the Great Smoky Mountain National Park has over 900 miles of hiking trails!
This nature-loving, homeschooling, mama’s heart was happy. And I got another stamp in my National Park passport!! WIN!
We did the walk to Cataract Falls, which was beautiful. I can’t wait to return and hike the famous Clingman’s Dome and Laurel Falls.
3. Eat at the Pancake Pantry.
I did NOT know about the strange pancake-house phenomenon in Gatlinburg. There’s definitely no shortage of pancake places, with one on just about every corner. I think there must be over 50 in the city. So, there are plenty of options for you to get your breakfast on. But, with a line wrapping around the building…..the obvious choice is the Pancake Pantry.
The Pancake Pantry has been open since 1960 and is actually the state of Tennessee’s very first pancake house! This place knows how to stand the test of time. The line outside moves pretty quickly and once you’re seated and order, the food comes out in a flash. SUPER FAST. They have it down to a science in there. Like a well-oiled pancake machine. Their delicious flapjacks are made with real butter and fresh whipped cream. They offer a truly impressive variety of hotcake flavors, including Sweet Potato, Orange-Walnut, and Corn Meal Pancakes. They have more than just breakfast, too. Delicious homemade soups and sandwiches. We got a cheeseburger……that had bananas on it. Um. Crazy? Yes. Amazing? Yes! Make sure to have cash because that’s all they take! Also, come hungry.
4. Get Nostalgic at The Hollywood Star Cars Museum.
So, I’m not really into cars. Like, you know, I mean, cars are great. Getting me from place to place and all. Very handy. But I couldn’t really tell you much about makes or models or years or anything car related at all. But, my son freaked as we walked past by the Hollywood Star Cars Museum on the main parkway, downtown. There are all kinds of shiny cars and trucks sitting there outside, beckoning passerbys to come in. So, we decided to check it out.
Ummm. It was FABULOUS! I really, really enjoyed it. It was a trip right down memory lane. They have vehicles from some of the most famous movies and TV shows of the last 50 years! Seriously! It was so cool. I got to see the cars from shows that I watched as a kid with my parents and grandparents! Lots and lots of childhood favorites! Ghostbusters, The Munsters, Beverly Hillbillies, Dukes of Hazard, Batman, Transformers, Herbie the Love Bug, MASH, Back to the Future! AHHH. So many more. I even got to see the Flux Capacitor!! It was great. The Hollywood Star Car Museum, isn’t just for kids, men and car enthusiasts. It’s for movie and TV show enthusiasts too! Or for anyone who wants a trip down memory lane.
5. Head on up to Ober Gatlinburg.
Ober Gatlinburg was such a cool place. There is A TON to do up at the top, and the arial tramway ride was SUPER fun. You’re basically in a big traveling room, rather than a ski lift type chair. So, this height-phobic mama felt pretty good! And bonus, you get to travel past gorgeous chalets nestled in the mountains on your way up. It’s beautiful. The tram conductor also points cool things out along the way! I love a tour!
So, what is there to do at the top? Well….pretty much anything you can imagine. Ready….They have ice bumper cars, a scenic chairlift, an alpine slide, a huge outdoor maze, a rock wall, a chair swing, mini golf, a whole kiddie land with more rides, a carousel, an arcade, seasonal water rides, winter skiing, snowboarding and tubing, a wildlife encounter, plus ice skating and a ski mountain coaster!! I mean. SO MUCH STUFF.
There are also plenty of shopping and dining options up there. We had some delicious German food and a whole German party complete with singing, dancing and lederhosen!!
6. Walk the canopy at Anakeesta (and zipline and do the mountain coaster and pan for gems….basically carve out a good chunk of time to be up there.)
Anakeesta is Gatlinburg’s newest attraction and it’s a must see. This was my favorite thing we did all weekend. The chair-lift ride to the top is breathtaking. (as in absolutely stunning and also a little scary if you don’t like heights….I was clutching the safety bar pretty tightly!) You can choose to take the 4 person chair lift or a 6 person enclosed gondola cabin (great for people who are a too nervous about heights, have little kids, strollers or wheelchairs. Also, there are less of them, so it will be a longer wait.)
Once you are delivered safely to the top…..you can’t even imagine it. It’s like a whole new world. (Yes, I totally just sang that like Aladdin …..and so did you!) Anakeesta was perfectly magical. The whole feel of the place is different than anything else in Gatlinburg. The panoramic views of the mountains were the best we saw all weekend. Just spectacular. Photos can’t do them justice. We spent the whole evening there and could have stayed longer! They have 70 acres of shopping, playing, eating and relaxing!!
We started with the dueling zip-lines. That was INSANE! My 11 year old and I zipped side-by-side, over 2,600 feet, through the canopy of the trees! Ahhh. And then did two huge rappel drops. So exciting.
When we were finished we met back up with our people and explored the gorgeous canopy walks where we walked over a series of 16 hanging bridges right up in the tree tops. The kids played hide and seek in the treehouse village and we wandered through the beautiful Vista Gardens. The kids also got to mine for gemstones, fossils, and arrowheads.
There is just so much to do! We ate a delicious dinner outside with the Smokey Mountains all around us. And then we checked out their brand-new, high-speed, mountain coaster. The Rail Runner Mountain Coaster is the first single-rail coaster in the U.S. and it sits low to the forest floor. It was a blast. You must put Anakeesta on your list.
7. Check out the thriving artist community and get your craft on.
Arts and crafts are a serious tradition in Gatlinburg, which is home to the country’s largest organization of independent artisans. Gatlinburg’s arts and crafts community features shops and galleries that showcase pottery, paintings, quilts, woodcarving, musical instruments, leather-works and much much more!
We headed to The FireFly Glass Studio and tried our hand at making fused glass curved plates. It was so chill and relaxing. Nancy, the sweet artist who owns the studio was an absolute joy. We had such a great time chatting with her while we created our pieces. You will have to get the car out of the garage and drive to the artists. It’s not far, but not walking distance. I love how our plates turned out!
8. Do all the Ripley’s things that you can.
Ripley’s is a really BIG thing in Gatlinburg. There are actually EIGHT different Ripley’s attractions! Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium Museum, 2 Mini Golfs, a Mirror Maze, a Moving Theatre, A Haunted Adventure, Guinness World Record Adventure…. and of course the Ripley’s Aquarium.
We squeezed in enough time to check out five of them!! The Aquarium, The Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum, Moving Theatre, the Mirror Maze and the Guinness World Record Adventure!
This one was so convenient! It’s right downtown and also right across from our hotel. We always enjoy going to aquariums and zoos when we travel, and this one was one of the best we’ve visited. The moving sidewalk through the underwater tunnel is genius and lets you get all close up with the animals and see so much, all without getting in other peoples way. So smart.
We went behind the scenes for a cool tour and learned a lot about this fabulous facility. And bonus…we got to see baby jellyfish and watch Sally the sea turtle hassling the divers for some snacks. haha.
We checked out this 5D Moving Theater experience while walking alone the main parkway one evening. It’s a fun quick little activity. It’s basically a movie theatre, but with MOVING SEATS. You actually have to strap yourself in or you might fall right out. My kids thought this was hilarious. How do they get 5 dimensions in? You wear 3-D glasses, the seats move and you get sprayed with things like snow! It was fun. And you get to watch 2 short movies while you’re in there. They change the movies seasonally.
The Mirror Mazes in Gatlinburg made it to the kid’s top three favorite things. They are so much fun. We went to the Ripley’s Mirror Maze (which is also connected to a candy factory.) And also The Amazing Mirror Maze. They were both a crazy good time. You put plastic gloves on, so that you don’t smudge the mirrors, giving away the path. It was ridiculously difficult to tell what was an opening and what was a mirror. It’s hilarious. You see yourself again and again. You run into walls. It’s just a labyrinth of reflections, lights, corners, circles, rotating mirrors and dead ends. It’s so fun. The kids begged to do the mirror mazes again and again and again. And we did. 🙂
Thus museum was awesome and made it to my kid’s top three attractions that we visited. They absolutely loved it. It’s so fun and interactive. You get to make an avatar and then try to beat the world and site records on all kinds of challenges, games, activities and sports. It was a BLAST. And if you try hard enough, you can actually beat some of the site records!! Sam did!! He was infinitely proud. They didn’t want to leave this one and kept trying the challenges over and over.
This crazy place was a lot of fun and really interesting. They say it’s the weirdest place in Gatlinburg! I can’t deny that. They have all kinds of weird facts and artifacts from all over the world. We went through it pretty quickly because we visited late, right before they closed. There is a lot of information to read at each exhibit, which we mostly skipped because of time. But, we had lots of fun anyway. They have super crazy things in there, like King Kong made of tires and a Jennifer Lawrence portrait made from peanuts!
9. Check out Cooter’s Garage for some Go Carts and mini golf all in one spot.
This place got the kid’s top three rating of the weekend, too! Cooter’s Garage is a crazy place filled to the brim with Duke of Hazzard memorabilia a museum and gifts. The staff is super friendly. The kids were thrilled about getting a drivers license and racing each other on the go cart track. And bonus…. you get to play indoor mini-golf right after! Each room of the mini-golf is also Dukes of Hazzard themed. It was fun!
10. Sample some sweet, sweet vino at Tennessee Homemade Wines.
We had a tasting at this cool place. Of course, this activity isn’t for the kids, but for the thirsty mamas who are dragging them all around the city! Tennessee Homemade Wines is located right downtown, so you can walk up and get a free tasting of their homemade wines and go home with a couple bottles. Their wines are made with all local fruit. Sweet and smooth, I loved all the flavors. I think the peach was my favorite. They have reds and whites and all kinds of tasty berry flavors. The kids shopped at the gift shop next door while we sampled. 😉
As we were heading back home, we stopped to check out a brand new place in Pigeon Forge, called Under Canvas. It’s a fancy glamping site nestled deep in the mountains!! The tents are just gorgeous and filled with comfy modern furnishings. They have locations near national parks all around the country. If you are thinking of having a girls weekend or a romantic getaway, this place would rock it. I can’t wait to try it out myself. They’ve thought of everything. Look inside these tents!
I hadn’t been to Gatlinburg since I was a kid, and I had a blast. We did as much as we could in a weekend, but we left TONS more to do on a return trip. I can’t wait to get back. And neither can the kids. There is absolutely something for everyone. The mountains really are calling. Listen to them!
Thank you to the Gatlinburg CVB and partners for hosting us. This trip was was hosted by the Gatlinburg CVB so that I could share my honest options with my readers. As always, the thoughts and opinions stated here are my own. Thanks for reading. Now get yourself to Gatlinburg. 🙂