Our family has visited Gatlinburg, Tennessee for years and we enjoy the variety of things to do each season. Each visit we find that we run out of time before we run out of fun. I’m sharing fun things for families to do in Gatlinburg that can be done over a weekend visit or stretched out during a longer stay.
Our family has experienced adventures at Ober Gatlinburg year round. There is something to do at Ober Gatlinburg during every season from ice skating all season long, skiing and snow tubing in the winter, water slides in the summer, and mountain coasters, alpine slides, amusement rides, in the spring, summer, and fall.
I highly recommend taking the aerial tramway to top from downtown Gatlinburg. There is a road to the top but it’s really steep and your vehicle transmission will thank you if you opt for the aerial tramway instead, trust me.
If you visit in the fall, you can also experience the Oktoberfest festivities where you can enjoy German-themed menu items and beer while you listen to live polka music. The atmosphere is really fun, because who can feel grumpy while listening to polka, and you can even participate during a few numbers if you want to.
Enjoy An Amazing Breakfast at the Pancake Pantry
You know a restaurant is REALLY good when it’s got a line out the door…. just to put your name in. Even though the line was long, I was pretty amazed at how quickly they were able to get customers in the door and seated. The Pancake Pantry is a favorite of locals and tourists alike.
They also offer lunch options including soups which I’ve heard are a local favorite but I always feel like I need to try what a restaurant is known for, especially if it’s their namesake.
At the recommendation of our server, we tried the Wildberry crepes and Sweet potatoes pancakes. There are A LOT of pancake options along with traditional breakfast items to choose from which made it really hard to make a decision.
You will definitely not be hungry after a meal there. We couldn’t finish our plates even though every bite was so delicious!
Getaway For the Day at Anakeesta
Experience the feeling of being in the mountains from the heart of downtown Gatlinburg as you ride the scenic chondola to the top of Anakeesta which means “Sacred place of high ground.”
You can shop, dine, zipline, view the scenic gardens, walk the treetop canopy, ride the Rail Runner mountain coaster, and kids can play at the playground. Check out this article for a more detailed explanation of why I loved it so much and what to expect when you visit Anakeesta.
Relive Your Childhood at Hollywood Car Museum
Relive your childhood as you reminisce while viewing over 40 famous cars from movies and television shows dating back over the past 50 years.
A few of my favorites were the Batmobile (classic and newer version), Ghostbusters vehicle, Herbie the Lovebug, Back to the Future DeLorean and Kitt from Knight Rider.
There are some fan favorites where you can actually get a picture inside the vehicle for an additional fee and you don’t have to be a big car enthusiast to enjoy this museum.
Get inspired by record holders young and old. You can learn fun facts about previous Guinness World Record holders, but the best part is all of the hands-on exhibits and games within the attraction that the whole family will enjoy. I suggest allowing extra time in your schedule so that your kids don’t feel rushed and have plent of time to play what they are interested in.
Take a Behind the Scenes Tour at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
If you want more insight into the Behind the Scenes operations at Ripley’s Aquarium, I highly suggest taking a Behind the Scenes tour that takes you through “staff only” doors where you can see and learn more about what the animals eat, how the water quality is monitored and more during your tour.
For an additional fee, you can take a glass bottom boat tour over the aquarium tank. Spaces fill up quickly so I would recommend making a reservation ahead of time.
The Tails & Teeth educational class is another great opportunity to learn more about sharks in a classroom environment.
One of my favorite features of the aquarium is the 40-foot long glidepath that takes you through an underwater tunnel where you will see sharks and other sea life from below. The glidepath ensures that everyone has an up-close view of the tank.
Another area that kids will love is the penguin exhibit where kids or brave adults can climb through a tunnel and see the penguins above or below for a closer view. If your kids need to burn off some energy there are plenty of hands-on exhibits and a large indoor playground for them to explore.
More Ripley’s Attraction Fun & Savings
If you plan on doing more than one activity during your visit, you can save money by purchasing a Ripley’s Combo Pass that gives the option of an Aquarium ticket and 2 or up to 7 Ripley’s Attractions. A few of our other favorite Ripley’s Attractions are the Mirror Maze and the Mini Golf.
Take a Hike to a Waterfall
Laurel Falls is a great place for families who love connecting with nature and experiencing the beautiful outdoors. We participated in a guided group hike with Andrew from Smoky Mountain Guides to Laurel Falls who gave us more insight into the ecology and local wildlife.
Laurel Falls has the only paved hiking trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and it’s a very family friendly hike at 2.6 miles round trip.
The trail takes you to the perfect scenic spot via a bridge that crosses over the upper and lower falls. If you are feeling extra adventurous you can hike down for another perspective of the lower falls. You can easily get a great group shot in front of the upper falls.
Cross Off Your Need for Speed With Indoor Go Karts
At Cooter’s Place in Gatlinburg, you can challenge your family to a race around the track. If you are a Duke’s of Hazzard fan you will enjoy all of the memorabilia and there is even an indoor themed mini golf on the second floor.
A Great Place to Stay in Downtown Gatlinburg
I’ve previously stayed at the Greystone Lodge and I was really excited to return for another stay. Located a short walk from Ripley’s Aquarium, Greystone Lodge is located centrally on the strip. You can park at the lodge and not have to worry about paying for parking in downtown Gatlinburg and the breakfast buffet is included in your stay which also helps reduce costs.
The room design is great for families offering more privacy for the parents and includes a cozy area for the kids along with a dining table with a microwave and mini-fridge and living area.
I love the balcony views where you can enjoy your morning coffee and listen to the rushing water from the nearby creek.
A New Unique Glamping Option in Gatlinburg
During our visit, we had the opportunity to tour the newest glamping site in the Smoky Mountains located 10 miles from downtown Gatlinburg called Under Canvas. It’s 3 miles from the Smoky Mountain Zoological Park and 8 miles from the Laurel Falls Trail and provides guest a more rural overnight experience.
You can choose your comfort with airy permanent tents designed with safari-chic decor, wooden floors, en-suite bathrooms, wood-burning stoves, and private decks or you can go more basic with fewer amenities in your sleeping quarters
Under Canvas is a great option if you want an elevated camping experience. My favorite feature was the sky view over the bed in one of the canvas bedrooms. There is food service on site if you want to grab a bite to eat during your stay and don’t feel like driving into town.
Cute Photo Opps
You can always find great photo ops no matter the season when you visit Gatlinburg. If you visit in the fall make sure that you get a few pictures with the adorable pumpkin characters located throughout the downtown. In the spring, the flowers are a gorgeous sight to see and in the winter the streets are filled with beautiful Christmas lights.
No matter the season, you can find family fun and adventure in Gatlinburg year round!
Thanks again to Visit Gatlinburg for hosting our visit. All opinions are my own.
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