(Disclosure- While I recieved complimentary tickets to these attractions, hotel stay , and food all of the opinions in this article are my own.)
Nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg is a nice town that offers fun for the whole family. We had the opportunity to visit Gatlinburg during the first week of January. This is a great time to go since all of the holiday lights are still up and it is less crowded since it was the week after Christmas.
One of the reasons we picked Gatlinburg as our winter vacation spot was the amazing view you get of the mountains and the many family friendly activities they offer. Those of you that are parents know what it is like to travel with small children. They get hungry often and they get tired and grumpy quickly. Gatlinburg offers plenty of kid friendly activities as well as food spots to take care of this.
We chose Gatlinburg because many things are located within walking distance of each other, which meant we did not have to carry the kids very far. As parents, when we travel we look for amenities, efficiency, and pricing. Gatlinburg offers all of that.
Gatlinburg offers an immense list of family friendly activities and a ton of restaurants to dine at. I am highlighting the ones we enjoyed as a family and ones I believe you would enjoy with your family as well. Click on the following link for an extensive list of all of the activities that Gatlinburg has to offer: https://www.gatlinburg.com. As they say – “The Mountains are Calling!”
The Park Vista
One of the most important decisions for our vacation was finding a hotel that had all of the amenities that we want as a family. There are a ton of hotels to choose from in Gatlinburg. The Park Vista had everything we wanted and more. Driving through Gatlinburg if you look up the mountain to your left on a hill, you will see the hotel. It has a unique circular design and is just as beautiful on the inside. At check in, we were greeted with some delicious warm chocolate chip walnut cookies which were to die for!
One of the reasons we really enjoyed this hotel was that we were able to open the sliding doors from our room and enjoy the outside balcony. The view will take your breath away. You can see all of Gatlinburg. There was nothing better than getting hot tea or coffee from room service and starting our morning off with a beautiful sunrise.
“It is winter time right?” “Why would you need to pack a bathing suit?” Three words – indoor water park. Yes, you heard me right. You can enjoy the nice heated pools which feature a tree water slide or enjoy the Jacuzzi. There are 2 big pools and kiddie pool. The kids absolutely loved it!!
The hotel rooms are very comfortable and they can accommodate any size family. To book a room at The Park Vista, click here.
Ride the Trolley
In Gatlinburg, parking spots are abundant; however, it costs between $6 and $10 every time you park somewhere. The best economical, site seeing transport is the trolley. It costs about $0.50 a person and children 2 and under can ride for free. You can also buy a trolley pass for $2 a day and ride the trolley as many times as you want.
This was super fun for us. Not only was it heated to keep us warm from the cold, but we also got to enjoy some sightseeing. The trolley stops at different spots downtown and you can change trolleys. Even if you are staying in Pigeon Forge, you can ride the trolley into Gatlinburg. I suggest getting a trolley map so that you know which trolley to take.
During the winter the trolley operates from 10:30am to 6pm Monday through Thursday, so make sure you plan accordingly. I recommend buying tickets to the Winter Magic Trolley of Lights. This is only available on Saturdays and the tickets are only $5. The trolley runs extended hours for this event and will take you all around Gatlinburg to see the different lights that the city puts on display for the holidays. You can enjoy this event from November to the end of January. To buy tickets to the inter Magic Trolley of Lights, click here.
One of the newest attractions that just opened in Gatlinburg in September 2017 is Anakeesta. This attraction offers a breathtaking view of the mountains. You have to take either a ski lift or an enclosed cabin to get to the top. If you have small children, I recommend the enclosed cabin. It offers some protection from the cold. Anakeesta offers something for the whole family. Immerse yourself in the wilderness while walking the tree canopy, let the kids play in the treehouse playground, grab a bite to eat at Smokehouse, or just relax at the cozy fire pit while enjoying the amazing view. Grab some nice little souvenirs on your way out at the Firefly Village. For information and tickets to Anakeesta click here.
Ober Gatlinburg is an amusement park and one of the most iconic spots in Gatlinburg. You can ride the aerial tram up the mountain, which is about a 7 minute ride. Be ready to take some amazing pictures! You will have some spectacular views on the way up. I recommend if you are planning on going during the winter that you book your tickets well in advance, at the beginning of December. Tickets for the ever so popular snow tubing sell out quickly! Yes, you get to play in the snow. For us, this was the highlight of our trip. We have never seen snow, much less played in it. The kids loved it!! My 5 year old loved the snow tubing. I recommend proper attire as your feet can get cold, so make sure to layer and put on those wool socks! Ober also offers snowboarding and skiing. I did not go skiing but my husband went snowboarding and loved it. My 2 year old was not able to go snow tubing due to his age, but there is a place called Cubbies snow zone. You pay $5 dollars and the kids can enjoy playing in the snow.
We were also able to go ice skating, which was super fun and it cost only $9. There are other activities for the kids to enjoy, like the wildlife encounter, carousel, and alpine coaster just to name a few. You can buy tickets for these when you get up the mountain. There are some activities that are available in the spring time that are not available during the winter time. Be prepared to be up on the mountain for at least 6 to 8 hours. For more information on Ober Gatlinburg and all it has to offer, click here.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
We live in Florida, and with places like Sea World, the Florida Aquarium, etc, you might wonder why we chose to go to the aquarium. The answer is simple – this aquarium is very unique in what it has to offer. From the moment you enter the aquarium, you are dazzled by walking into a tropical rainforest where there is a tank full of Piranhas! You also get to ride a moving conveyor belt through Shark Lagoon which is full of barracudas, Tiger Sharks and Nurse Sharks.
My kids loved that they were able to touch jellyfish and horseshoe crabs, and they loved the indoor playground that the aquarium has. The aquarium also offers some activities that you can’t find anywhere else like the penguin painting encounter, splash with the stingrays, or sleeping with the sharks! As a homeschooling family, I loved that they had so many educational programs they offered that were affordable. I recommend that you buy your tickets online. You can also book the glass bottom boat tour for only $9.99 a person to see the entire amazing array of fish and sharks that the aquarium has to offer. To buy tickets to the aquarium, click here.
Gatlin’s Fun Center
We really enjoyed Gatlin’s Fun Center. It has a lot of activities and it is all in same area. They have about nine different activities including laser tag, black light golf, atomic rush, gem mining, bumper cars and more. They even have an escape room so if you have preteens and teenagers they would enjoy that. What I really loved was that they offer all of these activities at a reasonable price. It only cost about $17.99 to mix and match six different activities.
We enjoyed playing the black light mini golf. It is indoors and had nine holes and was a lot of fun. Even my 2 year had a blast. Another fun activity we did was Atomic Rush. This is a fast paced game and you will definitely get a workout, but it is super fun. 4 people can go in at a time. I won’t go into the details of how the game works; you will need to try it out for yourself. To get tickets and more information about Gatlin’s Fun Center, click here.
Guinness World Record Museum
We had a lot of fun here! Not only do you get to see a number of different world records that have been broken and achieved, you also get to participate in trying to break some world records yourself. My husband was super close to beating the record for most punches in the punch bag record!
When you buy your tickets, you will be given a wristband that lets you keep track of your score and gives you info on most of the world record challenges. Once you register the wristband, it will keep track of your score in case you break a record. My favorite was the balloon bursting. You had to try to hit the bullseye for the water balloon to burst and fill your container with water. The world record is 12 seconds. I did mine in a minute. Talk about a rush! Make sure to put this on your list of things to do. You will not regret it. For information and tickets to Guinness World Record Museum click here.
The iconic show, Dukes of Hazard, comes to life when you enter Cooter’s. One of the things we really enjoyed about Cooter’s was being able to go indoor go karting. January is super cold and while outdoor go karting looks tempting, the weather rules against it. That being said, I recommend putting gloves on even though the go karting is indoors as there are no heaters. No need to worry though. The adrenaline of wanting the pass the karts next to you will keep you warm.
While you are waiting to be called for go karting, you can play 18 rounds of mini golf. Not only will you have fun getting through all of the golf holes, but you will also get to see some really neat pictures and facts from the show. You can also pay to take a picture inside the “General”. If you look online, you can see what cast appearances you may be able to see while in town. For more information on Cooter’s and to check guest appearances, click here.
Hollywood Star Cars Museum
The Hollywood Star Car museum features famous and iconic cars that have been featured in some of our favorite movies. Some cars are also interactive when you approach them. Remember KITT – David Hasselhoff’s car in Night Rider? It’s there.
One of my favorite movies was The Fast and Furious, and I was super excited to see that they had a number of different cars from the movie. There are also some cars from older movies like Batman and Ghostbusters. You can buy a ticket to take pictures inside some of the cars. If you buy tickets online, you will save a couple of dollars. For more information and to buy tickets, click here.
Gatlinburg has a wide variety of restaurants to enjoy a good bite to eat. Below are some of our top picks for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Crockett’s Breakfast Camp
Prepare to eat a lot of food at Crockett’s Breakfast Camp. The pancakes here are BIG and delicious! Crockett’s opened 2 years ago and is a local favorite for good reason. If you want to eat a good hearty breakfast at a decent price, Crockett’s Breakfast Camp is the place to go. It is a great place for sharing since the portions are so big! I had the cinnamon swirl pancakes and the batter is different than what I have tasted before. It was a mix of cornbread with regular pancake batter which made them very thick. It was delicious! When you enter the restaurant it’s like you’re in the middle of the woods in a log cabin. The restaurant features a slew of Davy Crockett pictures, stuffed animals, and some good southern hospitality. This is a stop you will enjoy with the whole family for sure. To take a look at the menu and what Crockett’s Breakfast Camp has to offer, click here. Make sure you get there early. They close at 1pm.
Log Cabin Pancake House
The name says it all. You will be eating inside a log cabin that offers a very extensive menu. I had the strawberry crepes and some eggs, and my husband had an omelet with blueberry crepes, and biscuits and gravy. This is another place where you will get your money’s worth and your stomach will be content. They are also only open until 2pm and also offer some lunch items.
Johnny Rockets of Gatlinburg
If you want that old fashioned feel of record players and Elvis Presley music, Johnny Rockets is the place to eat. My kids really enjoyed drinking their milkshakes which I must say were very tasty. They went great with the chicken tenders and French fries. I ordered a turkey burger which was nice and juicy. My husband ordered a regular steak burger, which he thoroughly enjoyed. One of the neat things about Johnny Rockets is that you can order three different types of burgers. You can order a steak, chicken or turkey burger for any of the burgers that they have on their menu. All food is served with a smile!
Being Hispanic, I am very picky when it comes to Latin food. I was very impressed with the food at Loco Burro. Their food is made to order, which means you are getting fresh food! The food was mouth watering, and if you get the chance, order the fajitas which is their signature dish. If you want something to cleanse your palate along with the fajitas, order their strawberry mojito or their white sangria. You won’t regret it!
I ordered the chicken fajitas and my husband ordered the triple fajitas, which is a combination of chicken, steak and shrimp. It was very tasty. The meat is marinated so it has an amazing flavor. The menu is also very kid friendly and was perfect for my kids who are picky eaters. The coolest part of the restaurant is you can actually ride a burro! Before you leave the restaurant make sure you order their signature dessert, which is a cinnamon churro with fried ice cream dish. YUM!!
If it is not too cold outside, head up to their rooftop patio for dinner. The view is amazing and you can sit next to the fire pit while watching the sunset over downtown Gatlinburg.
You can’t visit Tennessee or Gatlinburg without having the opportunity to have some good BBQ and steak. Calhoun’s is a great place to eat both. Try their famous ribs or their hickory smoked chicken like I did. My husband had their Ale Steak and it was very nice and tender, and full of flavor like a steak should be.
If you are looking for some sides to go with your meal try the corn pudding, which is similar to corn soufflé. I also had their apples in cinnamon and their fresh squeezed lemonade. My stomach was content! Their menu is also kid friendly offering a variety of items ranging from chicken tenders to ribs and Shirley Temples. Finish the night off right by trying their Banana Pudding. It was delightful. I have had banana pudding before but this recipe was different in that you could hardly taste the bananas, and they included walnuts for a crispy bite. So good!
So there you have it, fourteen places to visit while in Gatlinburg. If you need one more reason to visit, Gatlinburg is nestled at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in America. There are three entrances to the Smokies from downtown Gatlinburg. Gatlinburg attracts more than 11 million visitors a year and can grow to a population of 40,000-plus on any given night.
This little town of 3,944 residents is dedicated to welcoming all of its guests with a taste of Appalachian hospitality at its best. Folks come from all over the world for vacations, outdoor adventures, family fun and memory-making.
Gatlinburg is one of America’s great mountain resort destinations, with accommodations of every kind, dozens of local and national restaurants and attractions galore–all nestled in the foothills and surrounded on three sides by the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains. Gatlinburg prides itself on its walkability amidst mountain heritage and the arts, crafts and shops that reflect that tradition.
I hope your family enjoys your vacation in Gatlinburg. Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall, I am sure you will have a great time!