Gatlinburg transforms into a remarkable transformation into a breathtaking winter wonderland as snow blankets the lush landscape of the Smoky Mountains. This charming mountain town in Tennessee serves as the gateway to the nation’s most popular national park, offering a wide range of activities to suit those seeking a peaceful retreat or an exciting adventure.
With a crisp chill in the air and a dusting of snow, the winter season is the perfect time to enjoy Gatlinburg’s unique blend of natural beauty and holiday cheer. Imagine taking a scenic stroll down the parkway, adorned with vibrant winter lights, or indulging in some holiday shopping at the quaint boutiques and artisan shops. The mountain towns in Tennessee are known for their panoramic views and you’ll find none more spectacular than those near Gatlinburg.
What Is the Weather Like in Gatlinburg in the Winter?
In the winter, Gatlinburg becomes a charming chilly hub, with temperatures that can make for a comfortable but brisk experience. You’ll likely encounter cooler days and cold nights, so bundle up if you’re heading out.
- Highs: around 51°F
- Lows: can dip to the low 30s°F
Expect the climate to be variable, as the weather can change quickly in the mountains. Some days may feel crisp with clear skies, while others can bring snowfall, transforming the Smokies into a snow-covered wonderland.
Snowfall is not overly abundant but grace the area with a gentle dusting. This adds a picturesque touch to the already stunning scenery.
Is Smoky Mountain National Park Open in the Winter?
Winter in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers a unique experience with snow-capped peaks and fewer crowds. You’ll be pleased to know that the park is open during winter. However, it’s important to remember that certain roads, facilities, and areas may be temporarily closed due to inclement weather conditions, mainly snow and ice.
Many park trails and picnic areas are still accessible, including beloved spots like Cades Cove and Sugarlands. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to enjoy scenic drives and the winter landscape. Certain visitor centers, such as Cades Cove, Sugarlands, and Oconaluftee, are open and ready to provide helpful information for your winter visits.
How to Get to Gatlinburg
Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains and is accessible primarily by road. The town is roughly three to four hours from Nashville, Charlotte, and Cincinnati.
- From the North: Take Interstate 75 South to Interstate 640 East until you reach Interstate 40 East towards Asheville. Look for exit 407 to TN-66 South, which leads to US-441 South and directly into Gatlinburg.
- From the South: Drive on Interstate 75 North, then take Interstate 40 East to exit 407, continuing as above.
Once in town, finding parking can be a challenge, especially during peak tourist seasons. Consider parking in one of the several public lots and using the Gatlinburg Trolley to get around.
By air, the nearest airport is the McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) in Knoxville, located about an hour’s drive away. Car rentals and shuttle services are available at the airport to complete your journey to Gatlinburg.
- McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS): Arrange a shuttle or rent a car from here.
Best Winter Activities in Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Gatlinburg transforms into a winter wonderland, offering a variety of activities to celebrate the season. Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventure or cozy relaxation, there’s something for everyone in this charming mountain town.
1. Visit Anakeesta
Anakeesta, an outdoor adventure park located in the heart of Gatlinburg, offers a unique winter experience that’s as enchanting as it is exhilarating. As the temperatures dip, the entire park transforms into a winter wonderland, complete with twinkling lights and a dusting of snow on the treetops.
The journey begins with a scenic Chondola ride, where you can marvel at the breathtaking views of snow-capped Smoky Mountains. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of a winter sunset, painting the sky in hues of pink and purple.
The Firefly Village, nestled on top, allows you to shop, dine, and enjoy the crisp mountain air amidst the architectural charm. Take in the crisp winter air as you walk along the Treetop Skywalk.
And if you’re in for a thrill, the winter-friendly ziplines and mountain coaster offer high-speed fun, even on the chilliest of days. Remember to bundle up and brace yourself for winter magic at Anakeesta!
2. Sip on Moonshine
Visiting a Gatlinburg distillery promises an authentic taste of the Smoky Mountains. It’s a tradition here to create and share smooth, potent moonshine. Tucked into the heart of Gatlinburg, you’ll find distilleries like the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery, and Sugarlands Distilling Company, where the magic happens.
At Ole Smoky, the first federally licensed distillery in the history of East Tennessee, you can witness the process of making moonshine. Their range of moonshine flavors is mind-boggling, extending from the traditional White Lightnin’ to unique concoctions like Apple Pie, Hunch Punch, and Blue Flame.
On the other hand, Sugarlands Distilling Company, also a celebrated name in the region, offers an immersive moonshine experience. Their flavors include the classic Silver Cloud Tennessee Sour Mash and inventive options like Root Beer, Maple Bacon, and Dark Chocolate Coffee.
Each distillery offers free tastings allowing you to sample their moonshine and find the flavor that suits your palate. As you sip, you can learn about the region’s distilling process and moonshine history. And remember to take a bottle or two home as a tasty memento of your Gatlinburg winter adventure!
But remember, friends, while moonshine warms you up, it can also pack a punch – so drink responsibly!
3. Eat Some Pancakes!
You can’t claim to have truly experienced the heart of Tennessee until you’ve tasted the world-renowned pancakes in Gatlinburg. This charming mountain town is a true haven for pancake lovers, with a wide selection of pancake houses that serve up delicious stacks, hot off the griddle, adorned with an array of delightful toppings.
There’s a reason why these pancake houses open their doors as early as 7am, and trust me, it’s not just the early bird catching the worm here. It’s the early riser snagging a table at Gatlinburg’s finest breakfast joints before the crowds descend.
Take, for example, the Pancake Pantry, Gatlinburg’s first pancake house. Since 1960, it’s been serving up an array of tantalizing pancake creations, from the classic Buttermilk Pancakes to the more adventurous Swiss Chocolate Chip.
Then there’s the Log Cabin Pancake House, a Gatlinburg staple since 1979. It’s known for its country-style atmosphere and menu offering pancakes and more: think country ham, biscuits, and gravy for a hearty start to your day!
Whether you’re an early riser or not, the thought of fluffy, golden pancakes, drizzled with genuine maple syrup and a pat of creamy butter melting on top, is reason enough to set an early alarm.
4. Unleash Winter Fun at Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area
At the heart of Gatlinburg’s winter landscape, Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area stands as a beacon for snow enthusiasts. As Tennessee’s only ski and snowboard area, Ober Gatlinburg offers a thrilling winter experience that you won’t find anywhere else in the region.
First up, the skiing. With ten trails and ski slopes ranging from beginner to advanced, there’s something for everyone. The mountain’s peak sits 3300 feet above sea level with a vertical drop of 600 feet – enough to make even the most seasoned skiers’ hearts race.
Next, there’s the snow tubing. The specially constructed tubing lanes offer high-speed fun for the whole family. The best part? A magic carpet lift whisks you back to the top of the hill so you can spend more time enjoying the ride and less time trudging up the hill.
For a more relaxed pace, consider snowshoeing. This low-impact activity pleases nature lovers and photography enthusiasts who wish to explore the winter landscapes at their own pace. The snowy woods and frozen streams offer a peaceful retreat and breathtaking photo ops.
5. Enjoy Incredible Views at Gatlinburg SkyPark
Winter at the Gatlinburg SkyPark brings an extra dash of magic! As the festive season rolls around, this magnificent park twinkles with thousands of Christmas lights, setting the scene for a heartwarming holiday experience.
The highlight of the season? You can meet Santa himself! That’s right, folks – the jolly man in red breaks his North Pole duties to spend time at the Gatlinburg SkyPark.
You’re plunged into a Christmas wonderland when you step into the park. Every corner of the park shimmers with festive lights, and the air resonates with carols. Now, imagine that enchanting sight from the SkyBridge, North America’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge. The view of the twinkling town below is simply spectacular!
6. Explore Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
The magic of Gatlinburg in winter isn’t confined to the frost-kissed outdoors; it extends to the mesmerizing underwater world at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. Here, you get to meet with some of the sea’s most captivating creatures, all while staying comfortably warm indoors!
You might even glimpse Sally, their resident sea turtle, who swims gracefully and exuberantly despite her missing flipper!
From playful penguins performing their adorable shenanigans in the Penguin Playhouse to the graceful stingrays soaring above in Stingray Bay, there’s more to explore and marvel at.
The Dangerous Reef exhibit offers a moving glide-path experience, leading you through a sea tunnel surrounded by ferocious-looking sharks, giant stingrays, and exotic sea snakes.
7. Wine and Dine at Alamo Steakhouse
Treat yourself to a hearty meal at the Alamo Steakhouse. The menu is a feast for the senses, bursting with flavors that will tantalize your taste buds.
Begin your culinary journey with their creamy crab dip, a delectable blend of succulent crab meat, and a secret blend of spices, served with crispy tortilla chips. This appetizer is a crowd-pleaser and a great way to start your meal.
Their golden, crispy mozzarella sticks are a must-try if you prefer something a little cheesy. They’re fried perfectly and served with a tangy marinara sauce that perfectly complements the creamy mozzarella.
Regarding the main course, you can’t go wrong. They’re famous for their wide selection of steaks, each one carefully chosen, seasoned and cooked to perfection. You can expect a tender and flavorful experience with every bite.
But wait, there’s more! The Pineapple Upside Down cake is a standout. This traditional favorite is revamped with a scrumptious caramelized pineapple topping and a moist, buttery cake that will have you savoring every bite.
8. Find a Souvenir at One of Gatlinburg’s Many Gift Shops
A visit to Gatlinburg in the winter wouldn’t be complete without taking a piece of this charming town back home with you. I’ve always firmly believed in the saying, “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints, and keep nothing but memories.”
But hey, who said a cute little souvenir can’t accompany memories? Gatlinburg’s array of gift shops, each one more unique than the last, offer the perfect opportunity to find a keepsake or a gift for a loved one.
One such place that caught my eye on my last visit was The Day Hiker. Nestled in the heart of Gatlinburg, this store is a treasure trove for anyone who loves the great outdoors. From hiking gear to nature-inspired home decor, you can find a memento that truly encapsulates the spirit of Gatlinburg.
Or, for those of you with a sweet tooth, visit Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen. Watch candies being made right before you, and maybe even taste a sample or two. Their homemade taffy, chocolates, and brittle make a sweet souvenir.
Also, you’ll come across loads of adorable black bear souvenirs. It’s one of my favorite things to spot when browsing downtown!
9. Stay in a Warm and Cozy Cabin
End your day by retreating to a cabin with crackling fires and comfortable amenities. A cozy cabin stay is the perfect way to experience Gatlinburg’s serene mountain environment. Snuggle up with a warm drink and soak in the peacefulness of winter in Gatlinburg.
When it comes to nestling down in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg offers a range of cozy cabin rentals that perfectly balance rustic charm and modern comfort.
First on the list is Elk Springs Resort, nestled in the historic Arts and Crafts Community. The cabins here are a haven of tranquility, offering private hot tubs, pool tables, and even home theaters. The warmth of the log interiors invites you to kick off your boots, curl up by the fireplace, and enjoy the serenity of the mountains.
Then we have American Patriot Getaways, boasting various cabins catering to all budgets and group sizes. You’re spoiled for choice, from charming one-bedroom hideaways to grand lodges that sleep up to 40 people.
Finally, don’t overlook Mountain Air Cabin Rentals. Most of their cabins offer hot tubs, fireplaces, fully equipped kitchens, and stunning views of the Smokies.
Don’t let the colder months keep you away from Gatlinburg’s charm. Embrace the opportunities that come with this season and make unforgettable memories in this cozy town. So bundle up, pack your bags, and head to Gatlinburg for a winter getaway you won’t forget!