In 2006, I had the pleasure of marrying the love of my life. He was very accommodating of any wedding whim I may have come up with, but when it came to the honeymoon, he had one demand: Gatlinburg. Having never been before, I was a little skeptical. I gave in, and we had the time of our lives.
To my dismay, we have never taken the boys up there. When an opportunity arose for us to breathe some new air and show the boys a good time, we seized on it and hit the road to #VisitGatlinburg.
Where to Stay in Gatlinburg
Gatlinburg is a family-friendly city with a variety of attractions to keep everyone occupied, entertained, and well-fed. We checked in to the Greystone Lodge by the River and were SO PLEASED with the family suite – a door between us and the kids plus two bathrooms make an extended trip so much more pleasant. Despite it being in the heart of Gatlinburg, it was on the river, and every night we sat on the balcony and listened to the rushing water.
Gatlinburg is proud of its German heritage, and never is it more obvious than during Oktoberfest. We started by taking the air-tram up to Ober Gatlinburg, which was fun and educational. We took in the views at the soaring heights, including where the 2016 forest fires ravaged parts of the city. Once at the top, we walked past ice-skating rinks, tons of water slides and outdoor carnival-style activities, and a full biergarten. We dined at the restaurant and enjoyed the live German music.
PARENT TIP: There is lots to do at Ober Gatlinburg, but we found all activities closed after dinner, so get there early.
What To Do in Gatlinburg
Saturday was a day packed full of fun and outdoor activities. The Greystone offers a complimentary breakfast, so we took advantage of it before heading across the street to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. Full disclosure: my husband and I are aquarium fanatics, and this is BY FAR our favorite. The layout is easy to navigate, there are gorgeous exhibits with exotic wildlife, and they focus on conservation and education.
PARENT TIP: There are a lot of exhibits to touch aquatic life (including jellyfish!); keep an eye out for the hand-sanitizing stations nearby to clean little hands afterwards.
Where to Eat in Gatlinburg
After that, we enjoyed brunch at Pancake Pantry. My husband did some quick math and realized he’d been coming for over forty years, and it still feels exactly the same. Be warned, though – there will be a wait. It’s worth it, though – I’m not really a pancake fan, but these were AMAZING.
We spent the next several hours up at Anakeesta. Folks who haven’t been to Gatlinburg in a few years may not know about this venue, whose name is a Cherokee phrase meaning “the place of the balsams”.
You have two ways to access Anakeesta – you can take the chair lift or wait for a fully-enclosed gondola up the mountain. If you have little ones in strollers, the gondola is the way to go, but I saw folks of all ages, shapes, and sizes utilizing the chair lift as well. (Another admission: I am not good on chair lifts. We learned this on the way up the mountain, while in said chair lift.)
Anakeesta features gorgeous mountain views, a restaurant, and an amazing zipline adventure. My husband and my 10 year old went ziplining, while my 5 year old and I explored the Treetop Skywalk and the playground.
PARENT TIP: The zipline course – which has a minimum weight requirement – takes anywhere from 1.5 – 2 hours to complete, and there is not 1.5 – 2 hours’ worth of other things to do at Anakeesta. I highly recommend it for older kids, but younger kids will get bored quickly and you can’t just leave due to, you know, being on top of a mountain.
I’m Here for the Taffy
After we descended the mountain (in a fully enclosed gondola), we wandered the Gatlinburg Parkway. Gatlinburg is a pedestrian-friendly place, with most of the attractions off of the main strip. We walked the Parkway several times a day, wandering in and out of stores. You also have to stop by the Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen to see the famous taffy being made. My 10 year old watched for a long time and sighed, “This is so SATISFYING.”
Sunday morning was a gorgeous morning that took us to Gatlinburg’s considerable Arts & Crafts Community. We visited Firefly Glass Studio, where artist Nancy Huff showed us her giant kiln and walked us through glass-fusion as we designed our own trays. Honestly, this was one of my favorite parts of the trip: this artists’ community is so warm and inviting that we instantly felt at home. The boys enjoyed seeing how the glass came together, and our finished trays are great conversation pieces now. The Community also hosts several events and markets throughout the year.
Although traffic can be unpredictable, the 4.5 hour drive is certainly manageable to Gatlinburg. We enjoyed our weekend away and made lots of great memories. We came back with airbrushed tshirts, too much taffy, an old-timey picture of the family, and lots of steps logged on the pedometer – all in all, a really fantastic Fall #RCMRoadtrip!
Road Trip Resources for Gatlinburg, TN
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