Gatlinburg, Tennessee is one of my family’s favorite getaway spots. We always choose to drive the twelve hours from Palm Beach County, but there are also flights from PBI or FLL into Knoxville airport (which is about a 45-minute drive to Gatlinburg).
Gatlinburg is located in the mountains of Eastern Tennessee and expands its eclectic family activities to neighboring cities, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, hometown to country music star Dolly Parton. I travel with my husband and 7-year-old son. Planning to see real snow in Gatlinburg is hit or miss, since it only snows about 9 inches each year. We go every year between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day when Ober Ski Mountain is sure to be making their own snow. During this time, skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, ice skating and a mountain coaster is open. During the summer at Ober, hiking, their small water park, and alpine slide is popular.
TIP: For the best experience at Ober, avoid weekends and holidays as the mountain gets filled to capacity and lines become very long.
On previous visits to Gatlinburg, we have rented cabins, but this trip we opted for The Dolly Parton owned, Dream More Resort and Spa in Pigeon Forge. The resort is extremely family friendly. Camp DW gives out free s’mores for kids to roast at their many outdoor fire pits at 7pm nightly, followed by story time in the barn at 8pm. We enjoyed many games of checkers they had available to play in the lobby next to fireplaces. The resort also has an outdoor pool, heated indoor pool, gym, game room, and playground. I loved that this resort did not charge any parking fees or resort fees that are common at most other hotels.
TIP: You can take a free trolley from the Dream More Resort to Dollywood Theme Park or Dollywood Splash Country water park to avoid parking fees. Parks even open one hour earlier to hotel guests on Saturdays. The parks are open seasonally so be sure to check their calendars before you go.
I heard a lady at breakfast telling her husband that Gatlinburg is like Las Vegas for kids, which I have to agree with. This was our 5th trip to Gatlinburg and we still have not been able to get to all of the attractions we have wanted to. Gatlinburg was the first time I have ever heard of a mountain coaster. Now I’m obsessed. The rider can ride in a single or double, almost sled-like, cart down a track and can stop or slow down using a brake inside the cart. Some can reach speeds of 25-30 miles per hour! I counted about 6-7 different mountain coasters in the area.
For outdoor activities, there is zip lining, ATV and jeep tours, horseback riding, zorbing, and ropes courses. Ripley’s Aquarium is home to 10,000 sea creatures. Anakeesta has beautiful mountain views with 16 suspended bridges, a tree top canopy walk, and treetop play areas. The Gatlinburg Skybridge is the longest pedestrian cable bridge in North America. Parrot Mountain and Gardens is home to 80 different types of birds. Smoky mountain Llama Treks gives guided hikes with llamas. For year-round snow tubing, you can visit Pigeon Forge Snow with 15 lanes of snow tubing. They make their own snow and keep the inside temperature around 60 degrees. In the summertime, there is plenty of river tubing and whitewater rafting.
Another must do when visiting Gatlinburg is hiking to waterfalls. Most trails here are considered moderate. Grotto Falls is the waterfall you can walk behind and is only minutes outside of Gatlinburg. Another of the more popular is Laurel Falls, which is an 80-foot waterfall and a 2.5 mile walk to get there on a paved trail.
TIP: Check Groupon for discounts. We got some pretty good deals there. Also many attractions have brochure stands that have coupons attached for more savings.
All of our exploring around The Great Smoky Mountains always makes us hungry and the restaurants do not disappoint. I always find it interesting how many Pancake restaurants there are. Our favorite was definitely the Pancake Pantry located in Downtown Gatlinburg. Pancake Pantry has been open for over 50 years and serves 24 different types of pancakes! Another one of our favorites is Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen at The Island in Pigeon Forge. The food is all you can eat and served family style. I am looking forward to visiting Guy Fieri’s Downtown Flavortown (which just opened) on our next visit.
TIP: Most restaurants do not take reservations so arrive early or be prepared for waiting time.
When thinking about your next vacation, think about The Great Smoky Mountains/Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The southern hospitality and beautiful mountain scenery
cannot be matched.
By: Kristi Laguna, Owner of Essentials Spa of Palm Beach Gardens, Mom to 7-year-old boy, Cooper