This past spring, Jade and I spent a girls’ weekend in Gatlinburg for the annual food and wine festival. Gatlinburg has a reputation as a family destination, but we had quite the grand time as two thirty-something adults palling around the mountainside Tennessee town together—such a good time, in fact, that I’ll be taking SVV’s family on a similar itinerary next month as we check into an Airbnb cabin rental in the Smokies for three days of fall foliage and mountain air.
In case, like me, you’re also traveling to Gatlinburg sans kidlets, here are some adult-friendly activities I’d highly recommend (and OK, plenty of them are also suitable for children!).
1. Eat breakfast at the Pancake Pantry. If you get there at 8am (or earlier), you’ll likely forgo a lengthy wait. My must-order is always the sweet potato pancakes or the sugar and spice (with applesauce, yummmm).
2. Line too long? Try the Donut Friar instead. Because, well, DONUTS.
3. Get your shine on at Ole Smoky Moonshine. As if the distillery weren’t cool enough, branding not on point and free ‘shine samples not enough, there’s also live music held out in the courtyard.
4. While you’re there, go ahead and hit up Davy Crockett’s, too. Pecan liqueur? Forget about it.
5. Go zipping with CLIMB Works. This rad company has a nine-line course with three sky bridges, as well as mountain biking excursions, and rafting coming in the spring.
6. Check out the views from the Space Needle. For $8.50, you can take an elevator up 400 feet to see gorgeous panoramas of the surrounding Smokies.
7. Have a flight at Smoky Mountain Brewery. I’m not even a beer girl, and I loved the various brews I tasted at this popular eating spots that doubles as a watering hole.
8. Drive out to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Tennessee. At 6,643 feet high, you can see for 23 miles on a perfectly clear day. There’s a steep, paved, high-mile path that takes you from the visitor’s center to the observation tower.
9. Keep your eyes peeled for bears. They’re everywhere in these parts!
10. Get hitched. Longing to tie the knot with that special someone? At one point, Gatlinburg did boast the most chapels per capita of any spot in the United States. Just sayin’….
11. Hike or horseback ride at nearby Cades Cove. Not a lover of equines? The drive out that way is nearly as pretty on the road as off. Or rent a bike and cycle the entirety of the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road.
12. Shop til you drop within the Great Smoky Art and Craft Community. Eight miles of artisan goods, this loop is a whole lot of fun for those who want to take a piece of Appalachia home with them.
13. Book a table at the Lodge at Buckberry Creek. While you’re there, you might as well check in for the night, too. You won’t find a nicer place to lay your head with a prettier view than Buckberry.
14. Befriend a shark at the Ripley’s Aquarium. (I’m more of a jellyfish kind of girl myself, but to each her own.) While this activity can be very kid-heavy, if you wait and go on a weekday when school’s in session, it’s a fun attraction for us old fogies, too.
15. See a show. I might be biased but I think you should check out my magician friend Keith Fields, who is hilarious and starring in “A Brit of Magic” at the arcade. (Fun fact: I sailed with Keith, an English chap who lives in Michigan, on Semester at Sea two years ago and just randomly happened upon his show’s poster when I was there in April! What are the odds?! I can tell you that dude is funny. And talented!)
16. Go to Dollywood. Hop on over to Pigeon Forge next door—the only real reason to spend time in Pigeon Forge, in my opinion (if you’re an adult, that is)—and check out the theme park Dolly Parton created.