What to Do, Eat and See in Gatlinburg, Tennessee

16 Ways to Enjoy Gatlinburg as an Adult

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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.

Gatlinburg girlfriend getaway

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!).

Smoky Mountains

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).

Pancake Pantry

2. Line too long? Try the Donut Friar instead. Because, well, DONUTS.

Donut Friar in Gatlinburg

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.

Ole Smoky Moonshine distillery

4. While you’re there, go ahead and hit up Davy Crockett’s, too. Pecan liqueur? Forget about it.

Dave Crockett distillery

5. Go zipping with CLIMB WorksThis 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.

Gatlinburg Space Needle

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.

Ole Smoky Brewery

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.

Clingmans Dome

Clingmans Dome

Clingmans observation tower

9. Keep your eyes peeled for bears. They’re everywhere in these parts!

Clingmans Dome bear

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.

Cades Cove

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.

Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Loop

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.

Buckberry Lodge in Gatlinburg

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.

Gatlinburg Aquarium

Gatlinburg jellyfish

Gatlinburg aquarium sharks

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.

Pretty Smoky Mountains

What’s your favorite way to spend a day in Gatlinburg?

  • September 30, 2014

    The bear looks a bit scrawny. Think he could do with some of those pancakes. Yum!

    • September 30, 2014

      HA! Agreed. Our bears here are definitely smaller than the ones in other mountainous regions around the US 😉

  • September 30, 2014

    There’s so much more to do than when I was a kid! Sounds like a trip back is in order.

    • September 30, 2014

      I know, right? We used to go for church retreats growing up, and I don’t remember there being half the things then that there are now.

  • October 1, 2014

    Driving the loop in Cade’s Cove is definitely not to be missed!

  • October 14, 2014
    Mister Sister

    im thinking moutain trip next fall since you are going without me this year…

  • November 5, 2014

    Roaring Fork Motor Trail is a very good (and very under-rated) excursion. Plenty of short trails and scenic stops along the way. You can really customize the time you spend on it from and hour to all day. Easy access from downtown Gatlinburg.

    I should note that it closes in the winter, and on some days still feels very empty next to Cades Cove, Clingman’s Dome, Chimney Tops and other highly visited areas of the park.

  • July 30, 2015

    I go there every fall. In fact last year was special because I got married on a farm there. I am from Fla and I love coming to visit TN.

    One of my favorite things to do in Gatlinburg is explore haunted/abandon towns in the smokies. We found a really cool one last year on our honeymoon.

    • August 1, 2015

      That’s awesome! How special. I didn’t know we had haunted towns in the Smokies! I’ll have to look into that next time I’m visiting the area (though I have been through some of the haunted houses there in town!).

    • May 6, 2017
      Barbara Nettles

      How do we know where to look for these?

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