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Three Days in Gatlinburg

The Smoky Mountains beckons with arts, fun and world-class museums

THREE DAYS IN GATLINBURG

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States, and Gatlinburg, Tennessee serves as the front porch to this natural wonderland.

With dozens of affordable lodging options, its a perfect three-day family vacation as well. You might pass bear cubs playing by the side of the road, see sharks swimming over your head, or take in a view that takes you above the clouds — all in the same afternoon. So give East Tennessee a visit to give your family something they’ll never forget. 

Day 1:

Morning - Get a taste of Appalachian history with a self-guided drive through Cades Cove or a guided tour with Cades Cove Heritage Tours. Cades Cove is the most visited part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is a looped drive that winds through a small valley. 

You can view historical small pioneers farms, still working country churches and learn more about the rugged life of settlers at the Cades Cove Visitor Center with its exhibits on 19th-century rural life.

Late morning - try some winter skiing on Ober Gatlinburg’s manmade ski hill if you’re lucky to be in the Smoky Mountains during the winter. But, at any time of year, enjoy the German-themed adventure park that offers skiing, snow tubing, summer tubing, off-roading and more. 

If you don’t feel like driving, you can soar over 11,000 feet above Gatlinburg to Ober Gatlinburg on their two 120-passenger counter-balanced tramway cars that provide an amazing aerial experience from the city up the mountain to this unique family-friendly destination. For information, visit obergatlinburg.com.

If you’re still up for adventure after that, tour Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies. This is the 20th Anniversary of Ripley’s, which was named  “America’s #1 Aquarium” by TripAdvisor patrons. See 12-foot sharks, giant sea turtles, penguins and thousands of exotic sea creatures as you enjoy state-of-the-art clear underwater tunnels throughout the aquarium. Visit ripleyaquariums.com/gatlinburg.

Lunch at Ole Red - Oklahomans are already familiar with this country restaurant, which  gets its name from Blake Shelton’s breakout hit, “Ol’ Red.” Being here is a lot like hanging out with Blake himself and live music is often featured at one of Gatlinburg’s newest restaurants. 

Afternoon - Dollywood’s Wildwood Grove. If you love Dolly Parton - or even if you aren’t familiar with this country music legend - Dollywood is a fun-filled amusement park full of rides, attractions, crafts, music, shows, and special events, all with an Appalachian flavor. The park includes a major collection of Dolly’s own memorabilia, restaurants featuring delicious Southern cooking and the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame & Museum.

Visit an 1890s one-room schoolhouse and Dolly Parton's two-room Locust Ridge childhood home, as well as a detailed museum of the singer's costumes, memorabilia and even her famous wigs. New in 2019 is the Wildwood Grove, where you and your children journey through a fantasy forest with rides, creeks, a delightful village and the mighty limbs of the great Wildwood.

There's plenty of fine dining and casual restaurants at Dollywood, so you'll have no problem finding a dinner that pleases everyone.

Day 2:

Breakfast - Eastern Tennesee loves its pancake houses, and you'll find one on almost every corner. Try out at Pancake Pantry in Gatlinburg for made-from-scratch pancakes with real whipped butter.

Morning - Take in the rich history of eastern Tennessee this morning with a visit and tour of Tour Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, which celebrated its 50th Anniversary.

The Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont provides in-depth experiences through education programs that celebrate ecological and cultural diversity, foster stewardship, and nurture appreciation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Take part in the hands-on learning experiences and explore how the park came to be. Visit gsmit.org.

Follow up that visit with a tour through the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community, which is an eight-mile loop with more than 120 artist studios. Nationally recognized as the largest group of independent artisans in North America, with craftsmen whittling, carving, casting, sewing and weaving to transform raw materials into works of art. 

Lunch - Sample the fare at any of the restaurants in the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community, like the Wild Plum Tea Room or Delauder’s BBQ.

Afternoon - Get a taste of adventure at the Adventure Park at Five Oaks in Sevierville. In addition to a relaxing horseback ride through the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, you can also test your bravery with a thrilling zip line course and ropes challenge course. Visit adventureparkatfiveoaks.com.

Dinner - Taste the flavors of the Smokys at the Apple Valley Cafe, an old-fashioned diner that specializes in Tennessee homestyle Southern meals, followed by a cold brew from Blackberry Farm Brewery. Be sure to sample the farm ales, table beers and Belgian-inspired beers like the Classic Saison.


Day 3: 

Breakfast at Crockett's Breakfast Camp. This rustic local’s favorite is the legacy of David C. “Crockett” Maples, an original frontiersman, honored soldier and devoted family man. The popular breakfast spot serves up time-honored griddle cakes and the Crockett Maples. 

10 a.m. - Have some fun at The Island in Pigeon Forge. The Island has something for everyone, including a 200-foot Great Smoky Mountain Ferris Wheel, amusement park rides, local and national retail stores, entertainment, dining, a trampoline bungee jump and the Island Show Fountains. The Margaritaville Island Resort is a fantastic lodging option that puts you in the middle of the action and in proximity to the 11 dining establishments like Margaritaville and Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen. 

Afternoon - Step back in time with a visit to the Titanic Museum. The history of the Titanic and its doomed voyage is put on display with meticulous detail that allows you to connect with the famous ship, from its construction to its final hours. The attraction tells the ship’s history through the stories of those on board, passengers and crew alike, whose lives are recounted in precise detail. Parts of the ship are replicated exactly and there are hundreds of personal and private artifacts on display. Visit titanicpigeonforge.com.

Late afternoon - Tour and craft knives at Uncle Hank's Knives. You’ll have a chance to make your own crafted knives while learning about Uncle Hank’s passion in crafting knives.

Follow up your visit to the top-of-the-mountain playground of Anakeesta. In 2014 with a vision of environmental stewardship, the Bentz family began developing a 55- acre mountaintop attraction in the heart of the Smokies in downtown Gatlinburg. Anakeesta opened in 2017 and just one year later was awarded the Best Attraction of the Year by the Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association.

Sunset stroll on Skybridge. Located at the top of the SkyLift, the Gatlinburg SkyBridge is the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America and one of the most spectacular experiences in the Smokies. From the mountain-top SkyDeck, the SkyBridge quite literally crosses the sky as it stretches 680 feet across a deep valley in a single span. 

Dinner - Song & Hearth: A Southern Eatery at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort does home cooking the Southern Way. Located on the DreamMore Resort, this restaurant serves breakfast and dinner - all with a touch of regional flavors.

Whatever time of year, Eastern Tennessee offers a bit of fun and history that appeals to all tastes. 

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