Gatlinburg Offers Quirky Fun for the Whole Family

Anakeesta Canopy2
Photo courtesy of Anakeesta
Walk through the treetops at Anakeesta, a newly opened family attraction with a treetop canopy walk, zip lines and treehouse village playground.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is unlike other towns on the outskirts of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s a carnival of activity with beautiful natural surroundings, amusement park rides, mazes of mirrors and unusual museums.

Outdoor Fun

Gatlinburg is just minutes from Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hiking, horseback riding, fishing and carriage rides are all good ways to enjoy the park. Clingmans Dome, one of the park’s most famous sites, is only 45 minutes from town. From the top of the observation tower, which is the highest point in the park, you can see for more than 100 miles. For a different experience, drive to Cades Cove and cruise the 11-mile driving loop, which is a great place for viewing wildlife such as elk, black bears and coyotes.

When your feet grow tired, consider taking the SkyLift to the top of Crockett Mountain. The 10-minute ride that costs $16 for adults and $13 for children boasts views of downtown Gatlinburg, the Little Pigeon River and the surrounding Smoky Mountains.

Outdoor companies like Rafting in the Smokies offer both whitewater rafting and float trips on the Pigeon River. Choose between an adventurous time splashing through rapids or a relaxing afternoon enjoying the scenery. Zip lining, ropes courses and climbing walls also are available.

Games and Thrills

Gatlinburg has its very own Space Needle, which is 407 feet tall and offers panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains. Take one of the two glass elevators to the top of where, inside, you’ll find Arcadia, a 25,000 square-foot arcade with more than 100 games. When your tokens run out, grab some food or see a magic show. Tickets to the top of the needle can be bought for a discounted price online: $10.95 for adults (seniors and members of the military pay $7.95) and $5.95 for children ages 4-11. Children age 3 and younger are admitted for free.

If you’re looking for a thrill, head to Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster, a rollercoaster that puts you in the driver’s seat. These single or double rider cars coast down a mountain while you use individual brake handles to control your speed. Single rider tickets cost $16 and double riders cost $27. If your child is age 3-9, purchase get a discounted child/parent combination ticket for just $24. Children must be at least 38-inches tall.

You’ll also find plenty of putt-putt opportunities in Gatlinburg. Choose from themed courses like Hillbilly golf, Davy Crockett golf, Old MacDonald golf and blacklight circus golf.

Wacky Museums

If you visit Gatlinburg, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum offers the Ripley’s Guinness World Records Adventure, where you can stand next to a replica of the world’s tallest man. Get scared at Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, where live actors lurk behind every corner. Visit the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium to see shrunken heads and take a walk through a spinning vortex tunnel. Combo passes allow discounted entrance rates to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies plus some of the other Ripley’s attractions in town.

The family-owned Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum displays over 20,000 pairs of salt and pepper shakers collected over the last 25 years. You won’t find a wall of glass containers with “s” and “p” written on them. These shaker sets boast different themes and take different forms, including food, animals, dolls and shoes. Admission is $3 and free for children under the age of 12.

Gatlinburg is small and walkable, so park your car and let your family wander the main street. If you need a change of scenery, head to Pigeon Forge, just 15 minutes away. It’s home to the amusement park Dollywood, the Titanic Museum, Magiquest and more. Gatlinburg’s entertainment offerings are endless and provide family fun that is anything but ordinary. 

Addie Gottwald is a freelance writer living in Charlotte. She graduated from Davidson College in 2014.