WEEKENDER: Gatlinburg, Tennessee
The gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains
Gatlinburg, Tennessee is often called the “gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains,” and it sees more than 11 million visitors each year. It’s home to Tennessee’s only ski resort and puts you just a few miles from Dollywood and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s also a four hour drive from Charlotte, making it a great place to take the kids on one of those long weekends in January and February. So pack up the family and head to this southern city where you can visit an indoor water park, play mini golf, sail through the trees on a zipline, and hike to the top of a mountain.
Book a room at the Westgate Resort Gatlinburg, where villas range from one to five bedrooms and come equipped with a kitchen, dining area, and cozy living room with a fireplace. The property has close to 900 units in multiple buildings that stretch up windy mountain roads, so it’s best to hop on one of the resort’s shuttles when you need to get around. They can drop you at the indoor water park (more on that later), fitness center, spa, playground, or the Mountain Top Pool Bar. Just find the nearest shuttle stop and a driver will be there within minutes.
The resort has several dining options including Southern Comfort, which is open for breakfast and dinner daily and serves soul food like chicken & dumplings, mac ‘n cheese, collard greens, and warm biscuits with apple butter that you’ll dream about long after you leave. For a quick and easy lunch, stop by The Roaring Fork Snack Bar on the second floor of Wild Bear Falls. You can also swing by The Marketplace, the onsite grocery store that sells made-to-order sandwiches, Starbucks beverages, and essentials like toothpaste and laundry detergent. If you venture into downtown Gatlinburg, you’ll have your choice of multiple pancake houses. Flapjack’s Pancake Cabin serves Reese’s Peanut Butter Pancakes, omelets, skillets, and Jr Bear Cakes in the shape of a smiley face. For a casual dinner with some live music, check out Ole’ Red Gatlinburg.
You could spend your entire stay on the resort and not run out of things to do. Kids will love Wild Bear Falls, an indoor waterpark with a lazy river, two giant water slides, hot tubs, and an interactive treehouse. One-, three-, and five-day passes are available, and children under 3 are free. When they’re ready to come up for air, check out the miniature golf course, Flying Bear Zipline, or one of the onsite playgrounds. If you can carve out a bit of kid-free time, book a facial or massage at the Serenity Spa by Westgate. In downtown Gatlinburg, check out Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, which is home to more than 10,000 sea creatures. During the cold weather months, you can go skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing at Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort.
If you dread the endless lines, overpriced food, and stimulation overload at an amusement park, Dollywood might just change your mind. It’s about 7 miles from the resort and a great day trip when you want to mix it up. The theme park is pristine, the food is stellar, and the lines aren’t as long during the winter months. Leave it to Dolly Parton, Patron Saint of Tennessee, to add some luxury and sparkle to the theme park experience.