America’s Mountain Home: Gatlinburg

Written By: Judy Garrison

STEEPED IN HISTORY, GATLINBURG’S PAST BECKONS VISITORS OF THE PRESENT TO BECOME PART OF ITS STORY

IT WAS 1950, and Dave and Peggy Dych decided this hamlet was the place to make saltwater taffy. It was the beginning of people smooshing their faces against the outside glass windows, beaming as taffy twirls inside Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen, and then scooting inside to unwrap their favorite flavor. Now their granddaughter, Maggie Atchley, works alongside her mother making sweetness a reality.

In 1954, Clayton Watson hitched up a single yellow chair and put it in motion to the top of Crockett Mountain, the first chairlift for Dixieland. After managing for 27 years, he shifted the reigns to his son, Randy, who has spent the last 42 years watching families hop into the chairlifts and make memories. Now, it’s his own son, Marcus, who invites people to ride to the top and take a walk.

The town of Gatlinburg, celebrating its 75th year since it was incorporated as a city, recognizes that who it is today is a direct result of the foundation that was laid over a century ago. Built from scratch, this hamlet rose from the dirt to become America’s Mountain Home, one that invites families, friends and lovers to return and become part of the story.

PLAY

If you can dream it, you can do it in Gatlinburg.

Get outside and discover over 800 miles of hiking trails, including a one-mile hike to the top of the 360 degree-observation tower of Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Turn onto Clingmans Dome Road just shy of Newfound Gap, the approximate mid-point between Cherokee and Gatlinburg and take in the more-than-impressive views.

Headed back to Gatlinburg, drive through Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, which showcases waterfalls, homesteads, and the history of Southern Appalachia.

Get carried away at Ober Gatlinburg, the city’s four-season mountaintop experience. From skiing and snowboarding in the winter to alpine tubing in the summer, ride the tram from the Parkway to the peak, enjoying activities that change with the leaves.

Let your legs dangle this trip as you take the best seat in Gatlinburg aboard the three-seat chairlift up Crockett Mountain. Rebuilt in 2017, you’ll ride to the top to take a walk on the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America, the SkyBridge. At 680-feet in length and 140-feet high, you’ll tell your friends over and over about how bravely you crossed and even looked down when you crossed the glass-floor panels. Cross the Parkway and ride a gondola to the summit of Anakeesta Mountain, where a treehouse-inspired village awakens your sense of adventure. Take a walk on the Treetop Skywalk; race your friends on the Dueling Zipline Adventure; take your seat on the Rail Runner, the only single-rail coaster in the United States; or simply walk the floral gardens, enjoying the view and letting the magic of the mountains take over. Before returning down the mountain, dine at the Cliff Top Grill & Bar or Smokehouse BBQ; sip their signature cocktail, Tennessee Creamsicle; and take in the majestic Mt. LeConte.

And when it’s time to slow things down, head north toward Fowler Clay Works, nestled within a thriving arts community on Glades Road, and sit down with a master potter and create your perfect mountain souvenir. Make a mug, make a pot, or throw a wheel. For the beginner or novice, sign up for a class via their website.

STAY

The mountains are calling, and laying your head among them is only fitting. Choose a rustic log cabin perched on one of many mountainsides surrounding the valley. Stony Brook Cabins greets you upon check-in with the ins-and-outs of what to do, including coupons and freebies. From intimate one-bedroom log cabins to retreats large enough to hold both sides of the family, their service is exceptional.

Thinking out-of-the-box and in-the-woods? Camp LeConte Luxury Outdoor Resort, located on the East Parkway about 4 miles from downtown Gatlinburg, provides retro campers, luxury tree houses, and a favorite, a two-, four-, or six-person safari tent. If primitive is more of what you seek, they can do that, too. There’s also trolley service to downtown.

If staying closer to the strip makes playing easier, consider Hilton Garden Inn and one of the newest additions, Margaritaville Resort, both an easy walk to attractions.

A large component of the Gatlinburg story is the Historic Gatlinburg Inn that has greeted guests since 1937, when Rellie Louis Maples Sr. built it along the Little Pigeon River. Step into history, sit on its front porch and soak up a slower-paced city.

EAT

And don’t forget everyone’s favorite activity, eating.

Start your day at Crockett’s Breakfast Camp, where their history is long and their griddle cakes are high. Sit down to an 1886 newspaper of logging news, and when you’re caught up, open the parchment and attempt decision-making. From the iron skillet menageries to the twoinch-thick griddle cakes to the hefty plate-size cinnamon roll, breakfast will keep you going all day.

For a quick lunch, stop at the best Italian on the strip, literally, Best Italian, for their authentic thin-crust pizza and gooey garlic knots. In the mood for BBQ? It doesn’t get much better than Hungry Bear BBQ, where the saucy rib sandwiches will have you licking your fingers until your next visit.

As Ole Red says, “Hot County in a Cool Town” defines one of the newest dining and drinking holes in downtown.

From the She Shed cocktail to the Redneck Nachos, this joint has Blake Shelton written all over it. And if you’re lucky, you might just see him at the bar.

Get a sip of the mountains with Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery and Sugarlands Distilling Company, both offering tastings daily of their authentic white lighting. Both offer workshops and tours as well as live events.

Need a sugar boost? Unwrap the best taffy in the mountains at Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen.

Wind down at the Greenbrier, where its history is as close as its four-walls. Once an outpost for early settlers, the log shell has been restored to its rustic glory. Start with black skillet spoon bread and follow with their signature rack of lamb or steak. Enjoy events like Women of Wine or Whiskey Society offered each month.

For every story that began in Gatlinburg, another verse is added each time a visitor travels into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and stops to experience its wonder. Now is the perfect time to get away to Gatlinburg and listen to the stories it has to share.

WHAT TO DO IN GATLINBURG IN THE WINTER

SNOW IN THE SMOKIES — Ride the AerialTramway to Ober Gatlinburg and rip down the mountain on skis, snowboards or tubes. Enjoy ice skating and other activities, including church on the slopes. HANDS ON GATLINBURG — Leave the cold outside and explore the menagerie of more than 100 craftsmen on Glades Road. From potters to jewelers to soap makers, the heritage of this area comes alive with demonstrations and classes.

RIDE A CHONDOLA — Open year-round, Anakeesta takes you to the mountaintop, where you can walk the longest Treetop Skywalk in America, zip through the trees, and sip a brew while admiring Mt. LeConte in the distance.

SLEEP WITH THE SHARKS — After a dive show, pizza and a scavenger hunt, bunk down as the sharks watch you sleep. Available for individuals, groups and families, this adventure will be your best story of the season. Rather have a PJ Party with Penguins? You can do that, too, at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.

SMOKY MOUNTAIN CHRISTMAS — Immerse yourself in light, joy and wonder at Dollywood’s annual holiday celebration from November 7 through January 3, 2021. Listen as Dolly tells a Christmas story at Wildwood Grove and marvel at Glacier Ridge, a re-creation of the Northern Lights. Lay your head at DreamMore Resort and let sugar plums dance in your head.

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