Fresh snow on mountains, moonshine with cinnamon; bright Christmas lights and warm homemade mittens — these are just a few of my favorite things.

In my opinion, nobody does Christmas like the Smokies. If you’re visiting the area in the winter, you’re in for a real treat. Here are some of the best things to explore in the winter months:

1. Winterfest Lights

The Smoky Mountains becomes a true winter wonderland during the Winterfest Celebration, a Smoky Mountain tradition featuring more than 5 million holiday lights throughout Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Take a driving tour or a trolley tour to explore the area in all its glory. A Fantasy of Lights Parade will also kick off on Dec. 6 in downtown Gatlinburg at 7:30 p.m. This year marks Winterfest’s 30th anniversary, and will begin Nov. 15 and extend through Feb. 17, 2020.

2. Visit Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Celebration

Dollywood pulls out all the stops when decorating for the holidays, with the park completely covered in lights. See the new expansion, Glacier Ridge, which features a Northern Lights display, a 50-ft Christmas tree and a symphony of lights in the plaza. Throughout the park, you’ll find special crafts, holiday favorites (I recommend the cinnamon bread), and a variety of holiday shows. The Dollywood Express is also a fun way to enjoy the sights in the park. (Be sure to bundle up — it does get cold in East Tennessee.) See the lights early in the winter; this festival begins Nov. 9, 2019 and lasts until Jan. 4, 2020.

Tanger Outlets

Photo by Morgan Overholt

3. Go shopping

Whether you’re holiday shopping or trying to catch those after-Christmas sales, winter is a great time to take advantage of the area’s shopping centers. Tanger Outlets in Sevierville has several brand-name and designer outlet stores and has been one of my favorite places to shop in the area for years. Further into Gatlinburg, Baskins Square Mall and The Village Shops offer specialty shops that are unique to the area. Of course, there’s also the Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge, the South’s largest Christmas store, which has personalized items, trees and a wide variety of decor.

4. Go snow tubing, ice skating, or skiing

The Smokies does get quite cold in the winter, but snow can be hit or miss. However, for those hoping to see some of the fluffy white stuff, you still have some options! Pigeon Forge Snow is a fairly new attraction that features America’s first indoor snow park. Go indoor snow tubing or play in the SnowPlay area, no matter the weather outside. The snow is advertised to be 100% pure snow, made fresh every day of the year. Ober Gatlinburg is also a popular place to visit in the winter months. Ober has traditional snow tubing, year-round indoor ice skating, and most notably, Tennessee’s only ski and snowboard slopes, featuring a total of 10 trails.

5. See a dinner show

Cozy up indoors and watch one of the famous dinner shows. Hatfield & McCoy, Dolly Parton’s Stampede, Comedy Barn and the Smoky Mountain Opry are some of the highest rated in the area, each having a Christmas show special. These shows include a variety of local talent with comedians, live animals, singers and dancers and thousands of Christmas lights. Visit Dolly’s Stampede or the Opry for a more traditional Christmas show, or enjoy a quirkier show with the Christmas Disaster Dinner Show at Hatfield & McCoy or the Murdering Mr. Scrooge at the Great Smoky Mountain Murder Mystery Dinner Show.

The Titanic Museum gets Decked out for the holidays

Media Photo provided by titanicpigeonforge.com

6. Visit a museum attraction

If you’re simply trying to get inside from the cold, a museum attraction is a great way to stay warm and learn something new. Alcatraz East, the Titanic Museum Attraction, the Floyd Ripley’s Aquarium or the Garrett’s Muscle Car Museum are some of the highest rated museums in the area. The Titanic museum is especially fun to visit around Christmas as it decks out (pun intended) the entire ship with Christmas lights and displays.

7. Explore the Arts and Crafts Community

The Smokies is a huge area for arts and crafts, showcasing the talent of local artisans of weaving, candle making, silversmithing, pottery, leather making, painting, carving and more. Shop where you see The Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community logo to explore the local talent and homemade crafts, or explore their 8-mile loop of artists and craftsmen in Gatlinburg. Watch as they work or create your own!  

8. Enjoy moonshine and wine

These next four words will change your holiday drinking habits forever: Ole Smoky Shine Nog. Garnish with nutmeg and a cinnamon stick, and you have the Shine Nog Sipper — and it is delicious. Other Ole Smoky recipes include the Spiced Apple, Cookies N’ Milk (I think Santa would approve), and the Pumpkin Pie Dream. There are many other distilleries and wineries in the area, including Doc Collier Moonshine, Tennessee Homemade Wines, Smoky Mountain Winery, Bootleggers Homemade Wine, Sugarland Cellars Winery and Mill Bridge Winery, to name a few. The Apple Barn is also a great choice to visit and enjoy their delicious, fresh apple cider.

Cabin in Gatlinburg

Photo by Alaina O’Neal

9. Get a cabin

Last but certainly not least, rent a cabin. This has become a New Year’s tradition in my family. We invite our friends and family and all go in together on a huge cabin, where we enjoy board games, drinks, each other’s company and amazing sights. (Cheesy but true!) With the breathtaking tree-top views, cozy fireplaces, outdoor hot tubs contrasted with the crisp mountain air, it’s enough to keep you from wanting to venture anywhere else.

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Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.