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Halloween has come and gone, the temperatures are dropping (and rising, and then dropping again) — and that can only mean one thing: Winterfest is coming! Nevermind, it’s here.
The 2019-2020 Winterfest season, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, was originally scheduled from Nov. 22 through Feb. 17, 2020, but in a seemingly last-minute decision, Pigeon Forge just announced that the Winterfest lights would be turned on a week early, which means now it begins… today.
The “delayed” start is still the first time in nearly 30 years that the lights didn’t turn on during the first week of November. According to WVLT news, this decision was in response to city leaders and business owners requesting to get more use of their fall decorations. However, in the end, it seems that the cities just couldn’t wait any longer to kick off the season.
What is Winterfest?
If you’ve never heard of Winterfest, well, tourist, you’re in for a treat. Winterfest is a magical time in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg where literally millions of holiday lights grace the cities to light up its streets and businesses. In my life, I have never seen a whole city or town decorate for the holidays quite like this.
The tradition began in 1989 in an effort to boost the slower winter tourism months in the Smokies. It was a success, but of course, this means now you can expect to see many tail lights as well.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the Winterfest events:
Polar Express Train Ride — Hop on board the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad to experience this 1 hour, 15 minute round-trip ride, which departs from the Bryson City depot and travels all the way to the “North Pole.” Guests listen to the sounds from the Polar Express movie while sipping on hot cocoa and reading along with the story. The big guy in the red suit may even make a special appearance.
Dates: Nov. 8-Dec. 31
Price: $48-$73 per adult, $33-$50 per child (depending on selected seat and package)
Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland — This is a drive-through light show, taking place from dusk until 10 pm nightly at the Smokies Stadium. Additional attractions are available, including photos with Santa, a petting zoo, pony rides, inflatables and food vendors.
Dates: Nov. 8-Jan. 5
Price: $30 per car (up to 8 people), $50 per van (up to 25 people)
Enchanted Winter Celebration — Immerse yourself in a canopy of lights and enjoy Christmas trees, fire pits and Anakeesta’s giant snow globe. Santa will also be making an appearance in Firefly Village from Nov. 29-30 and Dec. 20-21 from 11 am to 3 pm.
Dates: Nov. 19 – Feb. 17
Price: Included with ticket, photos with Santa not included
The Island Tree Lighting Ceremony — The Island is hosting its annual Tree Lighting Celebration with special guest Paula Deen and free musical talent. The event will feature a concert from The Young Fables, an a capella performance from Greyscale and an improv rap comedy feature from The Free Daps, who regularly perform at Disney and Universal. Guests are encouraged to arrive early.
Date: Nov. 23
Lights Over Gatlinburg — Celebrate the holidays at SkyLift Park to see thousands of lights, decorations and views from all new heights. Guests can soak it all in while sipping on hot chocolate or cider around a firepit. Save $4 on tickets by bringing a new toy to donate to the Boys and Girls Club of the Smoky Mountains!
Dates: Nov. 25-Jan. 31
Price: Included with a ticket ($19.95-23.95)
Gatlinburg’s Festival of Trees — This event is celebrating its 46th year in Gatlinburg and features crafts, photos with Santa and of course, beautifully decorated Christmas trees. The proceeds this year will benefit the Boys and Girls Club of the Smoky Mountains and the Gatlinburg Chamber Foundation. The festivities kick off with a Candy Canes and Cocktails event and silent auction. There will also be a Breakfast with Santa.
Date: Nov. 27-Dec. 1
Price: Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. Cocktail party and auction is $35 per person, Breakfast with Santa is $15 per person.
Winter Smoky Mountain Tunes and Tales — This Downtown Gatlinburg event gives guests a chance to meet characters and storytellers as they carol along the Parkway on Friday and Saturday evenings. Holiday music fills the air with a mix of Appalachia, bluegrass and country.
Dates: Nov. 29 – Dec. 22
Titanic Thanksgiving Fireworks Celebration — This annual event features a special firework display in this iconic attraction’s kick off of the holiday season. Singer/actor Caitlin Mesiano will be performing in an outdoor concert along with the Titanic crew paying tribute to the RMS Titanic passengers and crew. At the conclusion of the outdoor holiday festivities, visitors can stick around and purchase tickets to continue the Night-of-Nights celebration inside the museum.
Dates: Nov. 28
Pigeon Forge Winterfest Community Celebration — This event will be held at the Pigeon Forge Community Center and will feature music from the Pigeon Forge High School band. Guests can have photo opportunities with Santa and enjoy food, games and trolley rides. It will also culminate with the annual lighting of the Pigeon Forge Christmas tree.
Dates: Dec. 5
Breakfast/Brunch with Santa — Gather at The Old Mill and make a lasting memory with Santa at the Pottery House Cafe. Breakfast starts at 8:15 and brunch starts at 10. Guests must make a reservation to participate.
Date: Dec. 7
Annual Taste of the Holidays — This United Way benefit will be held at the Ramsey Hotel and Convention Center. Guests taste samplings of holiday dishes from local restaurants while enjoying live entertainment.
Date: Dec. 10
Price: $15 per ticket
Christmas in the Smokies Bluegrass Festival — This event features a variety of Bluegrass bands and musicians who will perform in the Smoky Mountain Lodge in Pigeon Forge. Performers include Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver and many, many more.
Date: Dec. 11-Dec. 14
Price: $30-35 for single-day, 4-day passes ~$120 (depending on seating and package)
Santa Hustle Smokies 5K and Half Marathon — If you’ve ever wanted to see a large hoard of sweaty Santas, here’s your chance. The hustle begins at Wilderness at the Smokies Resort and Waterpark at 7:30 am for the half marathon and 7:45 am for the 5K. Participants will receive a Santa hat and beard, a performance hoodie and finisher medal. Benefits will benefit the House of Hope, a non-profit that provides food and shelter for orphaned children in Haiti.
Date: Dec. 15
Gatlinburg New Year’s Eve Celebration – Ring in 2020 with the Annual New Year’s Eve Ball Drop and Fireworks Show at the intersection of the Parkway and Historic Nature Trail at the base of the Space Needle. This event will feature live DJ entertainment and special festivities around the area.
Date: Dec. 31
New Year’s Eve Celebration at the Island — This New Year Celebration is one of the largest events The Island offers and features a lineup of entertainment including a free concert. A fireworks show begins at midnight, and Tyler Rich will be headlining the celebration.
Date: Dec. 31
Christmas at Dolly Parton’s Stampede — The Stampede is transformed into a winter wonderland as elves from the North and South Poles compete in a friendly rivalry.
Hatfield and McCoy Christmas Disaster Dinner Show — This holiday take on this classic feud is “guaranteed to make you feel better about spending the holidays with your in-laws.” (They said it, not me.)
Christmas at the Smoky Mountain Opry — This is a classic and traditional show for all ages. Christmas favorites are performed by world-class entertainers and musicians.
Christmas at Country Tonite Theatre — Christmas comes together with choreography, holiday sets and colorful costumes… and of course, country music. This is described as a heartwarming Christmas show fit for the whole family.
Magic Beyond Belief: A Magical Christmas — This is a literal take on a “magical” Christmas show, featuring Darren Romeo, a master of illusion. This show features unicorns, floating objects and even mermaids.
Christmas at the Comedy Barn — This show features a lighthearted and clean comedy act that has costumes, music and special Christmas acts.
Christmas at Pirates Voyage — This show features a “swashbuckling spin” on “A Christmas Carol” with Captain Scrooge and his crew. It’s guaranteed to put you in the spirit, matey.
Gatlinburg Christmas Parade — The Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade will kick off in downtown Gatlinburg on Dec. 6 at 7:30 pm from Baskins Creek Bypass. The parade has balloons, floats, bands and more. Parade attendees are encouraged to arrive early. The event is free, but bleacher seats are available for purchase.
Sevierville Christmas Parade — On Dec. 7, the Sevierville parade kicks off at 11 am. This parade is sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and takes place in Historic Downtown Sevierville.
Townsend Christmas Parade — Last but not least, the Townsend Parade kicks off on Dec. 8 and begins at the IGA, ending at Nayger Nob Village. The parade begins at 2:30 pm.
You can always enjoy the lights by just good ol’ fashioned driving around, but if you want something more, consider a trolley tour. The trolley carries guests through downtown Gatlinburg and down the Parkway.
Starting this year, visitors now receive a special costumed storyteller, complimentary cup of hot chocolate (courtesy of Ripley’s Aquarium) and a special commemorative token. With these new enhancements, the admission price for the Gatlinburg Winter Magic Trolley Ride of Lights is now $10, with a portion of proceeds benefiting the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce.
If you choose the driving around method, some notable areas to wander around include The Old Mill, Patriot Park and The Island.
As you can tell from alllllll of the above, the possibilities and combinations of things to do during Winterfest is just about endless. It’s enough to make even a Grinch’s heart grow three sizes.
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.