I have something of a reputation in my family. When I am given the choice on the road, I will invariably pick an exit with sketchy bathrooms.
If an exit has multiple gas stations from which to choose, I will try my best to pick something acceptable.
I will fail miserably.
We’re talking beyond dirt and grime and even smell. There was the dead lizards incident of 2015, for example. There were other incidents, more foul, that are beyond description here.
It’s like God gave me a divining rod, but instead of water or treasure, my talent is finding bathrooms caked in generations of funk that would turn the most intrepid of travelers green.
And so, when we travel to places frequently, I make it a point to seek out the best places to target in a bathroom emergency.
As a father of three children who haven’t always been the best about giving appropriate notice, I consider bathroom echolocation something of a sacred duty. (Ha! See what I did there?)
Also as a gentleman of a certain age, I’ve found bathroom spatial awareness an important part of my road trip repertoire.
Bathrooms on the road to Gatlinburg
Driving from Pigeon Forge to Gatlinburg, gas stations and fast food restaurants will be the best options when not on the strip. There will be plenty of such places to choose from on State Route 73 (US 321).
You can also take the East Parkway towards Cosby, which features fast food restaurants, grocery stores and gas stations, the friends of anyone who has to go while on the go.
What about the main strip?
Once you’re on the strip, which begins just past the intersection of East Parkway and US 321, there aren’t as many places where you can pull off and go.
There are some gas stations near the top of the strip before you go into the National Park, but they can be busy.
If the gas station at the top of the strip looks crowded, the Sugarlands Visitor Center is not that far up US Route 441. Be aware, the visitor center is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.
But Gatlinburg is chiefly a city for walking. And when you’re among the horde on the strip, knowing when to focus on getting going is key.
So here are some tips about going when on the go in Gatlinburg.
7. Fast food restaurants
It’s the tried and true method of bathroom emergency when traveling. Fast food places are always accessible and reliable.
The cleanliness of the restroom may be questionable depending on the chain, the day and the quality of management. But when you’ve got to go, fast food eateries are suitable emergency locations.
Most of the fast food places on the strip don’t have parking options, so you can’t pull in and go. But if you’re on foot, look for the familiar signs.
Chains that may be accommodating in downtown Gatlinburg (but no guarantees) include Subway, Johnny Rockets and Dunkin’ Donuts.
For good measure, buy a drink or a cookie while you’re there. Just drink it slow so you don’t find yourself in the same situation within the next hour or two.
6. The public restroom across from Ole Red
Near the intersection of US Routes 321 and 441, right across the street from Ole Red is a large, clean public restroom, which we frequently target when we come to town.
It’s an optimum spot because after a long car ride, it’s nice to have the family stop and freshen up before embarking on our walking adventure through town. Plus there’s a parking lot right beside it.
It’s equally convenient for travelers on foot with its close proximity to other popular walkable attractions like Anakeesta.
5. The Mountain Mall
The Mountain Mall is a shopping center located at the intersection of River Road and the Parkway (the large brown building near Anakeesta, directly across from the Subway).
The collection of shops offers a wide variety of knick-knacks and a great place to slip in and get a little relief without having to ask some kid behind the counter, if there’s a public toilet.
4. The public restroom near Ripley’s Aquarium
There’s also a public restroom along Greystone Heights Road outside at the Ripley’s Aquarium.
It’s nothing fancy. Let’s call it utilitarian. But if you park in the city garage behind the aquarium, it’s a solid option.
The further you move up the strip, the more dicey your bathroom options become. While the lower end of the strip is fairly awash in public toilet options, the upper end is something of a wasteland.
Walgreens, located at about the halfway point of the strip near the Gatlinburg SkyLift Park, may be the spot you need to target if you’re coming down the hill and things are getting rough.
I don’t much like going into a drugstore just for bathroom purposes – they sometimes look at you like a shoplifter – but I just try to avert my eyes on the way out and take comfort that they will never see me again.
You may want to consider buying a stick of gum or something small for good measure, or good bathroom karma.
2. Reagan Terrace Mall
Located near the Gatlinburg Wine Cellar, Reagan Terrace Mall features such Gatlinburg staples as the Pepper Palace, the Chicken Hut and mini golf and games.
It’s also a solid option for public restroom use. It is in the relatively public bathroom rich lower part of the strip. Still, it’s a great option.
1. The Village Shops
Now we’re talking elegance.
The public restrooms located at the rear of the Village Shops are destination bathrooming at its finest.
First, you get to walk through the Village Shops with their European Architecture. It feels like you’ve gone on a quick jaunt across the pond to do some “official business.”
The bathrooms are always – at least in my experience – tidy and private. There’s a nice stopping place for the rest of your party to pass the time while you are indisposed.
If you only use one public restroom in Gatlinburg, make it the restroom at the Village Shops.
Have you ever been in an “emergency” situation in Gatlinburg? Any tips you would add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!