Memory is a strange thing.
I’ve lived the better part of my life running around Gatlinburg and the trails and campgrounds of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in East Tennessee.
You have adventures. And you have big days. You have moments with friends and family and sometimes even strangers.
“I won’t forget this,” you think. “This is a day I’ll remember forever.”
But then life rolls on. The days pile upon one and another like layers of sediment, burying the memories under time and pressure until they are deep down.
Not gone. Not forgotten. But out of sight and nearly out of mind.
Until a conversation, a question, or, often in my case, a writing assignment triggers the right synapses and the memory explodes through the decades of refuse and rubble back to the fore. Fresh and clean and bright just like when it happened.
“Hey John, can you write about staying in hotels on the Gatlinburg strip?” they asked.
Oh heck, yes I can! But should I?
No. No. Nonononono. Not in a million years. I am an open book, dear reader, but some chapters are not meant to be read.
Still, do you want to stay in Gatlinburg for your vacation? Great. Love it.
Things to consider when staying in Gatlinburg
When I’m staying in the Smokies, it’s always Gatlinburg, never Pigeon Forge.
But you have to make a few decisions when staying in Gatlinburg.
Do you want to be up in the mountains, maybe have a great view, maybe see a bear?
Or do you want to be down near town? Perhaps park your car for the weekend, leave it and experience Gatlinburg on foot like it’s supposed to be done.
I always want to stay near the strip – the strip proper which runs basically from the entrance to the park to the intersection with the East Parkway.
There are some nice hotels along the Parkway and along Highway 321 back toward Pigeon Forge.
Staying in Pigeon Forge often comes with nice river views. But for me, it’s too much extra walking. I want to be closer to the main drag.
Besides, Pigeon Forge is just a short drive away from Gatlinburg anyway, if you feel you want to venture off the beaten path a bit.
So with all that under consideration, here are some of, what we think, are the best Gatlinburg hotels on (or near) the strip.
5. The River Terrace Resort
Overlooking the Little Pigeon, River Terrace is located next to Ripley’s Aquarium and offers beautiful views of the creek below.
It’s also within walking distance of most major Gatlinburg attractions.
We stayed here for a fall weekend getaway and thought the convenient location was perfect.
In the morning, we got up early and walked easily over to the Pancake Pantry, beating the crowd for breakfast. After exploring downtown, we returned to the hotel to rest and then on to the aquarium.
The convenience factor was impressive.
It was late fall so we didn’t get a chance to enjoy either of the outdoor pools but of all of our mountain getaways, this is the one we remember the most.
In-room amenities include a 42″ flat screen tv, microwave, refrigerator and a coffee maker.
Upgrade to the River View Signature King Room, Signature King Loft or the River View Signature Queen and enjoy an in-room fireplace.
You can check for current River Terrace Resort specials on Booking.com.
4. Gatlinburg Inn
This historic inn, which has played host to guests like Lady Bird Johnson and Liberace, presumably not at the same time – is possibly the best-located hotel on the strip.
It’s also the site where Tennessee’s “Rocky Top” was originally penned.
The guest rooms are rustic in décor and there’s a variety of suites. The only downside is the lack of private balconies, but in this location, the views aren’t really balcony conducive anyway.
If you want to be in the heart of the action and stay in a hotel that isn’t cookie-cutter and corporate, this just might be your huckleberry.
Recently renovated, amenities at the Gatlinburg Inn include Serta Perfect mattresses, flat-screen TVs, coffee makers, free wifi and a complimentary continental breakfast each morning.
Be sure to check for current Gatlinburg Inn specials on Booking.com.
3. Courtyard Marriott Gatlinburg Downtown
The only hotel on our list above the strip, this new, modern and relatively luxurious stay is a few blocks above the strip.
Going to the strip can be a bit of a pain after a long day of shopping, dining and possibly drinking, giving this hotel an advantage.
Some rooms do have balconies that overlook Gatlinburg and the mountain views. If a room with a view is important to you, it might be worth calling the hotel directly to make your booking.
The stone Courtyard, with plenty of soft seating and a large fire pit, is perfect for hanging out with friends and talking after a long day on the strip.
The Courtyard Marriot features all of the standard in-room amenities plus an indoor pool, a fitness center, an on-site bar and an outdoor hot tub.
Check for current deals on the Courtyard Marriott Gatlinburg on Booking.com.
2. Hilton Garden Inn Gatlinburg
If it’s possible to have a quiet spot close to the strip, the Hilton Garden Inn is it.
A nice modern Hilton hotel with spacious rooms, the Inn faces River Road and toward the mountain, away from the neon chaos behind it.
Not all of the hotel rooms offer balconies, so it will depend on your selection whether you have a proper view of the river and mountains beyond.
A great spot for a date night at The Melting Pot, then a brief walk back to the hotel where you can rest by the fire pit, swim in the indoor pool or relax in the Jacuzzi. It’s a great spot to be near the strip but not all up in the strip.
The Hilton Garden Inn features all of the standard amenities you’d expect from the Hilton brand plus free parking, an indoor saltwater pool and a fire pit area.
Be sure to check for specials on Booking.com for the Hilton Garden Inn before you plan your trip.
1. Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg
Look, I make a lot of fun of Jimmy Buffet’s entrance into the mountains. But his little three-star hotel isn’t a bad place to serve as a basecamp for a Gatlinburg vacation.
If you’re looking to do a little Gatlinburg bar-hopping, this is a decent spot and you won’t have to stagger far back to your hotel.
The views aren’t great, but the expansive lobby and multiple on-site dining options are impressive. Plus, most of the rooms come with a private balcony.
Still, the best views are probably of the pool. But it’s a nice little oasis in the mountains.
The Margaritaville Resort features a free continental breakfast, a spa, firepits, multiple on-site dining options and both an indoor and outdoor pool. The outdoor pool includes a hot tub and waterslide.
Upgrade to the River King Whirlpool room for an in-room whirlpool and seasonal fireplace.
Check Booking.com for current pricing and specials for the Margaritaville Resort before you plan your trip.
Bonus: Rocky Waters Motor Inn
If you don’t mind a little extra walking – or quite a bit of extra walking – the Rocky Waters Motor Inn with balconies right on top of the river is pretty cool.
In operation for 80 years, the Rocky Waters Motor Inn gives a little taste of what it would have been like to vacation in Gatlinburg back in the early days.
What are your favorite Gatlinburg hotels? Let us know in the comments below.