Chicago has the Miracle Mile.
Las Vegas has the strip.
And in Gatlinburg it’s called … Well, it’s also called the strip. As it turns out, there aren’t as many catchy nicknames for a main drag as you may think.
How long is the strip in Gatlinburg?
Gatlinburg’s strip is the full Smoky Mountain experience condensed to within .8 miles. It starts where the Parkway (aka U.S. 441) intersects with Ski Mountain Road and ends at the Cherokee Orchard Road intersection.
In other words, from the Marathon Station at the top to Aunt Mahalia’s Candies at the bottom.
In light of recent developments below Mahalia’s along the Parkway, including places like Anakeesta and Ole Red, some suggest that the strip now extends further down.
For example, there is too much open space. If it’s not chock-a-block with unhealthy foods, tacky curio shops, mini-golf and bizarre “museums” it ain’t the strip.
I say all that lovingly, though.
For many of us, Gatlinburg’s strip played a formative role in our young lives. It was a place we could go and exercise a little freedom, to play and to make unfortunate buying decisions like air-brushed T-shirts and jade pendants.
To that end, what the strip best represents, I think, is simply the freedom to have fun. It’s laser tag, mini-golf and the Ripley’s Museum. It’s pizza joints and arcades and sugar and sweets and candy.
When does the strip open in Gatlinburg?
If you’re going to come play on the strip, you’d best come early.
Many of the shops and attractions are shuttered by 9 pm. Most restaurants are closed by 10 or 11 pm.
Even the bars shut down relatively early in the ‘Burg, where the motto is come and have fun, but for goodness sakes, we’ve gotta get up in the morning.
Here are some of our favorite things to do on the strip before getting in bed at a respectable hour.
5. Go shopping
I like to make fun of some of the more touristy shops along the strip. But, I’ve spent a lot of money inside them.
The better shopping, for my mind, is at the lower end of the strip where you can find the strange and wonderful Mountain Mall and the quaint Village Shoppes with their inexplicable European vibe.
The strip is also a great place to go Christmas shopping if you like to give – or get – more unique gifts.
I’m fond of the Celtic Heritage Company in the back of the Village for beautiful items you don’t see much in East Tennessee.
There’s also the Misty Mountain Soap Company – which I briefly hoped was Led Zeppelin-themed soaps. Sadly, it is not. But they do have nice soap if that’s the kind of thing you are interested in.
Other alliterative and oddly specific Village Shops include the Sock Shop, The Pepper Palace, The Candle Cottage and the Cheese Cupboard which sell socks, hot sauces, candles and cheese, respectively.
4. Get a little buzzed
With the arrival of legal moonshine distilleries, you could do a proper pub crawl.
Above all, the nicest thing about drinking in Gatlinburg is – if you’re staying at a hotel in town – you can park your car and walk where you need to go. Or, in the worst-case scenario, get trolley passes.
Keep in mind, in order to help maintain a family-friendly environment along the strip, the city of Gatlinburg has asked all distilleries to begin charging a fee of $5 per person to sample spirits.
At the Sugarlands Distilling Company, led by an expert “TasteMaker,” your round of samples will come with tasting notes and cocktail ideas.
Ole Smoky Moonshine is a popular destination for sampling where a reservation is not required. There is a limit of seven samples per person, but if you get the guided tour, you can enjoy a 13-sampling tasting.
Not far from Ole Smoky is Dude’s Daiquiris, conveniently located between the Mellow Mushroom and the Beef Jerky Outlet.
The frozen drinks at Dude’s don’t necessarily have the highest alcohol content, but after a moonshine tasting or two, it might not be a bad idea to slow your roll. In fact, you can get a bite from their quickie menu and people watch for a bit.
Afterward, if you follow the sacred adage liquor before beer, never fear, make your way up to the Smoky Mountain Brewery. Sample any of the six flagship beers they have on tap while you are there.
3. Partake in some family-friendly competition
Undoubtedly, some of my favorite memories in Gatlinburg are those with friends or visiting relatives. We enjoy playing games, competing and busting on each other while we do it.
There are plenty of opportunities to play on the strip.
Gatlin’s Fun Center is a one-stop-shop for a lot of the traditional tourist games we like to play including mini-golf, laser tag and bumper cars. Gatlin’s also offers escape games, a ropes course and more.
The newest – and fastest-growing – game in the region, however, is axe-throwing. The Gatlinburg Axe House, located above the Chocolate Monkey offers axe-throwing competitions for the family. Perhaps wisely, in an alcohol-free environment.
If you are unfamiliar with the axe-throwing craze, basically you’re chucking hatchets at a wooden target in a series of stalls so you don’t get ricochets chopping up other people’s legs and stuff. It’s a lot of fun.
2. Go exploring
I struggled with the right word for this and I’m not sure “explore” is quite what I was looking for. Walking around and looking at strange stuff seemed a bit chewy.
The strip, like the rest of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, is filled with wonderfully entertaining and diverting places like Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, The Amazing Mirror Maze, The Space Needle, Gatlinburg Pinball Museum and the Hollywood Star Cars Museum.
And, if you are looking for amazing views, check out the Ober Gatlinburg Tramway and the SkyLift Park.
1. Enjoy the local eateries
Finally, if all these tourists are going to visit, somebody has to feed them.
The strip is loaded with fantastic restaurants ranging from niche places like Waffle De Lys (Belgian waffles with a French twist) to popular regional chains such as Calhoun’s.
There are a lot of options.
Planning the perfect foodie day on the strip could look something like this, breakfast at the Pancake Pantry, lunch from Tennessee Jed’s and dinner at Crawdaddy’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar. But, the variations are nearly endless.
What are your favorite things to do on the strip? Tell us in the comments.