Gatlinburg Thanksgiving: 11 things to do, suggestions from a local

festival of trees features several decorated trees as part of a fundraiser

If you enjoy crafts and shows, the week of Thanksgiving can be a great time to visit Gatlinburg. Pictured: The Festival of the Trees (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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You don’t typically think of Thanksgiving as a getting out-of-town kind of holiday.

People come to the Smokies for the Christmas season, Halloween and Valentine’s Day. But Thanksgiving? That’s a holiday season spent at home getting ready for Christmas. 

But just because some other people don’t really do it, doesn’t mean people like you and I – iconoclasts who forge our own trails, throwing convention to the wind – can’t find joy in a Thanksgiving season getaway to the mountains. 

In fact, I actually quite like going to the mountains in November, which is a season of transition in the Smokies.

Some years, November is really just an extended fall with warm days and cooler nights.

Other years, November comes in cold, bringing that familiar sting to the nostrils and sharp, cold air into the lungs, getting you in the mood for the holiday season. 

But John, you might ask, what is there to do in the mountains, in and around Gatlinburg, at Thanksgiving time?

Plenty. 

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11. Winter festivities at Ober Gatlinburg

Ober Gatlinburg, which recently rebranded itself to Ober Mountain, has been popular with the holiday scene for decades.

While November may be too early to enjoy snowboarding, skiing or snow tubing, you can always go ice skating year-round in the indoor skating rink.

Plus, it’s a beautiful season to take a scenic ride on the iconic Aerial Tramway. Be sure to check Tripster for discounts.

a sign in lights for winterfest in gatlinburg and pigeon forge
Winterfest begins in November in the Smoky Mountains (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

10. Take a tour of the Winterfest lights

During Winterfest, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg get in the Christmas spirit and light the town with millions of lights that feature iconic light displays the whole family can appreciate.

Winterfest is set to begin on Nov. 10, 2022.

Carter Shields Cabin in Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (photo by chocphoto/stock.adobe.com)
Enjoy the last of the fall foliage in Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (photo by chocphoto/stock.adobe.com)

9. Take a hike in the national park

Whenever you’re visiting the Smokies, don’t forget to enjoy what made it popular in the first place: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

If you visit earlier in the month, it’s possible to catch the last of the fall foliage in the lower elevations.

It can be a good time of year to load up the family and take a scenic drive around Cades Cove.

Remember, some roads may close seasonally. For example, Parsons Branch Road and Rich Mountain Road begin their seasonal closures in mid-November.

row or trees inside hotel decorated for christmas
This year will mark the 49th annual Gatlinburg Festival of Trees celebration in Gatinburg (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

8. Visit the Festival of Trees

View beautifully decorated Christmas trees at the annual Festival of Trees celebration in Gatlinburg.

Proceeds will benefit the Boys and Girls Club of the Smoky Mountains and the Gatlinburg Chamber Foundation.

The festival will run from Nov. 23-26 from 10 am to 7 pm and Nov. 27 from 10 am to 4 pm. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.

The event will be held at the W.L. Mills Conference Center. Parking is located at the city parking lot on Reagan Drive.

Paul Deens Facade Pigeon Forge
Family-style eateries are popular for holiday dining in the Smokies (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

7. Eat at a family-style restaurant

There is no bigger Thanksgiving tradition than gathering around a large table for an old-fashioned family meal where dishes are passed in a clockwise fashion until grandpa gets impatient and begins demanding someone throw him the ham.

Why doesn’t he just pick a seat near the ham? Of course, there are some questions even science cannot answer.

Eleven months out of the year, I’ll pass on a family-style restaurant.

I prefer not to have to observe Robert’s Rules of Order while I run what I want for dinner through a committee. 

My uncle once called for a vote of no confidence when I tried to order a bowl of candied yams for the table.

But when it gets Thanksgiving time, family-style dining seems more appropriate.  As a bonus, the fare typically served at family-style restaurants seems very Thanksgiving-y, like Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen and Mama’s Farmhouse.

Holiday hours may vary.

Applewood Farmhouse Grill
Applewood Farmhouse Grill offers delicious Southern staples (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

6. Eat at a more traditional restaurant

If a family-style restaurant doesn’t sound appealing, there are several other excellent places to eat in the area.

For example, Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant and the Old Mill Restaurant are staples in the Smokies for classic mountain dining.

If you want less traditional, we love bringing the family to The Melting Pot in Gatlinburg.

Holiday hours may vary.

wild male turkey and female turkey in grass
A wild male turkey displaying for his lady in a field of green grass (photo by Betty Shelton/shutterstock.com)

5. Go find some wild turkeys

I don’t mean at the liquor store.

Fall is a great time to see the turkey in its natural environment and not on a giant platter.

If you want to bag a wild turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, you better do it early.

As a side note, I’m not a hunter. I just like seeing them in the wild.

Cades Cove is an excellent place to see turkeys in the wild. I suggest getting there early and being pretty chill about it because turkeys are exceptionally smart.

Read Also: Smoky Mountain wildlife: 9 common types with photos

Shop in the Arts and Crafts Community
The Wood Whittlers is a great place to find homemade crafts in Gatlinburg (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

4. Visit local artists and craftspeople

Look, you can get something from the Disney Store or Old Navy or any of the dozens of other retailers online or at home or whatever.

If you want to give a truly unique, truly memorable gift, go to the 8-mile loop that is the Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts Community which features more than 100 artists and craftspeople who offer a wide variety of items that are not mass-produced and would mean a lot more than a gift card.

From mountain dulcimers to wonder paintings to stuffed bears and ceramics, this is the place to come to find a memorable gift for someone you love. 

If you’re in town from Nov. 22-28, visit the annual Thanksgiving Arts and Crafts Show at the Gatlinburg Convention Center in downtown Gatlinburg.

There, you’ll find candles, jewelry, quilts, hand-made baskets and more. It’s the perfect place to find unique Christmas gifts for the family.

Read Also: Smoky Mountains in November: Events in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge [2022]

Tanger Outlets in Sevierville
Start your Christmas shopping in the Smokies. Tanger Outlets offers some of the best shopping in Sevier County (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

3. Go Black Friday shopping

Look, I am not here to endorse the idea of Black Friday or businesses opening at odd hours or being open on the holiday.

But I will tell you Black Friday shopping in the Smokies is a thing.

To be sure, the outlets are great targets, we’ve found some really awesome deals over the years.

But, for the love of everything that’s holy, stay away from the Sevierville Wal-Mart. It’s one step removed from Mad Max on regular days. You do not want any part of that on Black Friday shopping.

If you want to Black Friday shop, do it at your hometown Wal-Mart and save yourself the stress. 

a closeup of butterfly jumbo ornament at dollywood
Dollywood begins its Smoky Mountain Christmas celebration on Nov. 5 (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

2. Go to Dollywood

Of course, Dollywood closes for the first few days of November, like a caterpillar in a chrysalis.

It goes in fall-themed, a full celebration of Halloween and everything autumn. It comes out fully geared up for the Christmas season with lights and shows and magic and wonder.

But John, you might ask, what about Thanksgiving?

Well, there’s plenty of giving of thanks at Dollywood as well, especially at Aunt Grannies where Thanksgiving-style food is in demand year-round and where currently they are serving guests family-style.

It’s the perfect time to visit the beloved theme park. Note that the theme park is closed on Thanksgiving Day. Be sure to check the operating calendar for details.

And that brings us to:

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inside a large mountain cabin with high ceilings
The Roosevelt Lodge is a gorgeous cabin by Parkside Cabin Rentals (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

1. Get a cabin

Want to get away for Thanksgiving but are afraid you’ll miss your family?

A cabin in the mountains is just the trick.

Enjoy a late fall/early winter vacation and have Thanksgiving dinner in a place built to comfortably house all of the members of your family, even the cousins. 

Read Also: Affordable cabins in the Smokies: Our top 8 ranked

Do you get away to the Smokies on Thanksgiving? Let us know in the comments!

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.

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