Gatlinburg Thanksgiving: 6 things to do, suggestions from a local

downtown Gatlinburg in the falll

This article features our best tips for things to do in the Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg and surrounding areas on Thanksgiving weekend (photo by Laura Akens/

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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 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?


Read Also: Anakeesta in the fall: Autumn event schedule, what to expect in 2021

Paula Deen's Family Kitchen at the Island in Pigeon Forge
Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen is located at The Island in Pigeon Forge, about 30 minutes outside of Gatlinburg, TN (photo by Alaina O’Neal/

6. 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.

Read Also: A review of Paula Deen’s Restaurant in Pigeon Forge: ‘Just OK’

Cades Cove is a great place to go wildlife spotting in the Smoky Mountains (photo by Paul/

5. Go find some wild turkeys

And no, 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. Shotgun season ends in October and archery season ends the first week of November.

But 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: Where to see wildlife in the Smoky Mountains; Our top tips

Shops within the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community
If you’re looking for authentic and homemade Tennessee goods, be sure to explore the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community (photo by Bill Burris/

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. 

Read Also: Arts and Crafts Community in Gatlinburg: Map, shows and stores

Tanger Outlets
Tanger Outlets is one of the largest shopping centers in the Smokies with over 100 brand name stores. Tanger Outlets is located in Pigeon Forge, TN, 30 minutes outside of Gatlinburg (photo by Morgan Overholt/

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.

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

Dollywood’s season concludes with the 12-time Golden Ticket winner for Best Theme Park Christmas Event, Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas presented by Humana, November 14, 2020 - January 2, 2021 (photo by Laura Akens/
Dollywood in Pigeon Forge will be fully geared up for the Christmas season by Thanksgiving weekend (photo submitted by Laura Akens)

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.

And that brings us to:

The Roosevelt Lodge cabin by Parkside Cabin Rentals (photo by Morgan Overholt/

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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