Gatlinburg weather in December: Does it snow? How cold does it get?

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park sign covered in snow

The average chance of rainfall, or snow or sleet or hail, is about 30% each day in December (KENNY ONUFROCK / shutterstock.com)

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I like Gatlinburg in December.

The higher elevation puts a little extra nip in the air. And the brightly decorated village does a good job of catching the holiday spirit.

And when it snows, which isn’t terribly often, it’s like something out of a classic Christmas story.

If you love Gatlinburg and/or the Christmas holiday, you must visit in December.

Read Also: Best snow tubing, winter activities in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg

Of course, I have the benefit of living within an easy driving distance and can select proper attire based on the morning’s weather report.

If you’re planning your visit from afar, it’s a little trickier.

The best method to pack for a trip to Gatlinburg in December is to follow the Boy Scouts’ lead: Be prepared.

Every place I’ve ever lived people like to brag/complain about the unpredictability of the weather as if that is a condition unique to that area.

“One thing about Indiana/South Alabama/Florida/East Tennessee is: If you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes and it’ll change.”

That isn’t to say they’re wrong.

East Tennessee weather can be especially mercurial.   

As a boy from Northern Indiana, I remember what real winters feel like.

The kind of day when you step outside the air crinkles in your nostrils and rushes a massive shock to the lungs. The winters in Northern Indiana can be long, gray and monotonous.  

It’s not unheard of to go more than a week without seeing the temperature rise into double digits, Or to go weeks without reaching the 40s.

And so, to my mind, Tennessee winters are quite moderate. Like something from the mid to late fall, crisp and cool but not painfully so.

The Smokies experienced an unprecedented snowfall on Christmas Day (photo contributed by Dr. Bill Ramsey)
While it rarely snows more than an inch, last year Gatlinburg was hit by a freak snow storm which left some ill-prepared visitors stranded (photo contributed by Dr. Bill Ramsey)

How cold does it get in Gatlinburg TN in December?

Each December there are always a few “golfing days” where the sun is bright and the temperature flirts with the low 60s. Even on these days, a light sweater or jacket would be appropriate once the sun goes down.

Average daily temperatures in December in Gatlinburg range from a high of 54°F to 48°F. Daytime highs rarely exceed 66°F or dip below 35°F.  The average lows are from 35°F to 30°F, rarely falling below 16°F or exceeding 49°F.

Does it snow in Gatlinburg in December?

More good news, you’re not terribly likely to get wet during your trip. The average chance of rainfall, or snow or sleet or hail, is about 30% each day in December.

Read Also: Top 6 ways to experience snow in the Smokies

Of course, all those averages are nice, but they don’t mean anything when you’ve packed for a moderate, relatively dry weekend and you arrive to a week of cold sleet and rain.

The best advice for planning a trip to Gatlinburg is three-fold.

First, monitor the 10-day forecast as closely as you can in the days leading up to your visit. It won’t be perfect but you’ll have a decent idea of what’s ahead.

Secondly, I would bring outfits that work in layers and are easily portable. Walking the streets of Gatlinburg on a sunny December day can be quite pleasant, if not warm but the mornings and the evenings will be considerably cooler. A light, but warming jacket that can be easily carried around is just what the doctor ordered.

Versatile warm boots are generally a safe bet when traveling to the Smokies in the winter (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Thirdly, I would also bring an extra pair of walking shoes appropriate for any conditions. It may rain. It may snow. It’s best to be ready for anything.

It’s also important to note that December features the most dramatic shift in weather across the course of its 30 days.

November features an average high in the low 60s. January highs only average in the upper 40s. 

That means in early December you’re more likely to get seasonably warm weather while closer to Christmas and New Year’s you may experience some actual cold.  

Read Also: Why black bears don’t really ‘hibernate’ in the Smokies

Snow machine
Ober Gatlinburg uses machines to produce snow (stock photo)

Where can I find snow in Gatlinburg, TN?

Finally, although the average December snowfall in Gatlinburg proper is only an inch, often you can see snow on the mountains at higher elevations.

If you’re hoping for a winter wonderland, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to pack some cold-weather gear and go in search of snow.

Hartford, just on the North Carolina border, is always a good place to start and fairly convenient to Gatlinburg.

I wouldn’t go chasing snow in the passes between Gatlinburg and Cherokee, North Carolina on U.S. 441. Though Newfound Gap Road does provide a fine route into the higher elevations, it is often closed when snow and ice arrive.  

If you are going to cross the mountains when snow is in the air, I’d check the Park Service website to make sure it’s open before heading out.

Honestly, if you have your heart set on snow, your safest option is probably Ober Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge Snow, where they make it for you.

Read Also: Is Ober Gatlinburg worth the price? An honest review 

Have you been to Gatlinburg in December? Did you see any snow? Let us know in the comments below.

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 info@thesmokies.com for questions or comments.

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