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Gatlinburg Weather in December: What Should You Pack?

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 (photo by JennLShoots/shutterstock.com)

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In every place I’ve lived, people like to 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. But as a boy from Northern Indiana, I remember what real winters feel like. 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.  


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Woman warms by the fire at Anakeesta
In December Gatlinburg is decorated in holiday lights, but remember to dress warmly for the colder temperatures as we did when visiting Anakeesta. (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Is December a good time to visit Gatlinburg?

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, downtown Gatlinburg is like something out of a classic Christmas story. Plus, during this time of year, the whole town has decorations and Christmas lights and even Santa will make an appearance at some local attractions. If you love Gatlinburg and/or the Christmas holiday, you must visit in December.

Of course, I have the benefit of living within 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. 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. However, higher elevations and cold mornings and evenings can catch a person off guard.

A stranded walker in the snow
A white Christmas can be rare, but it’s always good to be prepared. Unexpected snowfall in the winter of 2020 left some visitors and tourists stranded for days in the upper elevations (photo by Dr. Bill Ramsey)

How warm is Gatlinburg in December?

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 much below 35°F. The average low temperature ranges from 35°F to 30°F, rarely falling below 16°F or exceeding 49°F. 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.

Gatlinburg, TNHighLowMonthly precipitationMonthly snowfall
Low elevations in December52°F28°F4.5 inches1 inch
High elevations in December37°F21°F7.3 inches8 inches
Source: NPS
hiking boots on dirt with roots
It’s a good idea to pack a pair of shoes that can handle uneven or slick terrain (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Will 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. 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 during 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. 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. However, closer to Christmas and New Year’s, you may experience some actual cold.  

newfound gap road in the winter
If you want to see snow, try some of the higher elevation areas. Newfound Gap typically receives around five feet of snow per year during the winter months (photo by Gregory Simpson/shutterstock.com)

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. It’s the best way to make sure it’s open before heading out. Honestly, if you have your heart set on snow, your safest option is probably to try some winter sports like snowboarding, skiing or indoor ice skating at a place like Ober Mountain. Or go snow tubing at Pigeon Forge Snow, where they make it for you.

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

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