I am not yet to the point in my life where I go on vacation just to relax.
We don’t take much time for hammocks, reading by the fireplace or long naps. We do theme parks and attractions.
But things are beginning to change.
I can see the appeal of coming to Tennessee and finding a place in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge or Sevierville to just chill out.
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What are the best Smoky Mountain resorts?
Of course, the price is always part of the equation, but it’s hard to compare when prices change seasonally.
For the purposes of this exercise, I chose a random long weekend in October for a family of four, checking in Friday night and checking out Monday to price compare.
But keep in mind, any pricing mentioned here is subject to change and varies by season. So, let’s look at some of the best resorts in the Smoky Mountains:
1. Under Canvas Great Smoky Mountains
Named a “Best Resort in the South” by Travel + Leisure and a “Top 20 Resort in the U.S. – South” by Condé Nast Traveler for multiple years running, Under Canvas Great Smoky Mountains is a hippie commune. No, sorry – it’s a glamping resort – in which guests sleep in safari-style canvas tents with hotel-quality beds near the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Complimentary activities include live music, morning yoga, kids’ activities and more.
Onsite dining includes an upscale menu that changes seasonally and uses locally-sourced produce. Nightly fires and complimentary s’mores are also available.
I teased about the hippie thing, but really this is an upscale experience that gets you out of the traditional hotel room – air conditioning is not listed as an amenity – and out into the mountains.
At $557 per night, your long October weekend would be about $1,650. If you want a cool, memorable resort vacation experience, this is certainly it.
2. Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort & Spa
Rated an excellent 9.4 out of 10 on Expedia, the DreamMore resort comes with a lot of extras, like access to Dollywood’s Splash Country Waterpark, Timesaver Passes if you go to Dollywood, shuttle service to the parks and more. Although, check your perks when you book as benefits are subject to change.
DreamMore itself is everything you’d expect from a country-elegant mountain resort. In addition to a full-service spa and six onsite dining options, DreamMore has 6,000 square feet of meeting space. And of course, it’s backed by the Dolly Parton name.
3. Riverstone Resort & Spa
Rated a superb 9.2 on Hotels.com, this is one of the best places to stay in Pigeon Forge. Located near the end of the strip, it’s not far from Dollywood or the road to Gatlinburg and the most visited national park in the country.
In addition, with the on-site spa and well-appointed rooms, the lazy river is one of the best in the area – not just a chlorine stream winding through a parking lot.
It also has a garden, picnic area and scenic views of the nearby and poorly named Gatlinburg Golf Course – from at least some of the rooms.
Rooms start at $369 per night, a total of $1,443 for the weekend. Also, be sure to check rates on Expedia.
4. Club Wyndham Great Smokies Lodge
Located close to Wilderness at the Smokies, this lodge has a great pool area that is essentially its own waterpark with a lazy river, aquatic playground and more.
Located in Sevierville not far from Soaky Mountain Waterpark, the lodge provides 18 holes of golf, free waterpark access and a terrace. There is a mini-golf course, too.
Guests also have access to an in-room kitchen with a microwave and refrigerator as well as an in-room washer and dryer. It has an indoor pool as well as its outdoor pool facilities.
Rated an excellent 8.8 out of 10 on Expedia, the Club Wyndham will set you back $257 per night and $870 total for our example stay.
5. Wilderness at the Smokies Stone Hill Lodge
Interested in Wilderness? Be sure to check out the Stone Hill Lodge. It’s close to the action and rated 8.2 on Expedia.
It’s a great option for families with young children, or simply families who enjoy visiting a waterpark. Average rates begin at about $200 per night.
6. Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg
Amenities include two on-site restaurants, a bar and lounge, a coffee shop and 24-hour room service as well as a full-service spa with massage and treatment rooms. There is an indoor and outdoor pool as well as a spa tub.
Prices start at $456 per night for an all-in cost of $1,541 for the example stay. Check rates on Hotels.com.
7. Holiday Inn Club Vacations Smoky Mountain Resort
Rated an excellent 9.0 out of 10 on Hotels.com, this Gatlinburg resort is located on Historic Nature Trail Road, on the way up to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
The lodge-inspired condos, villas and suites come with fully equipped kitchens, living and dining areas. All units have balconies or terraces. Guests have access to indoor or outdoor whirlpools, as well as a spacious gym.
The resort has a large outdoor pool, spa, billiards room and also a children’s activity club with an indoor playground.
At $409 per night, this in-demand resort would be $1,227 for a three-night October weekend stay.
8. Music Road Resort
It lists 87 amenities – hello, first aid kit – but exists a little more on the hotel side of the hotel-resort divide. At $289 per night, you’re looking at $973 for the long weekend for the example trip. It’s also available on Hotels.com and Expedia.
9. Country Cascades Waterpark Resort
This resort is rated a very good 8.3 out of 10 on Booking.com. The Country Cascades is heavier on the waterpark than the resort, but still a good family option.
Located just off the Parkway behind the Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride, every guest has access to a seasonal outdoor pool and water park. There’s a massive outdoor fire pit, an arcade with good games and more.
What’s the difference between a resort and a hotel?
Basically, it’s the amenities. Resorts are places you could spend your entire vacation while hotels serve as a base of operations for your Smokies vacation.
Resorts will have things like an onsite water park, spa, golf courses, fitness center, tennis courts and more.
Sure, hotels might have a little game room or a small gym. And also indoor or outdoor pools, but there’s a decided difference in the quality of your typical resort amenities and your typical hotel amenities.
Which is better, a cabin or a resort?
Depends on what you’re looking for in your Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For the most part, cabins are a little more chill. They’re less likely to have a pool and more likely to have a hot tub.
If you have kids, resorts have a plethora of things to do. Now there are some “cabins” that are part of a complex that may offer more of the resort life but to me, those are chiefly cabins in name only. They’re condos in sheep’s clothing. A real Smoky Mountain cabin involves some level of privacy or access to nature.
The chief activities involve a good hike or maybe a bike trail or hanging out in the Jacuzzi.
A cabin is certainly not a place with a 24-hour front desk.
What if it’s called a resort but looks decidedly like a hotel?
If it walks like a hotel and quacks like a hotel, it’s a hotel. Unfortunately, no one has elected me tsar in charge of accurately naming things.
It’s all just a free fall out here. Therefore, be wary.
Not every mountain chalet is actually a chalet. Also, not every cabin is an actual cabin. Likewise, not every “resort” is a resort.
Let me point to the Sunrise Ridge Resort. For instance, the rooms are spacious and well-appointed, especially the deluxe room. There’s a pool and a couple of spa tubs.
Listed amenities include free parking, free Wi-Fi and air conditioning.
But when we dig a little deeper, this resort has got a lot of hotel DNA. The basketball court? It’s lined with parking spaces. Also, the outdoor swimming pool is a kidney bean-shaped deal with no water slide or anything extra.
The gym? The game rooms? The playground? All perfectly nice, but much more than what you’d expect from a hotel than a resort.
Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. In fact, places like this may be the perfect place to stage your Smoky Mountain vacation. But is it a resort? Reader, I say no.
Air conditioning is listed as an amenity?
Yeah. It strikes me as funny, too, but there are parts of the world – looking at you Europe – where air conditioning is a privilege, not a right.
They also list mundane things like a private bathroom with a shower even though if you got a hotel room without a private bathroom you are allowed – by Gatlinburg law – to slap the proprietor in the face with a smallmouth bass.
I suppose they have to do it because these sites sell hotel rooms all over the world where the expectations are different, and having a private bath and air conditioning isn’t a deal breaker. But it’s always best to read up on the details wherever you book.
Do you have a favorite resort in the Great Smoky Mountains area? Let us know about it in the comments!