How many days do you need to visit Gatlinburg? I get asked this question a lot. Some people believe that money is the most important resource when planning a family vacation. Food. Shelter. Fuel. These are the things that money can buy. But all the money in the world is meaningless without another, more ephemeral, resource: Time. Ticking away from the moment you start the car, time is finite. Once you’re out, it’s time to go back to school or work or catch your plane to somewhere else. So when planning a vacation, it’s important to budget your money. But it’s also important to budget your time.
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A sample itinerary for Gatlinburg, TN
The best way to allocate vacation time is in days. Hours are too minute. You can drive yourself crazy managing the hours. But days? Days are doable. The things we want to accomplish in a day are a much more sane way to vacate than plotting hour to hour. For instance, when I look at vacations, I ask myself: How many days do we need to do this right? Going to Europe? Ten days is optimal if you’re doing multiple countries. Disney? You can basically accomplish it in five days – not counting travel time. What about Gatlinburg? Oh, that’s the question.
How many days do you need in Gatlinburg?
If you’re going to Gatlinburg, plan for at least three days. You can do it in two, but you’ll feel a little rushed. Anything past three days and you’re going to want to reach out to Pigeon Forge and explore what’s happening over there. To be clear, we’re talking Gatlinburg here, not Dollywood or Pigeon Forge or Sevierville. If you’re doing Dollywood, you need to account for at least a day for that alone. But you want a getaway in Gatlinburg proper and you want to be able to say you did the darn thing right? Here’s your three-day itinerary:
Day one in Gatlinburg
For the purposes of this exercise, we’re assuming a fairly late hotel arrival and check-in. You’re starting the next day fresh. Day one is the wrong day to try to hit a big breakfast. You need some energy to get the day rolling, but you don’t want a heavy breakfast slowing you down. Day one is for fun things.
Mini golf in the morning before it gets too hot or crowded. Try Hillbilly Golf (open seasonally) or one of the Ripley’s mini golf courses. Now is the time to consider getting a combo pass (and save up to $35) if you plan on multiple Ripley’s attractions. Have lunch somewhere downtown and then over to Ripley’s Aquarium.
After the aquarium, it’s good to get out of town a bit. Maybe ride the Roaring Fork Motor Trail and get out to explore some light trails. That night? Hit the strip and let the kids explore the shops and the games and the neon excitement of vacation freedom. It’s not a bad night for the adults to get a drink, maybe at Ole Red’s, Jason Aldean’s or Jimmy Buffet’s if you want to really lean into the tourist thing.
Day two in Gatlinburg
Pancake Pantry is an option for breakfast here. You can’t say you’ve done Gatlinburg without a visit to the Pancake Pantry.
Assuming the weather is nice, it’s a good time to try and get up in the air and see some views. Maybe a trip to Ober or the Gatlinburg SkyPark would be perfect. At night, dinner at Calhoun’s or something like the Peddler is ideal. It’s also a good night to let the kids hit other Ripley’s attractions if you purchased combo passes.
Day three in Gatlinburg
For the purposes of this exercise, day three is a full day. You’ll be checking out in the morning so maybe take it easy and get a little rest. Start the day with a breakfast cookout in the mountains at the Chimney Rock Picnic grounds. One of the best places to chill out in the Smokies, the picnic grounds have grills and good access to the water so the family can cool off in the mountain stream.
Afterward, maybe do a little shopping or go back to the hotel to clean up and close your Gatlinburg trip with a visit to Anakeesta to watch the sunset and enjoy some food and drinks while the kids try a zipline or mountain coaster. If you choose Anakeesta, remember to check Tripster for discounts on admission.
Wrapping up your Gatlinburg three-day itinerary
There you go. Adjust those days as necessary, but you can truly say you’ve tackled the best of Gatlinburg in three days. I’ve done some quick tablecloth math on this particular three-day vacation, and I figure it will cost roughly $1.2 million for a family of five, or at least that’s what it feels like. Maybe we should rethink that money versus time equation, after all?
Do you agree on how many days you need to visit Gatlinburg? Let us know in the comments.