I Followed My Dreams and Moved to a Tiny Tourist Town in the Smoky Mountains

corey wagner in downtown gatlinburg

Corey Wagner followed his dreams and moved to a tiny tourist town in the Smoky Mountains known as Gatlinburg (photos by Morgan Overholt/Corey Wagner/TheSmokies.com)

Ohio man leaves everything behind to move to the tiny tourist town of Gatlinburg, TN (pop. 3,552) in the Smoky Mountains

What started as a dream became a reality this year when we moved to Gatlinburg, TN. Of course, the process was full of highs and lows. But the result was the apex of all of it. Many people have a desire to move here. Whether it’s the refreshing mountain air, the outdoor opportunities, or how it makes you feel being next to the Smoky Mountains, many have dreamed about taking the leap, but few ever do.

Moving to Gatlinburg was not easy. We hatched the idea after vacationing in the area and falling in love a few years ago. Originally, we thought a move to Knoxville, TN would be more realistic. But after those plans fell through, we landed on Gatlinburg instead. We learned a few hard lessons along the way, but we ultimately persevered to make our dream a reality. Here’s my story.

Corey Wagner moved to the tiny tourist town of Gatlinburg, TN after falling in love with the area while on vacation. It was a multi-year journey full of surprises. This is his story.

Wagner says his family always felt at peace when in Gatlinburg (photo by Corey Wagner/TheSmokies.com)

Falling in love with the Smokies

The love affair with Gatlinburg began after an extended vacation in 2011. After many subsequent trips, we realized we were addicted to the calming nature we experienced when we were here. Peaceful morning walks into The Village and down the Parkway with a coffee and donut our favorite things to do. Our hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park were a close second. We discovered a new love when we visited Anakeesta for the first time in 2018. These are the things I credit the most for keeping us focused on not letting go of our dreams.

Anakeesta's Treetop Skywalk
It was the mountains and attractions like Anakeesta, that called Wagner to make the Smoky Mountains his home (photo by Corey Wagner/TheSmokies.com)

Making the move to Gatlinburg

We originally considered moving to Knoxville – a much more metropolitan area – but my family was concerned we wouldn’t be happy being an hour away. A failed six-week stint in a hotel working a full-time job nearby put the final nail in the coffin. I had hoped to bring my family down from Ohio after we sold our home of 14 years. But I couldn’t secure a home in Knoxville, and ultimately had to return home unsuccessful.

That was a gut punch. Regardless, I wanted to try again. Fueling my hope was the nagging feeling that I shouldn’t settle for less. I was going to go all in for Gatlinburg. I had to make our family’s dream a reality. 

In January 2023 I put in an application at an apartment complex downtown that only started taking tenants a few years prior. After our approval, we spent several agonizing months on the waitlist. By August, we had the all-clear. We packed what we had, and headed back to Tennessee.

Traffic Gatlinburg TN
Wagner says he loves the walkability of downtown Gatlinburg (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

Lessons learned along the way

We learned a lot on this years-long journey. But one lesson sticks out – don’t let go of your dreams. For us, persistence was key. We did a lot of research, and there was a lot of trial and error. But looking back, I don’t consider those wrong turns a waste of time.

Are we glad we moved to Gatlinburg, TN? Of course! It was the lifestyle change we desired. We couldn’t be happier with how our lives are going here. We love the mountains. Everything is walkable. It’s awesome that we can go out to eat without getting in the car.

My advice for others who might be considering a move? Be realistic, do your research, and make the best choice for you and your family.

Are you planning a trip (or a move) to the Smoky Mountains? Be sure to check out our coupons page for promos!

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