3 Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving to Gatlinburg, TN (Pop. 3,552)

corey wagner at the village shoppes in gatlinburg

Corey Wagner and his family dreamed about moving to Gatlinburg, TN for years. Last year, he finally made that dream a reality (photo contributed by Corey Wagner)

This is what it’s actually like to move to the tiny tourist town of Gatlinburg, TN – the gateway to the Smoky Mountains

I fell in love with the Smoky Mountains and wanted to move when we arrived on vacation in 2011. But we didn’t get serious about it until about five years later. I felt much relief and excitement when it finally happened last summer. The planning and research were painstaking until moving day. But that didn’t mean there weren’t still a few surprises in store for me.

In this article, I’d like to share three things I wish I had known before moving to Gatlinburg, TN (population 3,552). Some adjustments must be made to make this a smooth and bearable transition in a town with heavy tourism, like seasonal work, heavy traffic, and unpredictable weather.

snow in tennessee
Business slows down in Gatlinburg in winter months (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

1. Sparse work in the slow season

The nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park attracts more than 13 million visitors a year. But Gatlinburg, the gateway city, only boasts a little over 3,500 residents. With that in mind, I knew the less popular tourism months of January and February would be slow, but I didn’t anticipate how much my hours would be cut as an employee. This is just a reality of living here. It is highly probable for hours to be slashed in half–or more–when the tourists don’t visit. It is a feast or famine tourism industry. Business is booming for most of the year, but the reality check will follow when the people don’t come. 

My advice to anyone who wants to live here is to prepare for these rough patches. Luckily, once I moved and got a job, I was told to prepare for the inevitable–either getting laid off or part-time hours. It is a different element working in the winter compared to most other times during the year. 

Traffic Gatlinburg TN
Traffic on the Parkway in Gatlinburg can be tricky at times (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

2. Heavy traffic in the busy season

There’s simply no other way to know how traffic patterns operate until you have a home in Gatlinburg. The research has helped me greatly, but it’s incredible how much my daily life changed while living in a tourist area. I tend to play it conservative with my trips to the grocery store, not taking a chance on the weekends. Backroads can be helpful, don’t get me wrong; however, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and I will always opt for this method with my necessary travels.

What this means is always staying in the know whenever events are upcoming, so I can plan to avoid the chaos. Car shows are a prime example and happen no less than four times during a calendar year in the county. This is why I do the bulk of my grocery shopping during weekday morning hours. It’s a good–and smart–habit to create as a Gatlinburg resident.

person holds trash can lid over their head in the rain
A woman holds a trash can lid over her head during an unexpected rainstorm at a Christmas parade in the Smokies (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

3. Fickle, unpredictable weather

Tennessee weather is unquestionably fickle and unpredictable. When living in Ohio, I experienced some dizzying weather at times. But Gatlinburg? Hold on to your hats because, in this little valley, nature has an entirely different set of ideas. I would like to know meteorologists’ batting average for accurately predicting Gatlinburg weather because it has to be frustrating for these scientists.

I think anyone who’s been traveling to Gatlinburg for any amount of years has an idea of what I’m talking about. Living here, though, I see the discrepancies in forecasts – sometimes by the hour. It’s crazy to have daily documentation of the changing weather here in Gatlinburg. I don’t mind it much, though. It’s interesting, unusual, and another aspect of life I’ve learned to adjust to.

Again, I was aware of these aspects before moving, but awareness isn’t necessarily hard knowledge. The best way to handle it is to smile and be happy you’re lucky enough to call it home like I do. I have not regretted the decision one bit!

P.S. Are you planning a visit to the Smoky Mountains? Don’t forget to check out our coupons page for area promos 


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