7 Things Not to Do While Visiting Gatlinburg, From a Local

An insider’s guide on what not to do when visiting Gatlinburg, the surrounding area

As someone who lives near the Smokies and frequents the main strip every chance I get, I can tell you from first-hand experience that there are several ways to approach a visit to Gatlinburg. Or really any vacation for that matter. But no matter how you approach it, a vacation is an endeavor of diminishing commodities. So here I humbly offer some of my greatest Gatlinburg misses so you can learn from my mistakes.

Below is a list of advice from someone who lives close to Gatlinburg, Tennessee and visits frequently. If you want to have a great trip, you may want to avoid a few things. For example, be sure not to leave your cars and trash bins unlocked because of the native black bears. Also, don’t fall for certain tourist traps while skipping over the local gems.

RELATED VIDEO: What Not To Do in Gatlinburg: Our 6 Tips

mannequins at earthquake the ride in gatlinburg
There are a lot of tourist traps in Gatlinburg. Read reviews before partaking to save precious time and money. Pictured: The entrance of Earthquake, The Ride (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

1. Don’t fall for a tourist trap

These days, nearly everything under the sun is reviewed online – restaurants, attractions, you name it. And there are a lot of temptations to spend your hard-earned vacation dollars along the Gatlinburg strip. Tourist traps are a dime a dozen, as are less-than-great eateries. Reviews can take some of the adventure out of a vacation, but as someone who once got food poisoning from a back alley Thai place on the way to the Six Flags Over Georgia theme park, sometimes adventure ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

a plate of fried catfish, potatoes from three jimmy's in gatlinburg tn
Three Jimmy’s is one of my personal favorite places to eat (photo by John Gullion/TheSmokies.com)

2. Don’t skip the local gems

I am often perplexed by people who travel long distances and wind up doing the same stuff they can do at home. For example, we have Pizza Hut at home. Places like Shoney’s, Pizza Hut or McDonald’s are fine. Really, they’re fine. But I always say live a little and try something you can’t get back home. Delauder’s BBQ, Three Jimmy’s Good Time Eatery and Crockett’s Breakfast Camp are among my favorite spots.

stores on the gatlinburg strip
There are a lot of souvenir shops in Gatlinburg – but do you really need ten shirts that say “Life, Laugh, Love in Gatlinburg”. Progressive commercials would say no (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

3. Don’t stop at every gift shop in Gatlinburg

Some folks love vacation knick-knacks – at the mountains, at the beach or in France. You see shop after shop after shop selling the same things in basically the same price range. If they do a good business, good for them. But I’d pick one or two curio shops and then move it along.

The Smoky Mountain Trout House Gatlinburg
If you go somewhere that has a specialty, don’t skip out on that specialty item (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

4. Don’t pass on the specialty

Don’t go to restaurants with a particular food in their name and not at least try the specialty. You don’t go to Smoky Mountain Trout House and order the barbecue, at least not on the first visit. Certainly, if you’ve been a couple of times, you have my permission to experiment. But if you’re walking out of the restaurant and someone says “How’s the trout?” You darn well better be able to answer.

Westgate Gatlinburg
Remember, you don’t have to purchase a timeshare at Westgate to enjoy the resort. You can always rent from a reputable agency (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

5. Don’t fall for freebies

Look, I understand the allure. A free room. Maybe a free meal. Or perhaps something else awesome? All in exchange for giving up two hours of your time to hear a timeshare pitch. However, know what you’re signing up for. They don’t want to give you more time. They want you to share your time with them. Sometimes, these aren’t time sharers, they’re time thieves. Remember, the clock starts ticking on your vacation the minute you leave the driveway. You only have so many hours left. Therefore, try not to waste any of them being bombarded by carefully vetted buzzwords that are designed to break down your better judgment unless you just enjoy that sort of thing.

A Black Bear Lying Near Mounds of Trash
Always lock up cars and trash cans (photo by Rachel Taylor/TheSmokies.com)

6. Don’t leave your cars and trash bins unlocked

Never forget, This is bear country, and unfortunately, black bears in the area have learned to associate cars with food, and they absolutely know how to open doors. The same goes for garbage cans. This, of course, is dangerous for both people and bears, so be sure to lock up whenever you visit the area, and never purposefully offer food to a black bear.

thick crowds at sugarlands in gatlinburg
Gatlinburg is almost always crowded – especially on weekends and holidays (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

7. Don’t forget to pack your patience

Keep in mind that Gatlinburg is a tourist town. It will likely be crowded, especially on the weekends or holiday seasons. Streets may be crowded and restaurants may be short-staffed. Your trip will be what you make of it, so make sure to be patient and expect delays here and there. Still, I’m sure you’ll still enjoy a great Smokies vacation as long as you plan ahead and set your expectations accordingly. Make reservations where you can, buy tickets in advance and avoid peak times for best results.

What are things YOU would recommend not to do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee? Let me know in the comments, and view the web story version of this article here.

Have a question or comment about something in this article? Contact our staff here. You may also contact our editorial team at info@thesmokies.com.

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Disclosure: We have used and experienced all the products and activities recommended on The Smokies. We may receive compensation when you click on links to some products and experiences featured.

51 thoughts on “7 Things Not to Do While Visiting Gatlinburg, From a Local”

  1. Them guys on the parkway trying to get you talk to them that there main income if they don’t book any tour’s that day they don’t make a dime the refundable deposit they asked you for is your only pay I know because it’s about 6 years ago I used to live in Gatlinburg

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  2. Don’t stay in town shopping and eating the whole time. The mountains are what you came for. Get in them.

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  3. Please take your garbage back with you, or treat our home area, like your living room, we have trash cans for you. We don’t come to your house and throw garbage in your front yard,

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  4. Yes Bluegreen timeshare …. beware ! Crooks ! You don’t get to use it it after paying so many fees and Pymts and maintenance fees . They rent it out . You have to use your points and pay someone else an r c I fee to have a vacation . We paid a lawyer to get out of it . He got us out of the main thing but not the Bluegreen cards that come with it . Stay away I beg you !!!

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  5. We take an annual trip to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. My husband and I do quite enjoy the taste testings! Moonshine, wine, you name it, we will try it. We leave with our yearly supply. The taste tastes that cost usually aren’t much and are worth it.

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  6. Paula Deens is great. One of our favorites. We will keep going back. And time share is a rip
    Off. My family can’t even use theirs when they need it.

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  7. Dont get near our wildife…like selfies with bears. You will get the bear killed for your own stupidity. And do NOT leave trash…clean up after yourselves. And do NOT leave masks in trees….thats kills our wildlife also. Be respectful to locals…if you cant drive our back roads stay off of them and take the parkway and drive the speed limit at least. And do not block the intersections…if you cant move through the light stay on the other side so other directions can go.And be resectful to our wildlife…that mens leave them alone

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  8. The best thing you can do is Make Sure You Don’t Stop for the Timeshare Crap. They promised us 60dollar refund plus 4 ticketd to shows. The shows were great but no refund. He had marked no refund. We were there over 3 hours. The man told us 4 times it was not a Timeshare. It was being put on by the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce to try to build up the number of people visiting after the fires. SCAM.

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  9. We enjoy the mountain streams, not the crowds on the streets. Get off the main drag and try some mom and pop restaurants.

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  10. make sure you visit Cades Cove one of my favorite things to do there is going through the old farm places and the churches and of course i like seeing the wildlife to

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  11. Me and my family went to Gatlinburg on November 29 and got back on December 6. We had an absolute blast… It didn’t get crowded at all in Gatlinburg until Friday the fourth, because they were having a parade and fireworks that weekend. That sadly got canceled because of rain. But we had a blast, can’t wait to go back! But we will be going in the spring this time!

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  12. Do not bother with the fudge a few doors down from the KITT car (is that still there?). It ain’t all that…you can make better at home with a can of EagleBrand condensed milk and some chocolate chips and walnuts. Do not MISS the ski lift ride (if its still there)…the view is great at the top. Haven’t been there in about 20 years so it may have changed.

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  13. Best steak around is the Peddler and their sister steakhouse the Park grill. Both in Gatlinburg. My wife and I go on all special occasions. Costs about 80.00 for a couple to eat steak, baked potato and a hugh salad bar.

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  14. This article is very Biast and negative. I did not enjoy this read at all. Do your own research, read your own reviews and be prepared to sit in traffic. That’s it. It’s a great place full of history, fun and culture. Some of the culture may not be to your likes or agreeance but do not bash it for the sake of a negative article.

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  15. Get a camper, stay at Camp LeConte. Just outside of the main rush. Beautiful campground, best price in town. Has tree houses and tents fully loaded. We come twice a year. Gatlinburg is our 2nd home in our 💕

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  16. I live in pigeon forge.if the tourist want to come here and blow they’re money and act stupid so be it.we locals can’t stop them..

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  17. I haven’t been to Paula Deen’s here but the one in Atlanta was the worst place I have ever eaten. Dolly’s great adventure was a great show and the food was fantastic. Maybe Dolly should teach Paula how to cook!

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  18. We were there and did the moonshine tastings.
    Always a fun time at the cabin with all the family.
    Mommas farmhouse has best food for the price

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  19. Heather G, I was in Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge at the same time. Thursday in Gatlinburg was great, went back Saturday and it was super crowded. We enjoyed our time, ate at Crawdaddy’s, did the escape room and passed on the photo opts about 4 times. Really enjoyed our time there..Always made sure we were back at the cabin by night for family games, hot tub, music, and whatever..

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  20. Arrange your vacation so you don’t check out on a Sunday. EVERYBODY seems to checkout on Sunday to get home to wotk on Monday. It’s gridlock all the way to I-40. Take an extra day off, and cruise out of town on Mondsy

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  21. I have been to Gatlinburg several times and agree with everything in this article. There are a lot of opportunities to waste time and money that should be avoided. Spend a day on the main drag and a couple days exploring the mountains (and don’t miss out on Cades Cove.)

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  22. Try Bush’s Baked Beans museum and the covered bridges and the the town of Serville is a beautiful and fun shops and museums and enjoy the adventure!!!

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  23. Definitely take a day trip over to see, Cade’s Cove … Most beautiful place on the planet. Lots of history and cool things to see!

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  24. You have to stop by the English mountain trout farm ! They have a stocked pond and let you catch your own trout. You can take it with you to cook or they will cook it for you there. The food and hospitality is amazing. It’s definitely an experience you don’t wanna miss.

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  25. I was really surprised to eat at Bennett’s The brisket was amazing and the salad bar was fresh and fully stocked. I agree don’t waste your time on Time Shares. I did one because when I got down there I noticed a knot on my tire. They promised me tickets or money and it started raining anyway so I did their two hours and they paid me enough to get a new tire at Walmart. I figured I would use them for a change.

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  26. Very good information. I’ve been going to Gatlinburg for sixty years and still love it ❤️❤️❤️

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  27. What not to do… Don’t try to drive anywhere after 11am. Go get your breakfast and back to the motel, leave the car, because its just to crowded on the road.. Even if you go out of the city, like an evening trip to Cades Cove, a must… Traffic back in to Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg is backed up for a couple miles. It’s like that for a couple hours after dark. Try the pool and walk the parkway, all the stores and arcades have cold air. Be patient, and try to remember, your on vacation, you could be stuck at home.. lol

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  28. We have been to Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge numerous times over my lifetime. We enjoy every trip and have done just about everything there is to do there.
    There are two things we do each time we come that are special to us and make the trip complete.
    We chose these two because first, there is nothing like it where we come from and second, they are just beautiful.
    1. We always take one of the Gatlinburg Chairlifts to see the sights and the view, nothing like that in Dallas.
    2. We always play Hillbilly Golf, yes we have putt-putt in Dallas, but not one that you ride an incline up to play and then play amongst the trees with one of the best views in the United States.

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  29. We came and visited for a few years and then bought a cabin
    Then another one. Then decided how sad we were every time we left.
    So we finally bought a cabin to live in we did for almost 4 years. Then we decided to move closer to town we loved it our time on the mountain So Beautiful! Now we live in a brick home we love AS well. It’s Beautiful here the sky is wonderful! But I miss my Family so much they are in Florida and Michigan now and son moved last year. We are
    My Daughter.still love the
    seasons! Here it does get crowded here . So much tragic we need more Restaurants Badly! We begged for a chilli’s, and carababas!!! Red lobster has gone down hill. Not many go there anymore there is a great little bar Restaurant balled Bluffs! Amazing food ! Small but such nice people there! Hope this helps! I’m sure you will fall in love with Tennessee!!! Don’t feed our Bears ever ! They put them down when you do. Just enjoy from a Distance please.

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  30. You can park on the Parkway until 9am…free. Great way to eat at Pancake Pantry and go back to your cabin early.

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  31. If you plan on visiting the Titanic exhibit, I would advise buying tickets on line ahead of time. We waited till the last day and nothing available till the next evening. Otherwise, I agree with all the above comments.

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  32. Way to commercial , miss the good ole days, Cherokee reservation , the elk still are awesome on the way to Cherokee ,

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  33. We went last April and rented a razor and rode through Cades Cove. I loved it. It was much different than being in a car. One year we went in oct and rode a hayride through cades cove and that was also a lot of fun.

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  34. Great hikes in cades cove,go early it’s a great drive with many places to stop and explore.
    Do enjoy the local restaurants,some have evening entertainment
    Have lived in the area enjoyed both pigeon forge and Gatlinburg
    Obergatlinburg is fun anytime of the year
    Flyfishing ,,great
    Hiking trails ,awesome
    Trip to Cherokee,,unforgetable
    Art village ,,priceless
    Staying in Chalet,,great experiences
    Enjoy the dinner shows in Pigeon Forge
    Living in California and miss the Smilies,
    Enjoy the charm of Gatlinburg,don’t feed the bears ,and remember only you can prevent forest fires

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  35. We stop in Gatlinburg just to visit the Sugarland Distillery. Don’t care much for all the crowds and shopping. We love to cruise the mountains….that’s what we’re there for primarily. Love the wildlife at a respectable distance! This year we plan to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway. My boyfriend has never been on it, and I haven’t driven it since I was 18….now 65! It’s time to enjoy those gorgeous mountains, streams, and breathtaking views! AND we keep our garbage in a bag in the truck to keep it pristine!

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  36. It’s your vacation. Do what YOU want. Be respectful of the area but don’t pay too much mind to the locals…they are grouchy and very much look down on tourists.

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  37. Don’t stay at overpriced hotels. We stayed at a lodge, it had clean rooms, the best in and outdoor pools and the friendliest folks work there. It had a cute little Cafe with affordable food and good coffee.

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  38. Don’t block the intersections on the Parkway. It’s against the law and really annoying for drivers who want to cross.

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