If I Only Had One Day in Gatlinburg, this is How I’d Spend It

gatlinburg downtown

If I only had one day in downtown Gatlinburg, this is how I would spend it (photo by Ritu Manoj Jethani/TheSmokies.com)

How to get the most out of one day in Gatlinburg, according to a local

As someone who has lived near Gatlinburg for nearly 35 years, I have an advantage. I can go whenever I want. Carve out a little drive time, and I can pop in and pop back out at will. But I also know that many don’t have the luxury. In this article, we will discuss what to do in Gatlinburg if you only have a day

Gatlinburg was built to keep visitors entertained for days at a time. There is too much to see and do in a single day. However, if that’s all the time you have, you’ve got to make the best of it. You want as much of an authentic Gatlinburg experience as possible so visit the mountains. Stay somewhere downtown. Eat at the Pancake Pantry, and visit popular attractions like Ober Mountain.

Margaritaville Hotel in Gatlinburg
The Margaritaville hotel is one of the more luxury options in downtown Gatlinburg (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Where I would stay

Some people will tell you to get a chalet or cabin up in the mountains. But when I go to a chalet or cabin, that’s the point of the vacation. I don’t want to be running back and forth to town. In a chalet, it’s the views and the hot tub and spending time with a large group. It’s not about getting out into Gatlinburg. 

No. If I’m staying in Gatlinburg, especially if it’s a single night, I want to be near downtown. Near the strip. Gatlinburg is a place to park your car and stretch your legs. I prefer the hotels down on River Road, across the river. I like the babbling water even if the view leaves a little something to be desired. But there are certainly a lot of choices and some hotels also offer free parking. Find your price and favorite location and go for it. 

Pro-tip: Use this list of our hand-picked favorite hotels in the area to help narrow down your decision.

ober mountain exterior
Ober Mountain is an iconic attraction in Gatlinburg (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

What I would see

The answer to what to see is both obvious and almost limitless. For instance, the mountains. You’ve come to Gatlinburg, you’ve got to see the Great Smoky Mountains. But – maybe you’ve noticed – the mountains are huge. Big. Great big. Humongous. What specifically in the mountains should I see? 

I would recommend something close like the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, or the Chimney’s Picnic Area. But I think in a single day, you want to maximize experiences. For that reason, I’d think long and hard about Ober Mountain. Is Ober the best attraction in Gatlinburg? It’s not. But it is improving. 

What Ober offers – in addition to an authentic Gatlinburg experience – is a chance to kill several birds with one stone. You can start with a tramway ride from the strip up to the mountaintop, getting amazing views and a unique experience along the way. Once there, you have a mountain slide and a coaster. There is a chairlift, wildlife viewing and more. In the winter, there is also skiing and tubing but those are not included in the $50 price of the wristband. 

Are there better activities? Sure. But if your party wants a decent sampling of what Gatlinburg has to offer, Ober is a fairly affordable way to do it. Ober gives you the mountains plus a hearty dose of Gatlinburg cheesiness.  

pancakes at the pancake pantry
I recommend ordering either the the Caribbean pancakes and/or the chocolate chip pancakes with a side of bacon at the Pancake Pantry (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Where I would eat

Finally, there are a lot of great places to eat in Gatlinburg but only one real answer to this question. It’s the Pancake Pantry.

One of the first things you’ll notice when you come to Sevier County is there are pancake houses every couple of hundred yards. Why is that? Well, first it’s a successful business model. If there’s one thing we know in Gatlinburg, if there’s a successful business, there’s somebody just waiting to mimic it. But why the Pancake Pantry? Well, it’s a Gatlinburg institution. Founded in 1960, it is billed as Tennessee’s first pancake specialty restaurant. They’ve been selling pancakes from that spot since before the Beatles went to Hamburg. 

Located right on the strip, the Pantry helped set the tone for what Gatlinburg would become. Is the Pancake Pantry’s food better than some of the other breakfast-only spots in town? Reasonable people can disagree. But what they can’t disagree on is the fact that it’s the most historic eatery in town. 

For dinner, The Peddler, another Gatlinburg institution, is also must. Other popular spots include Delauder’s BBQ, Trish’s Mountain Diner and Chesapeake’s.

Pro-tip: For a list of the absolute best places to dine, check out our ranked list of best Gatlinburg restaurants here.

Are you planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains soon? Make sure to check out our coupons page before your trip!


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