12 Best Sights To See During Winterfest in the Smoky Mountains

overhead tunnel of christmas lights

Shadrack's is now at Soaky Mountain (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Local lists favorite Winterfest activities in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg

The Smoky Mountain Winterfest celebration is Sevier County’s annual cities-wide festival that takes place during the holidays. And here’s a fun fact: Did you know that the tradition began in 1989 to boost the slower winter tourism months in Sevier County? As a local, I’ve seen first-hand what a success it has been. But of course, the popularity of Winterfest also means you can expect to see many taillights as well.

The 2023-2024 Smoky Mountain Winterfest season is scheduled to run from Nov. 9, 2023, through Feb. 18, 2024. Here are some of my favorite ways to enjoy Winterfest and the holiday season around Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg in 2023:

a sign in lights for winterfest in gatlinburg and pigeon forge
The Winterfest celebration will continue through the middle of February 2024 (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
arch of lights over walkway
A bridge on the Wonders of Light Walking Trail (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

1. Explore the Wonders of Light trail

The city of Pigeon Forge has a new addition to the celebration with the Wonders of Light Walking Trail. I love this option because it’s free and family-friendly! The trail features the scenic Riverwalk Nature Trail, a paved walking trail that is pet-friendly and wheelchair accessible, but remember that pets must be on leashes. The six-mile out-and-back trail has several access points. The trail will be covered in lights featuring walk-thru arches and scenes inspired by nature. The trail can be accessed from the city’s Municipal Parking Lot, between the LeConte Center and The Island. It continues to the intersection of Old Mill Avenue and Butler Street, near the Old Mill Historic Square.

kids sit on santa's lap at crave golf
Santa Claus will be visiting Crave Golf and Toy Box Mini Golf on select dates for free photo ops (media photo courtesy of Crave Mini Golf)

2. Enjoy Christmas-themed mini-golf

Crave Golf Club decks the halls in garland, wreaths and more lights than Willy Wonka would have ever approved from Nov. 10, 2023, to Jan. 15, 2024. There will be 100s of trees and thousands of lights decorating the indoor and outdoor mini golf courses. Plus, Santa Claus will be visiting for free photo ops on Dec. 2 and Dec. 16 from 3-6 pm. The Grouch (not to be confused with the Grinch) will also be visiting for photo ops on Dec. 2 and Dec. 16 from 6-9 pm. When you buy your tickets ahead of time, you can save $3 when you buy two courses with promo code TSC. Crave Mini Golf is located at 2925 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863.

At Crave Golf’s sister location, Toy Box Mini Golf is also being transformed into a winter wonderland. The larger-than-life decor will feature giant ornaments, presents and snowfall, no matter the weather. At Toy Box Mini Golf, The Grouch will be visiting on Dec. 9 from 3-6 pm, and Santa will be visiting on Dec. 9 from 6-9 pm.

people dressed as santa in holiday run
Work off some of those holiday cookies and participate in a Santa run, which will be held on Dec. 10 (photo by ChiccoDodiFC/shutterstock.com)

3. Join the Santa Hustle Smokies 5K and 10K

Each year, hundreds of “Santas” gather together to work off those milk and cookies in the Santa Hustle 5K and 10K. This year’s event will take place on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023. Runners will receive a swag bag including a full-zip unisex white hoodie, Santa Hustle embroidered fleece headband and a finisher medal that jingles and spins. The earlier you register, the more you save.

row of trees inside hotel decorated for christmas
The proceeds from the Festival of Trees event benefit a good cause (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

4. Attend Gatlinburg’s Festival of Trees

The Gatlinburg Festival of Trees is back for 2023. This year’s event will run from Nov. 21-26 from 10 am to 7 pm and Nov. 27 from 10 am to 4 pm. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. I love to look at the creative trees and wreaths, which are also available for sale. The event will be held at the W.L. Mills Conference Center. Parking is located at the city parking lot on Reagan Drive.

couple ice skates at wilderness at the smokies
The Wilderness at the Smokies ice skating rink is open to guests at the resort and the general public (photo by Kimberly Grayson/TheSmokies.com)

5. Go ice skating at Wilderness at the Smokies

Each year, Wilderness at the Smokies (1424 Old Knoxville Hwy, Sevierville, TN 37876) transforms into a winter wonderland complete with an outdoor ice skating rink, hot cocoa and s’mores. The ice rink occupies 3,200 square feet of space where the resort’s outdoor wave pool normally resides. The ice skating rink is available to both resort guests and the general public. Special events will take place throughout the season as well. For a detailed calendar, visit the website as you make your plans. Some of the events include:

  • Skate it Off: Taylor Swift Night: Nov. 29, 7-10 pm
  • Pro Vision Hockey Academy game with Knoxville Junior Ice Bears: Jan. 7, 7-11 am
  • Cool Sports youth hockey games with local area skaters: Dec. 2 and Dec. 3, 7-11 am
christmas display of lights
Shadrack’s has a new location (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

6. Enjoy the lights at Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland

Shadrack’s is a drive-through light display, taking place from 6 pm until 10 pm nightly at the Soaky Mountain Waterpark (175 Gists Creek Rd, Sevierville, TN 37876). Tickets must be purchased in advance, and spots are limited. I always strongly advise you to get tickets early. Learn more about the show by following the website.

christmas wreath anakeesta sign at night
Anakeesta’s Enchanted Christmas will feature thousands of lights and special holiday treats (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

7. Visit Anakeesta for Enchanted Christmas

I love taking my family to Anakeesta this time of year to enjoy music, Christmas trees, fire pits and a stroll through Artic Alley and the TreeTop Skywalk at night at Anakeesta’s Enchanted Christmas celebration. Anakeesta is located at 576 Parkway in Gatlinburg, TN. Save a few dollars off of the general admission price when you book with Tripster.

christmas tree in front of ferris wheel at the island
The Island in Pigeon Forge offers great shopping and photo opportunities for free (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

8. Check out Winterfest at The Island in Pigeon Forge

The Island in Pigeon Forge is a beautiful place to visit in the Smokies, and even more so at Christmas time. This is another free option, as long as you can avoid the temptation of shopping, food, rides and snacks. But, I think it’s a fun time of year to do some window shopping and enjoy the show fountain. The Island in Pigeon Forge is located 131 The Island Dr in Pigeon Forge, TN. Free parking is available on-site.

gatlinburg skybridge with christmas lights
The famous SkyBridge at SkyPark is truly magical this time of year (media photo courtesy of SkyLift Park)

9. Check out Lights Over Gatlinburg at SkyPark

Immerse yourself in a winter wonderland and celebrate the holidays at SkyPark, home of the famous SkyBridge. Each winter, SkyPark lights up the night sky with thousands of holiday lights, decorations and spectacular views. This year, SkyPark promises even more lights that will brighten your winter evenings. I think it’s truly one of the best ways to see the lights in Gatlinburg. SkyPark is located at 765 Parkway in Gatlinburg, TN.

the pirates voyage christmas cast
Even the pirates get a little festive at Pirate’s Voyage in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. (photo courtesy of Pirates Voyage)

10. Attend an area Christmas show

Area shows also get into the spirit of Christmas with a variety of holiday-themed performances at theaters throughout November and December. The Comedy Barn (an area favorite), Dolly Parton’s Stampede, Pirate’s Voyage, The Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Feud, Country Tonite and Lumberjack Feud offer Christmas-themed shows this time of year. Addresses for each can be found below.

santa in patriotic outfit during parade
Christmas parades are also returning this year as part of the Winterfest celebration (archive photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

11. Attend a Winterfest parade

There will also be a variety of parades taking place throughout the season.

Gatlinburg Fantasy of Lights Parade 2023

The 48th annual Fantasy of Lights Parade is scheduled to take place on Dec. 1, 2023. The event begins at 7:30 pm at the Baskins Creek Bypass on East Parkway and rolls through downtown Gatlinburg.

Sevierville Christmas Parade 2023

The 61st Sevierville Christmas Parade will take place on Dec. 2, 2023 at the Historic Downtown area at 11 am.

Townsend Christmas Parade 2023

The Townsend Christmas Parade is currently set for Dec. 3, 2023, and will run from 2:30 pm-4 pm. The parade will start at IGA and end at Nawger Nob Village.

dollywood christmas tree at night with snow falling around guests
Dollywood is one of the most special places to visit in the Smokies over the holiday season (media photo by Curtis Hilbun/Dollywood)

12. Check out Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas celebration

And of course, perhaps my absolute favorite Winterfest event will always be Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas. Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas celebration features millions of lights, holiday-themed shows and seasonal culinary treats. The festival ends Jan. 6, 2024. Get tickets ahead of time with Tripster.

What are your favorite Winterfest activities in the Smokies? Tell me what gets you in the spirit of the season in the comments below.

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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10 thoughts on “12 Best Sights To See During Winterfest in the Smoky Mountains”

  1. So excited to be going for the first time this year! Don’t forget the incredible Christmas Place! Also the Trolley Ride of Lights!

    Reply
    • Hey Ali! We agree! But just a note – the Trolley Lights tour has been cancelled this year due to health and safety concerns.

      Reply
  2. Where and what is the Christmas place? Ty! We will be going December 18-23 with our 3 year old granddaughter and all the family. Suggestions plz for our granddaughter to enjoy. Ty!!

    Reply
    • Hi Britt, The Christmas Place is a large Christmas store in Pigeon Forge! (2470 Parkway, Pigeon Forge). They have several trees, novelty items and more. Santa usually makes a visit as well during select hours 🙂 Hope you enjoy visiting with your granddaughter!

      Reply
  3. Pigeon Forge is absolutely beautiful at Christmas. First time I was like a kid hanging out the window. I didn’t want to leave. We reserved a beautiful cabin for the week just miles from the activities. I love you got a little bit of country living and few miles from the fun. Enjoy.

    Reply

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