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Smoky Mountains in December: Events in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge (2023)

Smoky Mountains in December

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December is an incredible time to visit the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee and the surrounding areas of Pigeon Forge, Sevierville and Gatlinburg. Whether you’re driving down the Parkway, visiting a local attraction, taking in a show, or buying that special homemade gift by local artisans in the Arts and Crafts Community, you’ll find yourself fully immersed in the spirit of the holidays during your vacation. Sevier County will be covered in millions of Christmas lights and decorations as the Smokies celebrates Winterfest. It’s also a great time to rent a cabin and sit by the fireplace with a cup of hot cocoa. Or soak in the hot tub with a mug full of Shine Nog Sippin’ Cream from Ole Smoky.

There are also a variety of new and annual events such as Christmas parades featuring festive floats, holiday shows at the local theaters, winter-themed events and music festivals to enjoy. You may even see Santa Claus! And of course, we end the month with a literal bang as we ring in the New Year with our many New Year’s Eve celebrations.


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Vehicles driving in the snow on the strip
If you’re coming to the Smokies in December, make sure you bring a Front Wheel Drive or All Wheel Drive vehicle (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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Things to do in the Smoky Mountains in December

Below, you will find a list of local events and attractions happening throughout the area. Our suggestions for events and attractions include Lights Over Gatlinburg at SkyPark, Shadrack’s Christmas Lights Show, Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Celebration presented by Humana featuring live concerts, Anakeesta’s Enchanted Winter and the annual Gatlinburg New Year’s Eve Ball Drop. And of course, no December trip to the Smokies is complete without a stop at The Christmas Place. It’s the south’s largest Christmas shopping village.

Also be sure to catch some live music at Ole Red’s, Hard Rock Cafe, The Listening Room and Puckett’s on select nights. If you’re the outdoorsy type, you might want to pick a moderate-weather day and go for a hike on one of our popular trails. The Laurel Falls trail which is open year-round features beautiful waterfalls. If winter hiking isn’t your thing, you could instead take a scenic drive on the Cades Cove Loop Road. You can enjoy nature from the comfort of your heated car. And of course, there’s also skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing at Ober Mountain, Tennessee’s only ski destination. Be sure to click on the “details” buttons below for additional information about each event.

Note: While we do our best to keep this list updated, dates and times are subject to change without notice. Always call ahead or visit the event’s website before planning your trip. 

a snow covered rainbow falls trail sign
The trick to snow-spotting in the Smokies is a combination of luck and actively seeking out higher elevations (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Weather in the Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg in December

December isn’t the coldest month of the year in the Smokies. However, there’s almost always a brisk chill in the air. Highs average right around 54 degrees, with lows averaging below freezing at 30. But if you’re expecting to see real snow, don’t get your hopes up.

A light dusting of snow at Ogles Place in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
A light dusting of snow at Ogles Place in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Does it snow in the Smoky Mountains in December?

Snow flurries are fairly common. But substantial snowfall is not. Think inches of snow, not feet of snow. Aside from the occasional freak blizzard, we rarely see accumulations over an inch or two in the low elevations. If you want to see a real winter wonderland, head to the higher elevations in the Smokies, like Mt. LeConte. Rain, however, is much more probable. It tends to rain an average of 10 days in December in the Smokies. So expect icy conditions and plan accordingly. Remote cabins located on windy mountain backroads can be challenging to rear-wheel drive and low-profile vehicles when ice is present. We also recommend preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

Last year, in 2020, hundreds of visitors were left stranded without food in their cabins and unable to leave due to a freak snowstorm. Always keep a few backup snacks and bottles of water in your fridge if you’re renting a cabin in the higher elevations.

a man in downtown gatlinburg looks cold in the snow while wearing a heavy winter jacket and a hat
Pack winter gear for your December trip to the Smokies (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

What should you wear in the Smoky Mountains in December?

In the winter months, we always suggest packing and wearing extra layers. With temperatures ranging from the mid-50s to below freezing, you’ll want to be able to adjust your wardrobe on the fly to accommodate both sunshine and plummeting temperatures. It’s not at all unusual to see the entire 20-50-degree spectrum in a single day. One of our favorite tricks is carrying around a packable jacket or two that can be squeezed into a large purse or backpack. And of course, don’t forget to pack a hat, gloves and a small umbrella or rain gear.

The line wrapped around Paula Deen's Family Kitchen on Christmas Day (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
The line wrapped around Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen on Christmas Day (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

How busy is Gatlinburg in December? Crowd sizes in the Smokies

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park attracts more than 12 million visitors every year. Needless to say, the Smokies are a happenin’ place pretty much year-round. But speaking in relative terms, crowds are fairly moderate in December for Gatlinburg and the surrounding areas. Our busiest months are generally June, July and August. Our least busy months are January, February and March. With that said certain attractions tend to become busy and quite crowded when schools let out for winter break about a week before Christmas. For instance, it only takes an average of 30 minutes to get through the line at Anakeesta on a normal day. When our team last visited Anakeesta the week of Christmas – we were in line for two hours trying to get back down the mountain.

lighted christmas tree in blue with snow around at dollywood during christmas
Dollywood is usually closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

Christmas in Gatlinburg

If you plan on visiting the Smokies on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, you’re in luck. There are usually a handful of restaurants and attractions that remain open and ready to serve. But you will need to make a plan. For example, hours may be limited, and select locations will close in observance of the holiday. As time draws near, check out our list of restaurants and attractions that are open on Christmas Day, which we update annually. And as always, your best bet is to call ahead as area operating hours vary and are known to change without notice, especially during the holiday season.

fireworks from the space needle in downtown gatlinburg tn
Celebrate the New Year with fireworks at the Gatlinburg Space Needle (photo by Justin Freeman/TheSmokies.com)

New Year’s Eve in Gatlinburg

Finally, we close out the month of December with our multiple New Year’s Eve celebrations. Our most popular celebration is the “ball drop” in downtown Gatlinburg at the Space Needle complete with a countdown and fireworks display at midnight. Are you planning an upcoming trip to the Smokies in December? Let us know in the comments below.

If you’re a local attraction that would like to add to our calendar of events, please contact our editorial team.

5 thoughts on “Smoky Mountains in December: Events in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge (2023)”

  1. We are planning on coming to Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg are arriving Monday Dec 12 and leaving on Friday Dec 19. We are wondering what the crowds will be like. Would also like to take in a show or two. Wouldn’t mind checking out Dollywood but we don’t ride any rides so what are the ticket options? Thank you.
    Looking forward to starting our holiday season with you.

    • Hi Jim & Michele! Typically, crowds can be a little thick as it gets closer to Christmas, especially on weekends. Allow yourselves plenty of time to get around.

      Dollywood does not have a limited activity ticket, but they do offer great shows. (Remember, the park is closed on most Mondays & Tuesdays in December) If you want to check out a show in the Smokies other than Dollywood, there are several in the area. You can view a list here: https://www.thesmokies.com/pigeon-forge-shows/

      Hope that helps! 🙂

  2. We plan on bringing our adult children to visit the mountains the 1st weekend of December. Is there a Christmas parade that weekend?

    • Hi Kim! Looks like the Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade is currently scheduled for December 2, 2022 from 7:30-9. It will begin at Baskins Creek Bypass and East Parkway in Gatlinburg.

  3. Hello my name is Tammy..we have a group of 13 coming to pigeon forge and gatlinburg Dec 15 thru Jan 2…we want to see a Christmas show, see christmas lights, and a cheap cabin for us all…any recommendations would be grateful…thanks so much…


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