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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.