Things to do in Gatlinburg in winter: Our top 7 activities, ranked

Gatlinburg SkyBridge in the winter

In the winter season, the SkyBridge at Gatlinburg SkyLift Park lights up like a winter wonderland (media photo courtesy of Gatlinburg SkyLift Park)

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Most people don’t know that Gatlinburg has five seasons: Spring, summer, fall and two winters, one pre-Christmas and one post-Christmas.

If you come for Gatlinburg’s first winter, it’s something out of a 40s Christmas song. It is joyful, but tinged with a hint of seasonal melancholy.

People are hustling and bustling – and possibly rustling – around doing Christmas things and spreading Yuletide cheer.

That feeling lingers in the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day. But it is gone come January 2, even though the city leaves its holiday lights up through second winter. 

In fact, the official dates for Smoky Mountain Winterfest, when the entire town lights up with Christmas lights, are Nov. 11, 2021 through Feb. 15, 2022 this year.

What is Gatlinburg like in the winter?

Early December in Gatlinburg, at least in the daytime, still feels like fall in a lot of other areas.

The average temperature in December is a high of 52 and a low of 29 with 4.7 inches of rainfall and 1.3 inches of snow.

It’s important to remember that while Gatlinburg doesn’t get a lot of snow, the elevation really rises as you head out of town.

US 441, which connects Gatlinburg and Cherokee, North Carolina reaches an elevation of 5,046 feet. And the road will close several times each winter due to snowy or icy conditions.

Read Also: What to do if it snows in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg: 8 tips

The Smokies experienced an unprecedented snowfall on Christmas Day (photo contributed by Dr. Bill Ramsey)
Snowstorms are rare in the Smoky Mountains, but they do happen. And when they do, they are beautiful but also leave many residents and visitors without power (photo contributed by Dr. Bill Ramsey)

Does Gatlinburg get snow?

January’s average high and low are both three degrees cooler than December, but Gatlinburg averages 3.3 inches of snow in January and the exact same amount of rain.

February’s average temperatures are 53 and 29, respectively, with an average of 4.1 inches of rain and 2.3 inches of snow. 

Read Also: Does it snow in Tennessee? What months does it snow?

Though the post-Christmas season is generally considered the off-season or the slow time, there are still plenty of things to do in Gatlinburg if you’re looking for winter activities.

Without further ado, here are our top favorite things to do in Gatlinburg in winter:

Ober Gatlinburg
Ober Gatlinburg is one of the area’s top destinations for winter activities (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

7. Go to Ober Gatlinburg

Second winter is my favorite time to go to Ober Gatlinburg. Even when it’s not snowing, Ober has artificial snow that allows for ski slopes and sledding and they also have the indoor ice skating rink that’s open year-round.

The attraction is full of winter activities, and the kids usually have a blast. 

That is what winter is supposed to be like for me.

In early January, the shopping in Gatlinburg can be quite good as merchants are desperate to move leftover holiday merchandise and have some sales to tide them over until the arrival of Valentine’s Day.

Also, winter is the best time to ride the famous Ober Aerial Tramway, especially if there’s snow on the ground.  

If you ride the Aerial Tramway at Ober, check Tripster before you go to save a few bucks.

Additionally, Ober also has snow tubing and ice bumper cars. The ski area is also the only one in the whole state of Tennessee.

It’s one of the most popular attractions in the Great Smoky Mountains in the winter.

The Melting Pot
The Melting Pot is located in downtown Gatlinburg (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

6. Do you fondue?

Second winter is a great time to go to the Melting Pot, a fondue restaurant at the top of the Parkway.

As a tradition, fondue has a very European ski lodge feel to it. And the Melting Pot’s atmosphere is very conducive to that idea.

Wear a heavy sweater. Speak with a faux accent. Really embrace your character.

5. Hibernate

I also find second winter is a perfect time to rent a cozy cabin for a weekend, preferably one with a hot tub, and do a little hibernating.

Nothing compares with sitting on the deck of a Gatlinburg cabin high in the mountains. Drink a hot beverage while taking in the natural beauty. 

Read Also: Affordable cabins in the Smoky Mountains, our top 6 ranked

Space Needle
The Gatlinburg Space Needle offers a fireworks show every year in Gatlinburg (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

4. Welcome the New Year

Gatlinburg is also a great place to ring in the New Year. The town does it up right with a New Year’s Eve Celebration and Fireworks Show at the Space Needle.

Get a hotel room in town. You can walk back and warm up if you need to and welcome the New Year with open arms.

3. Go snow hunting

Be careful, of course, but when the higher elevations have had snow for a few days and the roads have had time to clear, nothing is better than a scenic drive through the mountains in search of a winter wonderland.

Remember, even when the road is mostly clear, melting snow can still cause icy patches in shady spots. Exercise caution and don’t take any chances.

But when the weather’s cold and the snow has fallen, the mountains take on a completely different personality.

Maybe even take a hike in search of a frozen waterfall.

2. Ride the trolley

Winter is a great time to take in the tour of lights via a heated trolley.

Or just cruise around the town soaking in the sights without having to worry about traffic. Winter is a great time for a trolley ride.

Sky lift at Gatlinburg Sky Lift Park
Riding a ski lift in Gatlinburg can be one of the top ways to see views of the city (media photo courtesy of Gatlinburg SkyLift Park)

1. Ride a ski lift

Either take the ride up to Anakeesta or to Gatlinburg SkyLift Park. Both are conveniently located in downtown Gatlinburg. 

If you visit Anakeesta, check Tripster for discounts. Buying in advance will also help you skip the line.

The SkyLift has several light displays that make it beautiful in the winter.

Dress warmly and use layers. In the Smokies, it can be quite cool in the higher elevations. Have gloves and something to cover your face if it gets windy.

In spite of the cold, there is nothing more invigorating than getting up into the crisp winter air, shocking the lungs awake and taking in the majestic mountain views.

It’s winter magic.

Do you enjoy Gatlinburg in the winter? Where do you like to go for a winter vacation? Let us know in the comments!

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Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.

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1 thought on “Things to do in Gatlinburg in winter: Our top 7 activities, ranked”

  1. My sister and I travel to the smokies in October and February each year however we stay on the quite if wears valley ,we do go over to Gatlinburg to shop

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