Most people don’t know that Gatlinburg has five seasons. There’s 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.
Both winters will be here before we know it. The official dates for Smoky Mountain Winterfest, when the entire town lights up with Christmas lights, is Nov. 13, 2022, through Feb. 19, 2023.
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What is Gatlinburg like in the winter?
Early December in Gatlinburg, at least in the daytime, still feels like fall when it comes to weather.
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. The road will close several times each winter due to snowy or icy conditions.
Does Gatlinburg get snow?
Yes, but generally not a lot. Although, snow storms have happened.
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.
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 generic winter activities.
Without further ado, here are our favorite things to do in Gatlinburg in the winter:
8. Visit Ripley’s Aquarium
Sometimes you want to get out of your rental cabin but stay inside where it’s warm.
That’s where Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies comes in.
This aquarium has been voted the best aquarium in North America, and there are several interactive elements for little ones to enjoy.
It’s a good place to burn off some holiday energy. Inside, there are penguins, a glass bottom boat, turtles, and two levels of aquatic life to be seen.
If you’re considering a trip to the aquarium, take a look at some of the other Ripley’s attractions. Ripley’s happens to have several attractions in Gatlinburg. In fact, there are more attractions located in Gatlinburg than anywhere else in the country.
If you wish to visit multiple attractions, you can save $25 per ticket when you bundle your passes.
7. Go to Ober Gatlinburg
Winter is my favorite time to go to Ober Gatlinburg.
Even when it’s not snowing, Ober has artificial snow on their slopes that allow for snowboarding and skiing. They also have an indoor ice skating rink that’s open year-round.
Additionally, Ober also has snow tubing and ice bumper cars. The ski area is the only one in the whole state of Tennessee.
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 for discounts and book ahead.
It’s one of the most popular attractions in the Great Smoky Mountains in the winter.
6. Fondue at the Melting Pot
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 in a cabin
I also find winter is a perfect time to rent a cozy cabin for a weekend, preferably one with fireplaces or 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.
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 leave 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.
Alternatively, you can just cruise around the town soaking in the sights without having to worry about traffic. Winter is a great time for a trolley ride.
1. Ride a chair lift
Take a ride up to Anakeesta or to Gatlinburg SkyLift Park. Both are conveniently located in downtown Gatlinburg.
If you visit Anakeesta, you can book your tickets with Tripster ahead of time. Buying in advance will also help you skip the line.
Alternatively, SkyLift Park (pictured above) has several light displays that make it beautiful in the winter. It’s a great way to see the lights in Gatlinburg, and there’s nothing quite like walking across the iconic SkyBridge.
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.
Where do you like to go for a winter vacation? Let us know in the comments!
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