Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains are known for their family-oriented attractions. As such, the majority of entertainment, attractions and dining are designed to include the young or young at heart. But what about the couple on a romantic getaway? What about the group of friends looking for a fun night out on the town? What about mom and dad who need a quick vacation from the kids while on vacation? Well, my friends, don’t despair. Not everything in the Great Smoky Mountains comes designed for people with the attention span of tsetse flies. Now, a lot of these options you could still do with a family. But not everything will be truly appreciated by the whole family. With that being said, here are some of the best things to do for adults in Gatlinburg: Editor’s Note: We’ve also made a printable version of this checklist here.
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8. Visit Anakeesta
Anakeesta bills itself as Gatlinburg’s amusement park and it does come with a zipline and mountain coaster – both at extra cost to admission – but this ain’t Six Flags. And I mean that in a good way. Anakeesta, located atop a mountain behind the Arrowmont School, offers fantastic views, quality dining, drinks and some shopping. There are things for the kids to do, but mostly they strike me as something of a diversion. To me, it’s something to keep the kiddies entertained in a relatively confined space while mom and dad vacation.
Above all, Anakeesta is an excellent place to chill out and remember the reason for the season, so to speak. Sure, flashing lights and diverting whirlygigs are fun. Certainly, it’s fun to go look at some fish and whatnot – but none of these things are why Gatlinburg and its surrounding areas became must-see vacation destinations.
Ultimately, it’s still about the mountains. And there is something incredibly relaxing about taking in the sunset with a good meal and a couple of drinks, chilling in a rocking chair and then taking the quiet and soothing chondola ride back down the mountain into the neon madness that is Gatlinburg. Anakeesta is the kind of place where you relax, dine and enjoy the beauty of the surrounding mountains. They also provide a view from the highest point in Gatlinburg with the new observation tower, AnaVista. Hours vary by season and are typically more limited January-March. Check the calendar for more information, and check Tripster for discounts when you buy tickets.
7. Go for a hike, enjoy the national park
Gatlinburg is famous in part because of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. So why not go on a hike and adventure out into the outdoors a bit? Plan for a romantic picnic or take a scenic drive down the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. If you want to make a new memory, consider horseback riding at one of the local attractions. There are plenty of easy hikes around the Smokies to be enjoyed.
6. Have a romantic dinner
There are a lot of good restaurants in the Gatlinburg area. But there are relatively few great ones. And, of course, great is a relative term. The Peddler ain’t winning a lot of Michelin Stars, but it is probably the best restaurant in the area. The menu is comparable to high-end chain steakhouses and the restaurant welcomes kids – but it is not the kind of place that serves smiling pancakes or has, let’s say, animatronic singing chickens. I also love The Greenbrier for a romantic dinner. It’s off the beaten path, so you have to know to look for it. Again, reservations are recommended. If you want a good dinner, you need to have a plan.
5. Take in the views on the Space Needle or the SkyBridge
If you want to see the mountains but not get too far off the beaten path, consider visiting either The Gatlinburg Space Needle or Gatlinburg SkyPark. The Space Needle opened in 1969 and was, at the time, the second tallest tower in Tennessee. It has glass elevators and offers unequaled panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains from the observation deck with free viewfinders. You can typically find a good deal on Groupon if you wish to visit the Space Needle.
Alternatively, Gatlinburg SkyPark is famous for its SkyBridge, which is 700 feet across a wide gorge and suspended 500 feet in the air. You can grab a drink from the SkyCenter and enjoy the views. While kids are of course welcome, these kinds of moments of serenity are rarely appreciated by the littlest among us.
4. Visit Ober Mountain
Ober Mountain (formerly Ober Gatlinburg) is widely known for being kid-friendly and it certainly is. This is not an option for anyone seeking to avoid kids. However, if your adult crew enjoys skiing or snowboarding, Ober is the only place in Tennessee to hit the slopes. If you’re on a romantic getaway, they offer year-round indoor ice skating and a scenic ride on an Aerial Tramway. I’d say this is the less romantic option on this list, but it’s worth considering. It might be your cup of tea if you’re young at heart.
3. Sample some moonshine
Sheeeeeewwwww boy! Now, this is some serious no-kids business. Usually, the folks participating in the moonshine tastings are fine, calm and polite adults looking for a fun night out. However, if you are tasting moonshine – homogenized though it may be – you are more likely to have some personalities with varying goals for the evening. The samples are the hippest thing going on in Sevier County right now, so there are a lot of options. I don’t have a personal favorite. And there are plenty of distilleries to choose from.
The top two options are generally considered to be Ole Smoky Moonshine and Sugarlands. Ole Smoky Moonshine has three locations in the area, and Sugarlands is also one of the more popular options for a fun sampling experience. Gatlinburg is very walkable, so it’s easy to have a few samples and not worry about driving. I’d recommend checking out the websites and seeing which is closest to your motel or Gatlinburg trolley stop – for practical purposes.
2. Enjoy some shopping
For generations, kids being dragged into shopping trips with the family have whined to go to the toy store.“But I’m booored,” they’d say, sagging to the ground as if suddenly imbued with the gravitational pull of Jupiter. But toy stores have been chiefly killed by the retail leviathans Amazon and Walmart. For adults looking for a little retail therapy on vacation, this is a good thing. Unless the kids are old enough to enjoy shopping for clothes, and/or beef jerky, there are few enticements left for them to beg to come along on.
What Gatlinburg, Sevierville and Pigeon Forge do offer is a wide range of outlet shopping, trendy specialty shops and touristy knick-knack and curio stores. So leave the kids behind and get started on some early Christmas shopping. Or, just have a fun, diverting day looking for deals. Consider shopping around the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community. There you can appreciate the regional culture and check out homemade pottery, jewelry, candles and so much more.
1. Cozy up in a cabin
Yeah. You can do this with kids, too. But let’s get real. When it comes to weddings and honeymoons, downtown Gatlinburg is the Vegas of the Smoky Mountains. There are dozens of nice, quiet cabins, some equipped with hot tubs that you can crank the heat up enough to sterilize before climbing in that are perfect for a romantic getaway overlooking the chaos of Gatlinburg down below. There, you can prepare a romantic meal – or get one delivered – and spend a nice quiet adult-only weekend (or week). Just whatever you need. What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas but in Gatlinburg, folks are a lot better about minding their own business, to begin with.
What are YOUR tips for an adults-only vacation in Gatlinburg, Tennessee? Let us know in the comments!