8 Things You Need To Try This Winter in the Smoky Mountains

anavista tower with christmas lights in foreground at anakeesta in gatlinburg tn

Anakeesta in Gatlinburg is a great attraction to see winter lights (photo by Alaina O'Neal/TheSmokies.com)

Local lists the best things to do in Gatlinburg this winter

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 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. The feeling also lingers until the New Year and the second winter of lights. This year, the official dates for Winterfest when the entire town lights up with Christmas lights, is Nov. 9, 2023, through Feb. 18, 2024.

A stranded walker in the snow
Unexpected snowfall is rare, but in some cases, it might leave tourists stranded in the upper elevations. Check weather conditions as you plan your trip (photo by Dr. Bill Ramsey/TheSmokies.com)

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 some of my favorite things to do in Gatlinburg in the winter:

Ripley's interactive elements on the inside of the aquarium
Ripley’s Aquarium has several interactive areas for the younger members of the family (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

1. 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 also several interactive elements for little ones to enjoy. But I think it’s a good place for kids 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. There are more attractions located in Gatlinburg than anywhere else in the country. If you also wish to visit multiple attractions, you can save $26 per ticket when you bundle your passes.

ice bumper cars at ober mountain
Ober Mountain is best known for its winter activities (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

2. Go to Ober Mountain

Winter is my favorite time to go to Ober Mountain. 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. In fact, the attraction is full of winter activities, and my kids usually have a blast. 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.

Chocolate fondue
Pure chocolate fondue at The Melting Pot (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

3. Fondue at the Melting Pot

I get that the Melting Pot is not unique to Gatlinburg. But, I still say that winter is a great time to go to the 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 conducive to that idea. With this in mind, wear a heavy sweater. Speak with a faux accent. Embrace your character.

a bed inside a cabin in the smoky mountains
Sometimes the best way to relax in the winter is to snuggle up in a cabin (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

4. 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. I like to drink a hot beverage while taking in the natural beauty. It never gets old.

fireworks from the space needle in downtown gatlinburg tn
The Space Needle in Gatlinburg hosts a spectacular fireworks show for the holidays (photo by Justin Freeman/TheSmokies.com)

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

frozen stream in the smoky mountains
You’re more likely to find snow in higher elevations (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

6. 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.

trolley in gatlinburg tn
Riding around on the Gatlinburg Trolley can be a great way to see the lights during the holiday season (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

7. 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.

family rides skylift at night at skylift park in gatlinburg
Riding on the chair lift at SkyPark in Gatlinburg is one of the best ways to see the city lights (media photo courtesy of SkyLift Park)

8. Ride a chair lift

Take a ride up to Anakeesta or Gatlinburg SkyPark. Both are conveniently located in downtown Gatlinburg. If you visit Anakeesta, you can also book your tickets with Tripster ahead of time. Buying in advance will also help you skip the line. Alternatively, SkyPark (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. Of course, I recommend dressing warmly and using layers. In the Smokies, it can be quite cool in the higher elevations.

Where do you like to go for a winter vacation? Let me know in the comments!

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Disclosure: We have used and experienced all the products and activities recommended on The Smokies. We may receive compensation when you click on links to some products and experiences featured.

1 thought on “8 Things You Need To Try This Winter in the Smoky Mountains”

  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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