A Smoky Mountain local of 35 years shares his favorite nighttime activities for downtown Gatlinburg
I think there’s just something about Gatlinburg at night. There’s a bit of a chill in the mountain air. It’s the excitement of the bright lights along the strip – which seem all the more luminescent against the dark backdrop of the mountains. There’s the slight mystical element of the timeless nature of the tiny, mountain vacation tourist town. I’m not sure that it will ever be predominantly known for its nightlife, but Gatlinburg at night is something you ought to experience. As someone who has been to Gatlinburg hundreds of times in the past 30 years, here are some of my favorite things to do after dark:
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1. Visit an elevated attraction
There are several places where you can get up above Gatlinburg and look down on the village at night. Anakeesta, the Space Needle and the SkyBridge are three of my favorites. Anakeesta’s Treetop SkyWalk is a sight to behold at dusk. Plus, Anakeesta just launched their popular Astra Lumina night light show last year, which is a must-see. And I highly recommend a Chondola ride down the mountain, especially on a quiet night. It’s beautiful and soothing. You’re skimming along the top of the dark forest back to the lights below. The park is open most nights until 9-10 pm. SkyPark offers a scenic chairlift that takes you to the top of Crockett Mountain. It is also open most nights until 9-10 pm. The Gatlinburg Space Needle, with its glass elevators, observation deck and arcade, is open til 1-2 am.
2. Watch the sunset from an overlook
You can do this perfectly well within Gatlinburg city limits. The backdrop of the reds, oranges and yellows of the setting sun behind the dark mountains make for a perfect picture opportunity for the ’gram. But if you want to really see something, travel up US 441, aka Newfound Gap Road, and find one of the pull-offs with a good view of the mountains to the west. Newfound Gap is the best for this. Up there, on top of the world, where you can see out across the range, the sunset takes on a whole different meaning. It is the perfect way to experience the Smokies. As a bonus, you can hang out until dark and gaze at the stars. You haven’t really seen a night sky until you’ve seen the mountain sky on a perfect night.
3. Check out a local bar or distillery
Gatlinburg’s a walking town. You can park at your hotel and walk the streets of Gatlinburg to visit several watering holes for some local taste. For example, the Smoky Mountain Brewery is open most nights til midnight. It is one of several commercial distilleries in the area. There’s also Ole Red and the new Jason Aldean’s – both of which have live music most nights, rooftop bars, and are open til at least 10 pm, sometimes later. If you are bar hopping, keep in mind that Gatlinburg is a fairly small mountain community. Open late around here means midnight or 1 am. So if you want to make a real night out of it, stock up at Ole Smoky or Sugarlands earlier in the day and plan on a night in.
4. Visit a haunted house
The nighttime is the right time for ghost stories and to be afraid, very afraid. Oddly enough, downtown Gatlinburg is home to not one but two year-round haunted houses: Mysterious Mansion (open til 10 or 11 pm most nights) and Ripley’s Haunted Adventure (open til 9 or 11 pm most nights). And both are 10 times better at night, just because it’s easier to get into the right frame of mind after dark. Ripley’s Haunted Adventure is filled with a variety of actors playing creepy roles in the renovated haunted house, waiting to welcome you home. If you love good scares, this is the place to go once the sun goes down. Mysterious Mansion is slightly more adult-oriented but can also be fun for older kids. But do be warned, they usually close on Wednesdays and keep a limited schedule in the spring. So be sure to call ahead for operating dates and hours.
5. Take a Gatlinburg night walk
As I mentioned before, Gatlinburg was made for a stroll. There’s nothing I like better than walking the strip as the evening is coming to a close. Things are calming down, and the crowd is thinning out. The lights, the atmosphere, it’s strangely peaceful and oddly romantic, especially in the fall when the weather’s just starting to turn cool. Plus, its free – no ticket is required! I like things that feel timeless, and walking in downtown Gatlinburg could be any time in the last 50 or 60 years. Sure some of the signs have changed, but the architecture, the feel, wouldn’t be out of place in the 60s, 70s or 80s. Find a spot to relax and soak in the night, maybe with a nice, warm coffee or hot chocolate.
What are your favorite things to do after dark in Gatlinburg? Let us know in the comments.