To paraphrase Samuel Johnson; “When a man is tired of Gatlinburg, he is tired of life.”
But, while you should never tire of Gatlinburg, the village allows for a man (or woman) to be tired. Vacationing is hard work. Sometimes you need a break.
In Gatlinburg, there are places to sit and rest while the family shops, plays and dines that don’t exist in many other tourist towns.
That being said, I don’t think the slogan “Gatlinburg: The perfect place for tired tourists” will catch on anytime soon.
But the wide nature of Gatlinburg makes ranking the attractions a difficult task.
When I was a younger man, my rankings would have been based on maximum thrills: zip lines, rafting, hiking and maybe a haunted house.
Now, as a father of three who spends most vacations keeping a running tab in my head and making sure the kids are having fun and being entertained, places where they can enjoy themselves and I can chill out have a raised value.
For this list, rating the top attractions in Gatlinburg, I will judge with a wide set of criteria, selecting the attractions that have the most appeal to the widest range of people.
For the record, I’m not counting the National Park in this as it is technically not in Gatlinburg.
If you want to count the National Park, put it at one and move everything else back one spot.
5. The SkyBridge at SkyLift Park
The ultimate goal of a vacation is that it is memorable.
You want to live in the moment, you want everyone to have fun, and you certainly need some time to rest and recharge.
But vacations are about making memories.
And there’s something about hanging 140-feet in the air, soaking in spectacular views and testing your bravery walking over the glass bottom section that sears itself into your cerebellum.
The lift ride up the mountain to the SkyCenter viewing area is nice.
The SkyDeck offers amazing views. The SkyTrail – when it opens later this year – will bring additional value, giving you more to do as you walk the loop connecting the ends of the bridge, but it’s the SkyBridge that’s the moneymaker.
At the time of this writing, prices vary from $24 to $29 for adults with the higher rate being Friday-Sunday and holidays. Kids under 4 are free. Children ages 4-11 are $19. There are senior rates as well as a bundle package with Ripley’s Believe it or Not! available.
The best thing about Anakeesta is that it’s still growing.
In its current iteration, it’s a better destination for older children and adults than it is for families with younger children.
Still, Anakeesta offers spectacular views, shopping and dining. It’s a great place to relax.
The biggest downside is, for an amusement park, there isn’t a lot of amusement. The Dueling Zipline and Mountain Coaster are upsold, and not included in the price of entry.
I love the chondola ride coming down the mountain at night. The Vista Garden Walk and Memorial Garden walks are nice, and the elevated Treetop Skywalk is cool.
But ultimately, it feels like you’re paying a $29 entrance fee for the opportunity to pay more money.
However, you can sometimes save a couple of bucks by booking ahead of time on Tripster.
Still, Anakeesta is still very new and growing.
As more attractions are added, the value will increase.
At the time of this writing, zipline passes range from $71 for children to $84 per adult and include general admission to the park. The Mountain Coaster, aka the Rail Runner is $13 for a single rider and $15 for a tandem rider. There are discounts available for re-ride.
3. Ripley’s Believe it or Not!
You better believe this collection of oddities which has its roots reaching back past the days of traveling freak shows, is worth a visit.
With 16 themed galleries and 500 exhibits spread over three floors and 12,500 square feet, Ripley’s is a museum unlike any other – except, of course for the other Ripley’s located in tourist towns around the world.
The Odditorium – billed as the weirdest place in Gatlinburg – is a collection of the strange, the odd and the simply unbelievable.
Would you like to see a recreation of da Vinci’s “Last Supper” made entirely of lint? Of course, you would step right up.
While Ripley’s traditions harken back to an early time in our history, the attraction itself is quite modern and well organized. There’s nothing cheap or chincy about it.
Robert Ripley, a cartoonist who traveled the world documenting unusual and exotic facts, lived from 1890 to 1949. His syndicated Ripley’s Believe it or Not! cartoon was syndicated in newspapers around the country and featured trivia, oddities and whatever unusual items he thought might interest his readers.
Believe it or Not! grew to syndicated radio and television shows that outlived him by at least 40 years.
At the time of this writing, Odditorium tickets are $29.99 for an adult, $14.99 for children ages 6-11, $4.99 for children 2-5.
There are, however, a wide variety of bundles available that can save your family up to $35 that feature any combination of the Ripley’s attractions in town which includes …
2. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Personally, I think the aquarium is the top attraction in the Smokies.
The visuals appeal to the photographer in me. I like that it’s educational and fun with room for the kids to explore safely. And I like the peaceful vibes and also the penguins.
When the weather’s unfriendly, hot, cold or rainy, it’s perfect inside the aquarium, which is continuously ranked among the best in the country.
The only downside is that it’s not cheap. $40 for everyone over the age of 12, $20 for kids 6 to 11 and $10 for kids 2 to 5.
Again, if you’re planning on doing multiple Ripley’s attractions, there are bundling options available.
1. Ober Gatlinburg
Ober has been around a while. Next year will be its 60th anniversary and it can be forgotten among the newer, flashier and more accessible attractions in Gatlinburg.
In several places, Ober shows its age. It’s a throwback in the best, and worst, sense of the word. But in terms of creating memories? In terms of value for your vacation dollar? It’s tough to top a day at Ober.
First of all, let’s talk about brass tacks. At the time of this writing, a premium wristband for Ober is $49 for adults and $45 for kids ages 5-11.
The wristband allows unlimited access to the scenic chairlift, the alpine slide, summer tubing, the wildlife encounter, the rock wall, mini-golf and several kids rides.
You also get one ride on the ski mountain coaster, an ice skating session and an ice bumper car session.
That’s a full day.
There’s a cheaper wristband – knock $10 off both prices – but it doesn’t include the coaster or the ice sessions.
It should also be noted that the wristbands do not include a ride up the mountain on the Aerial Tramway, but you can usually get a discount on Tripster.
Ober also offers plenty of shops and dining as well as winter sports when the season allows.
The real value of Ober comes from the wide variety of experiences available at a single stop. You’re sure to make a memory or two that will stay with your family for a long time.
Do you agree with our ranking? What is your favorite attraction in Gatlinburg? Let us know in the comments below.