Halloween has come and gone, the temperatures are dropping (and rising, and then dropping again) – and that can only mean one thing: Winterfest is coming!
When do Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville decorate for Christmas?
The 2020-2021 Smoky Mountain Winterfest season, which is celebrating its 31st anniversary, is scheduled to run from Nov. 13, 2020 through Feb. 15, 2021.
If you’ve never heard of Winterfest, well, tourist, you’re in for a treat. Winterfest is a magical time in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Each year, millions of twinkling lights blanket the county, illuminating area streets, businesses and local attractions.
The tradition began in 1989 in an effort to boost the slower winter tourism months in Sevier County and the Great Smoky Mountains. It was a success, but of course, this means now you can expect to see many taillights as well.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States and is located on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the Winterfest celebration events currently scheduled for 2020:
Editor’s Note: Dates and times are subject to change. While we do our best to keep this list updated, we recommend checking with each attraction directly before booking tickets or making plans.
1. GSMR Polar Express Train Ride
Hop on board the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad to experience this 1 hour, 15 minute round-trip ride, which departs from the Bryson City depot and travels all the way to the “North Pole.”
Guests listen to the sounds from the Polar Express movie while sipping on hot cocoa and reading along with the story. The big guy in the red suit may even make a special appearance.
Trains in 2020 will have limited seating, so it is recommended that you make reservations early.
The GSMR Polar Express Train Ride will run from Nov. 6 – Dec. 31, 2020. Tickets range from $42-$91 and vary by selection.
2. Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas
Find out why Dollywood’s Christmas festival has been named best in America for over a decade.
New this year, enjoy fireworks every Friday and Saturday (weather permitting) during the Smoky Mountain Christmas event. The “Merry & Bright” display will be synchronized to Christmas tunes. Christmas shows, carolers and arts and crafts will also return for this year’s festival.
The festival will run from Nov. 7, 2020 – Jan. 3, 2021. Event is included with general admission.
3. Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland
Shadrack’s is a drive-through light display, taking place from dusk until 10 pm nightly at the Smokies Stadium.
Additional attractions are available, including photos with Santa (from a safe distance), concessions, souvenirs and more. Admission to Santa’s Village is free with admission to the light show.
Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland is set to take place from Nov. 6, 2020 – Jan. 3, 2021. Tickets range from $30 per car (up to 8 people) to $50 per van (up to 25 people).
4. Anakeesta’s Enchanted Winter Celebration
Immerse yourself in a canopy of lights and enjoy Christmas trees, fire pits and giant snow globes at Anakeesta’s Enchanted Winter Celebration.
Santa Claus will be landing his sleigh at Anakeesta on Nov. 27-28 and Dec. 4-5 from 11 am-3 pm. Photos with Santa will be available for purchase.
The Enchanted Winter Celebration will run from Nov. 23, 2020 – Jan. 3, 2021. Event is included with general admission.
5. Christmas at The Island in Pigeon Forge
Winterfest at The Island is a beautiful place to visit in the Smokies. The Island comes to life with millions of Winterfest lights to create a holiday ambience that’s perfect for holiday festivities, shopping and photo ops.
The Island’s Christmas celebration will run through Nov. 13 – Dec. 30, 2020. Admission is free if you just want to walk around and soak up the holiday cheer. There is an additional cost for rides, restaurants and shops.
6. Lights Over Gatlinburg at SkyLift Park
Immerse yourself in a winter wonderland and celebrate the holidays at SkyLift Park, home of the famous SkyBridge.
Each winter, the SkyLift Park lights up the night sky with thousands of holiday lights, decorations and spectacular views.
This year, SkyLift Park promises even more lights that will brighten your winter evenings.
Guests can soak it all in while sipping on hot chocolate or cider around the fire pit. Lights Over Gatlinburg will run from Nov. 13, 2020 – Jan. 31, 2021. Event is included with general admission.
7. Gatlinburg’s Festival of Trees
The Gatlinburg Festival of Trees is scheduled to continue in 2020. Like the rest of 2020, this year may be different compared to previous events since it will be redesigned to adhere to Tennessee Pledge guidelines.
Proceeds will benefit the Boys and Girls Club of the Smoky Mountains and the Gatlinburg Chamber Foundation Scholarship Fund.
According to the website, the proceeds from the festival’s 46th anniversary netted a donation of more than $55,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of the Smoky Mountains and $12,000 to the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce Foundation Scholarship Fund.
The event will run Nov. 25 – 29 from 10 am – 7 pm (Nov. 29 hours will be from 10 am – 4 pm). Admission is free but donations are greatly appreciated.
8. Christmas in the Smokies Bluegrass Festival (cancelled)
This event has been cancelled for 2020. Stay tuned for updates as they plan their return for 2021.
9. Virtual Santa Hustle Smokies 5K and Half Marathon
The Santa Hustle Smokies 5K and Half Marathon event is going virtual this year. Guests can choose to register for the Virtual Santa Hustle 5K, 10K, half marathon or marathon race and receive swag in the mail after registration.
Walk or run your designated race anytime and wear the finish medal proudly. Virtual runners will receive all the swag prior to their run:
- Women’s or unisex full zip hoodie
- Santa hat
- Santa beard buff
- Finisher medal
The Virtual Santa Hustle will take place throughout the entire month of December. Cost of entry runs from $45-$55.
10. Go to a New Year’s Eve Celebration
Ring in 2021 with the Annual New Year’s Eve Ball Drop and Fireworks Show at the intersection of the Parkway and Historic Nature Trail at the base of the Space Needle.
Fireworks choreographed with special music will light up the night. The show will be produced by Pyro-Shows of LaFollette, Tenn. Event will take place at midnight Dec. 31, 2020. Admission is free.
The Island also offers a free New Year’s Eve Celebration. The Island’s celebration in Pigeon Forge was almost cancelled this year, however, in a “reversal only 2020 could bring,” the event is now back on and bigger than ever.
11. Christmas Shows in the Smokies
Hatfield and McCoy Christmas Disaster Dinner Show
Join the Hatfield and McCoy families as they have their Christmas Disaster Dinner Feud. This holiday take on this classic feud is guaranteed to make you feel better about spending the holidays with your in-laws. The Christmas Disaster Dinner Feud is one of the area’s most popular holiday shows.
Christmas at Dolly Parton’s Stampede
Christmas at Dolly Parton’s Stampede begins Nov. 3, 2020. During the Christmas extravaganza, Dolly Parton’s Stampede features fun, games and a friendly North Pole vs. South Pole rivalry.
Christmas at Country Tonite Theatre
Christmas comes together with choreography, holiday sets and colorful costumes … and of course, country music. This is described as a heartwarming Christmas show fit for the whole family.
Christmas at the Comedy Barn
Christmas at the Comedy Barn shows begin Nov. 21, 2020. This show features a lighthearted and clean comedy act with costumes, music and special Christmas acts.
12. Winterfest Parades
Gatlinburg Christmas Parade
The 45th Fantasy of Lights Parade is scheduled to take place on Dec. 4, 2020. The event begins at 7:30 pm at the Baskins Creek Bypass on East Parkway.
The parade will feature marching bands, balloons, dancers, musicians and more. Attendees are encouraged to arrive early.
Sevierville Christmas Parade
The Sevierville Christmas Parade is scheduled to take place on Dec. 5, 2020 at the Historic Downtown area at 11 am.
Townsend Christmas Parade (Cancelled)
The Townsend Christmas Parade has been cancelled for the year of 2020 due to concerns about the ability to ensure safety guidelines.
Editor’s note: While the staff at TheSmokies.com will monitor these events and update as needed, the 2020 season has included many schedule changes and cancellations. If you are planning to attend an event, check for updates frequently as these are subject to change.