Family Travel,  Southeast,  Travel

Unique Things To Do While Visiting Gatlinburg, TN: Venturing Beyond the Strip

On the hunt for unique things to do while visiting Gatlinburg, Tennesee? Our list will help you find the hidden gems! 

A visit to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is often a yearly pilgrimage for many. The majestic mountains paired with plenty of fun things to do keeps families returning year after year.  While many families have their favorite attractions, there are a variety of unique things to do that are worth venturing off the Gatlinburg strip for.

A quick five-hour drive from Cincinnati will transport you into the beauty of the mountains and the land of Ripley’s believe it or not your money is gone attractions.

Unique Things To Do In Gatlinburg

While you can do literally everything from indoor skydiving to breakfast with black bears my advice is to get the best of what Gatlinburg has to offer is to get off the strip!

Especially for food, some of the best food we have found is nowhere near the strip and is often where the locals eat.

Here is a list of some of the unique tourist attractions to do around Gatlinburg to shake up your next trip to the Smokys! This post contains affiliate links.

The In’s and Out’s of Gatlinburg TN

First-time visitors to the Smoky Mountains should know that there are three main areas that make up the tourist portion of the area. Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg. Getting off the I-40 highway start your journey to get to the National Park.

Billboards, shops, restaurants, outlets, flea markets, and more will flood your trip into town. Depending on when you are visiting the drive-in can take upwards of an hour.  Pigeon Forge is a popular destination for tourist attractions including the popular amusement park, Dollywood.

You will take a scenic drive through a portion of the Smoky Mountains National Park to get to Gatlinburg. I recommend taking the bypass if you want to skip driving through the strip.

Once in Gatlinburg, you will see the popular Gatlinburg strip with Gatlinburg Space Needle, Gatlinburg Skylift Park, and the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway.  The tramway takes guests to the Ober Gatlinburg amusement park at the top of the mountain. The theme park has an ice skating rink, arcade games, amusement park rides and acts as a ski resort in the winter.

Exploring The National Park

One of the most popular attractions in Gatlinburg is exploring the national park. There are tons of unique hikes and points of interest that you should have on your Gatlinburg bucket list. While we won’t go into great detail in this post, here is a list to get you started:

  • Cades Cove
  • Clingman’s Dome – The highest point in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Be sure to go up to the observation deck.
  • Rainbow Falls
  • Laurel Falls

Unique Things To Do While Visiting Gatlinburg

Three Jimmy’s Good Time Restaurant

Three Jimmy's Award winning wings

Hands down my favorite place to eat in Gatlinburg. Their chicken wings are the best in the city and some of the best I have ever had the pleasure of shoving into my face. I do consider myself somewhat of a chicken wing connoisseur.

Connoisseur means that I have eaten more wings than socially acceptable, and have deemed these some damn good wings.

Three Jimmy’s smokes their own meats and has won many awards (as they should) so be sure to try a variety of things! Therefore, a visit here will likely leave you with a bad case of meat sweats, but it will be worth it!

Even Soph wanted in on the BBQ goodness, but unfortunately, she will have to wait until our next trip to sample this bit of heaven. Be sure to check them out!

Bush’s Baked Bean Museum

Bush's Baked Bean Museum

You are not imagining things, yes there is a Bush’s Baked Bean Museum!  Believe me, folks, you will not want to miss out on this off-the-beaten trail attraction.  This is the place Bush’s Baked Beans got started and you can get a free tour complete with a group photo!

The museum is very interactive and quite entertaining. You will even get to see where the secret recipe is kept. It is heavily guarded because the bean business is a very serious business.  Bush's Baked Bean Secret RecipeBe sure to head over to the restaurant to sample the beans de jour and try a slice of their famous pinto bean pie!

Don’t be scared…you get a slice of that pie because it is really good! The gift shop is also a sight to behold and offers tons of fun and quirky souvenirs including cans of baked beans!!  Sample some beans

  Foxfire  Mountain

America's longest swinging bridge

Home of America’s longest swinging bridge and the Whispering Winds Covered Bridge this is an adventure park worth visiting. Foxfire Mountain is one of the best things to do near Gatlinburg offering a little something for everyone, including those seeking the thrills of zip lining and ATV tours.

You do have to pay admission for each adventure you chose to go on or you can do a package.

Since we had little babies with us we opted to do the Swinging Bridge and hiking trail. Hiking with a baby, up to a mountain with freshly fallen leaves was not our best idea.

Even with a carrier and gym shoes we were in no way going to make it more than a whole 5 minutes without dying.

However, we did enjoy the light hiking around the area and then quenched our thirst with the complimentary cider tasting.

Are you traveling with young children? Check out our Great Things To Do In Gatlinburg With A Toddler.

Visit the Statue of Dolly Parton

Dolly Statue in Sevierville, Tennessee

Be sure to pay tribute to the patron saint of the Smoky Mountains, Dolly Parton. If you can’t tell by the billboards, attractions, and merchandise Dolly Parton is a big deal around these parts.  Mainly because this is her hometown and she has given a lot back to the community.

Dollywood, Dixie Stampede, Lil Dolly dress shop, etc….the list continues. There is a statue to honor Dolly right next to the Courthouse in Sevierville that makes for a fun photo opt.

After you googled Dolly Parton and learn more about her and her music, walk across the street to Courthouse Donuts!



Booking.com

 2021 Update -Closed- Courthouse Donuts

Court House Donuts in Tennesee

Court House Donuts in TenneseeSadly, one of our recommendations is permanently closed.  Since my blog also acts as a journal of our family adventures I will be leaving the photos in this article as we had great memories making donuts there. I guess, that just means our next trip to Gatlinburg will including finding a new donut stop. Leave your recommendations in the comments!

The Roaring Fork Motor Tour

Roaring Fork Motor Trail in Gatlinburg

If the only trail you enjoy is trail mix then this is the activity for you. So put on your North Face Jacket, grab your double macchiato and prepare to see the Great Smoky Mountains from the comfort of your vehicle.

The Roaring Fork Motor Trail is free and offers spectacular mountain views and scenic stops.  For those of you who are more outgoing, there are hiking trails that branch off the main road. Rainbow Falls is a 5.4-mile hike (round trip) that those who dare venture off the paved pathway.

There are historic buildings that you can get out and explore with a nice little hiking trail nearby. Depending on the season they may shut down the road during inclement conditions, so be sure to check the website.

Unique things to do in Gatlinburg Tennesee

Shake things up at the Salt and Pepper Museum

Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum

This one-of-a-kind museum is found right off the strip in downtown Gatlinburg and houses over 20,000 salt and pepper shakers.  There are only two museums like this in the world! One in Gatlinburg (I know right?!)  and one in Spain.

Admission is dirt cheap at $3.00 a person and the museum is relatively small so you can be in and out in less than an hour.  There is an interactive piece where you can try to find particular salt and pepper shaker in each case.

My advice, they keep the creepiest and scariest salt and pepper shakers in the back of the cases with a cute set in front of it.   There are some that are downright terrifying.  Make your own fun by trying to find the most horrifying set. Learn more about the Salt and Pepper Museum here.

The Fox and the Parrot English Pub

The Fox and the Parrot in Gatlinburg, Tennessee

This little pub is tucked way away in the mountains. It can be a little hard to find if you aren’t actively looking for it.   Let me tell you, folks, this place has some bloody good pub fare!  It is truly a pub setting.

There is no loud music and is the ideal spot to bring your family. We sampled a little of everything and nothing disappointed and only exceeded our expectations.

Go, enjoy the atmosphere, order some amazing food, and Bob’s your uncle! My only complaint is the bathroom isn’t the greatest.

Go Indoor Snow Tubing At Pigeon Forge Snow 

For a truly unique thing to do while visiting Gatlinburg, venture over to Pigeon Forge to go indoor snow tubing. Regardless of the weather outside there is always snow inside this winter fun park. Many visitors come in shorts during the summer months. They even have a snow play area where guests can go and play in the snow!

Pigeon Forge Snow

Looking for a great park off the beaten path? Learn more about Wear Farm City Park!

Ripley’s Aquarium

If you are going to spend your money on one Ripley Attraction the aquarium is a good one. Especially if you have young kids.

The underwater tunnel is one of the coolest I have been in, which is why it made the list!

Ripley’s Aquarium

Ripley’s has tons of attractions throughout Gatlinburg. If you are going to spend your money on one, Ripley’s Aquarium is the way to go. It is a great place for the whole family, especially if you have young kids. Peer into the underwater world of sharks, stingrays, and over 10,000 exotic sea creatures.

With over 10 galleries showcasing everything from penguins to a coral reef. A highlight of the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smoky’s is a 340 ft moving walkway that transports you through an underwater tunnel through Shark Lagoon for an up-close experience with these majestic animals.

Paula Dean Lumberjack Feud Show 

If you are looking for a great show that does not include dinner try the Lumberjack Feud. It is quite impressive seeing the skills of the lumberjacks as they shimmy up poles, carve, and chop wood like it’s a piece of cake.

Get the best deal on Lumberjack Feud Tickets Here!!

They have recently added a new  Lumberjack Feud Adventure Park, where you get to attempt to go through challenges including the Flying Ox, the world’s first Cable-to-Rail Zipline Coaster

Things To do In Gatlinburg

Wear Farm City Park Playground

Wear Farm City Park Looking for a budget-friendly activity that is perfect for a toddler?  Look no further than Wear Farm City Park.

With a playground designed for toddlers, another for older children, and peaceful walking trails there is something for everyone.  We stumbled across this gem while on a pursuit for a  toddler-friendly playground that wasn’t tied in with a campground. Pack a picnic and enjoy the beautiful mountain backdrop.

Stay The Night At the Inn at Christmas Place

Spend Christmas in the mountains this holiday season by retreating to the Inn at Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge.  This unique Christmas-themed hotel rolls out the tinsel and holly year-round, treating guests to sing-a-longs with St. Nick, cookie socials, and dazzling festive displays.  Keep reading to see why a few magical silent nights need to be experienced at the Inn at Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge, TN.

Inn at Christmas Place

Coaster At Goats On The Roof

The Coaster at Goats on the Roof is a unique experience in Pigeon Forge that the entire family will love. Upon arrival into this alpine coaster, guests are greeted by goats walking around on the buildings’ roofs. Kids squeal at the funny goats making their way across bridges from buildings then down a ramp to an area where guests can feed them. Goat gruel can be purchased inside.

The alpine coaster is nearly a mile in length and can reach top speeds of almost 30 miles per hour. It is the ideal attraction for all ages because the rider is in control of the brake, making the experience as mild or as hair-raising as desired.  Who knew that roller coasters in the mountains could be so fun!

Goats on the roof coaster

Check out our Top Things To Do in Pigeon Forge With Kids.

Hillbilly Golf

For one of the best places to play putt-putt in Gatlinburg go to Hillbilly Golf. It’s not every day you get to putt-putt down a mountain. Players have to take an incline rail up the mountain to begin their 18-hole game. There are two different courses to choose from.

Historic Old Mill District

A visit to the historic Old Mill in Pigeon Forge is a staple for visitors and locals alike. Built-in 1930, the Mill is still in operation today with plenty of historic southern charm. The Old Mill has evolved over the years, with the nostalgic Old Mill Restaurant serving up family favorites, and one of our favorite spots to get a down-home country breakfast.

Stroll along Old Mill Square that is full of shops. Swing into the Old Mill General Store attached to the Old Mill to pick up your pantry staples, homemade jams, and more to bring a taste of Pigeon Forge home with you.

Browse through the different artisan shops, discover the long history of pottery in Pigeon Forge, and, as my daughter says, “Don’t forget the ice cream!” while passing The Old Mill Creamery.

Tips For Traveling With A Baby To Gatlinburg

  1.   I always found some of the best cabin deals through Home Away or similar sites.  Get a cabin with a washer and dryer and a full kitchen. Space alone is worth spending a few extra bucks. However, being able to throw in a load of dirty clothes and have the luxuries of a kitchen, is priceless!
  2. Remember that cabins are not baby-proof! Bring items that you need to ensure your baby is safe, secure, and happy!   Added bonus: You might see an actual live bear in the wild. It only took me coming to Gatlinburg over 15 times to see them in person from our balcony! Taking a baby to Gatlinburg
  3. GO GET A BABY OLD TIME PHOTO: See photo below….that is all.  It is truly the best souvenir you will ever bring home and will provide lots of lasting memories.  Not to mention they are not nearly as expensive or time-consuming as they have been in the past.

Baby Old Time Photo

4.  Plan accordingly when leaving for the day. Remember to bring everything you will need for the baby. If you get stuck in traffic it could take over an hour to get back to your cabin or hotel.

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Unique Things To Do In Gatlinburg

things to do Gatlinburg

Unique Things to do in Gatlinburg

10 Comments

  • Michelle

    the Fox and the Parrot is one of our family favorites! we visit on every trip! thank you for this list

    • staleghani48

      Thank you! I am so glad that you found it helpful. That made my day! I just adore the Fox and the Parrot as well and am looking forward to going back soon!

  • Christy

    We’ve been stopping by the Fox and Parrot since before we got married over 12 years ago. I almost hate to share it with anyone so that it stays hidden. Awesome people and awesome food and drinks.

    • staleghani48

      My husband told me not to share them for that very reason as well! LOL I feel they do such a fabulous job that they deserved the recognition! They are truly such a hidden gem. Looking forward to returning again soon!

  • Vickie A. Dickson, TN

    I have been going to Gatlinburg for as long as I can remember and didn’t know about several of these hidden gems. Thank you so much for sharing your secrets.

  • Amy

    I have been going to Gatlinburg for 25 + years and had no idea of these….we have a family vacation home there and will def be doing some of those activities: Thank you

    • staleghani48

      I’m glad to give your families something new and exciting to try! The back roads to get to a few of them are really pretty and takes you behind the touristy area. Have fun exploring!