GATLINBURG, TENNESSEE
   
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  Gatlinburg’s location in the heart of the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains is its greatest asset. Surrounded by gorgeous mountain scenery, there’s no shortage of activities for families, singles and couples. Shopping is plentiful, dining options are abundant and Gatlinburg is chock full of family attractions, some of which are quite unusual. We visited near the end of August, when the summer tourist season was beginning to wind down. This was the final stop on our 2003 summer vacation.

According to Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, Gatlinburg, Tennessee was named for Radford Gatlin, a man who the town came to hate because of his pro-slavery views on secession. He was beaten by his fellow townsfolk and in 1860, Radford Gatlin was chased out of Gatlinburg! Gatlinburg’s population was never huge. Today, it has a population of about 3500 permanent residents. However, the area’s popularity as a ski resort and tourist destination has increased steadily for decades. Gatlinburg is now home to about 90 hotels / motels, 5 private campgrounds, 80 restaurants, 400 gift and specialty shops, and countless cabins, condos, b&b’s, etc., all crammed into a very small area. Therefore, Gatlinburg is very crowded.

Aside from the Ripley attractions, there's much more to do in Gatlinburg. One of Gatlinburg’s signature attractions is the Aerial Tramway, two 120-passenger cable cars which transport passengers from downtown Gatlinburg to the mountaintop amusement park / ski resort, Ober Gatlinburg. The terminal is located on the west side of town, just off the Parkway. Although there may be long lines to get aboard, the views are tremendous and the experience is exhilarating. My 12-tear old daughter was a little nervous. The car sways a bit when it crosses the support tower. Once you are aboard, the 2.2 mile trip takes only about 6-8 minutes each way. Round trip fare is $9... $6 for kids 7-11 and $8 for seniors.

Ober Gatlinburg is a small, yet enjoyable amusement park and the three of us really had a great time there. The Aerial Tramway terminal is located in a very large building with shopping and many activities including a huge video / game arcade and ice skating on their large indoor rink. The outdoor activities includes go-karts, a "strap-in" trampoline, miniature golf and water rides (no bathing suit necessary). The fun alpine slide is a long ride down a cement trough in a fiberglass cart that has nothing but a brake. The scenic chairlift takes visitors to the top of the alpine slide and/or all the way to the mountain top. The view from the upper part of the scenic chairlift is awesome. At the top, you’ll find a snack bar, perhaps some live entertainment, and more great scenery. This is not a large fast-paced, Six Flags type of amusement park. It’s casual and it’s not fancy. We visited in the early afternoon and unlike downtown Gatlinburg, it was not crowded at all. The lines were short and waits were minimal. We stayed for 3 or 4 hours and had a terrific time. We did just about everything but the ice skating. As with everything in Gatlinburg, Ober Gatlinburg is on the pricy side. Tickets are available for all day or by individual ride / attraction.

Other popular attractions that we didn’t visit include:

The Space Needle - A 342-foot tall observation tower in downtown Gatlinburg (Traffic Light #8)... now the dominant Gatlinburg landmark.

Star Cars Museum - A collection of automobiles featured on TV and in the movies... like the Ghostbusters ambulance, the Beverly Hillbillies jalopy, and "K.I.T.T"., the talking car from "Knight Rider". They also have some vehicles that were once owned by celebrities like Elvis, Frank Sinatra and the Grateful Dead. "Herbie the Love Bug" is on display for all to see at the museum’s entrance.

Guinness World Records Museum - self-expalnatory

Gatlinburg has countless shops scattered throughout town. They range from tacky, touristy shops to beautiful crafts and fine merchandise. Many of the stores are beautiful and unique. There are also several fudge and candy shops.

Gatlinburg doesn’t have anything that would be characterized as "fine dining", but they do have a large number of very nice sit-down restaurants. Most of the locally-owned restaurants feature traditional American food (meat & potatoes, BBQ, etc.). An occasional seafood or German restaurant can be found. Gatlinburg is also home to a few recognizable chain restaurants like The Hard Rock Café, Outback Steakhouse, Damon’s, and TGI Friday’s. And of course, they have fast food. We had an outstanding, 5-star dining experience at the Outback Steakhouse. Even though it was late (about 9:45), our waitress was very friendly and attentive (not overbearing). Our food arrived quickly and was perfectly prepared and delicious... I had a spicy sirloin steak.

Gatlinburg is located at the north entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This beautiful park is by far the most visited national park in the country and has much to offer. Admission to the park is free. Backpacking is popular as the park has over 800 miles of horse and foot trails. Shorter hiking trails can be found along the roadways. Motorists enjoy the scenic drive across the park on US 441, a short drive to the lovely Cade’s Cove area, and the drive to the top of Clingman’s Dome, Tennessee’s highest point (6643 feet). Visitors must hike the final half-mile to the top of Clingman’s Dome on a paved trail leading to an observation tower overlooking the entire area. A quick way to see the some of the park is the Roaring Fork Auto Tour. From Traffic Light #8 in Gatlinburg, take the road past the Park Vista Hotel (the large cylindrical hotel at the top of the road), Cherokee Orchard Road and follow. It is about a six mile drive on a narrow paved road. The drive and it begins and ends in Gatlinburg. Even though it’s short, you’ll feel as though you’re far away from civilization. Visitors are treated to scenic overlooks and numerous streams and waterfalls. I took this drive at about 8 AM. It wasn’t crowded at that time of the day, but I noticed that parking and places to pull over were limited.

Gatlinburg is located in a beautiful area and it’s a little quirky. There’s plenty to do for the whole family. If expense and crowds are not barriers, then you’re sure to enjoy "The Gateway to the Smokies."

 

CLICK THUMBNAILS FOR LARGER IMAGE

GATLINBURG VIEW FROM AERIAL TRAMWAY
 
SPACE NEEDLE
 
"HERBIE THE LOVE BUG" AT STAR CARS
 
AERIAL TRAMWAY
 
AERIAL TRAMWAY
 
SCENIC CHAIRLIFT AND ALPINE SLIDE AT OBER GATLINBURG
 
SCENIC CHAIRLIFT AT OBER GATLINBURG
 
WATER RIDE AT OBER GATLINBURG
 
"TRAMPOLINE THING" AT OBER GATLINBURG
 
SCENE ON THE ROARING FORK AUTO TOUR
 
VIEW FROM CLINGMAN'S DOME OBSERVATION TOWER