The mountains are calling. You must go.
Adults-oriented amusements abound with new additions including “Anakeesta” coming soon.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Let’s address what may be your first thought: Yes, Gatlinburg, Tennessee suffered wildfires in late 2016. It was devastating, especially to the more than 900 folks who lost their homes. But what you may not realize is that the parts of Gatlinburg that you’re most likely to see as a visitor were spared. You could visit Gatlinburg plus its sister communities of Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, and even explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, without noticing that a fire occurred. This means that you’re not only welcome to visit and are sure to have a great time, but also that now is the perfect time to go: Your travel dollars will be going into a community that really needs it—for one thing, lots of people who lost their homes are grateful to have jobs and need the job security that tourism can bring. Now, more than ever, the mountains are calling. Answer with no regrets!
Whatever sort of adult vacation you want, you can experience it in Gatlinburg and the surrounding area. Among the travel options…
Nature & Adventure
Gatlinburg serves as a hub for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which boasts abundant hiking options including a stretch of the Appalachian Trail. There are so many hiking trails that choosing one may be difficult. For insider tips, an interpretive naturalist guide and/or a hiking companion, schedule a hike with Smoky Mountain Outdoors (453 Brookside Village Way, 800-771-7238). A true highlight of my recent trip was spending time walking in the woods with two friendly folks on a 1.25-mile trail known only to locals (and not many of them, it turns out!) on a “Wildflowers, Warblers & Waterfalls”-themed hike. Treading on a path adjacent to Rhododendron Creek (which presented a somewhat steep incline, a few obstacles to scramble over, plus a water crossing), we passed more than a dozen waterfalls, countless flowers and heard a chorus of birds. Guide Keith Watson readily identified birds by their calls. As he chatted about local history, which was a far more interesting topic than it may seem, I learned more than I’d have thought to ask. Guided hikes usually last two hours and can be adapted to suit your specific needs and interests, such as “birding and native plants,” “waterfalls,” “scenic sunset,” and/or “fast hikers” and other options.
Smoky Mountain Outdoors also offers white water rafting trips. Choose to paddle 6.5 miles of Class III to IV rapids in the Upper Pigeon River or 5.5 miles of Class I and II rapids in the Lower Pigeon River. Either way, expect to have some wet fun. (We’ll test it out on a future visit. Stay tuned for the full report!)
Odds of Encountering Children: Varies, but if you want zero kids on your hiking or rafting adventure make that wish known when making your reservation and it’s possible. 21 Plus Salute!
Coming Soon! The new attraction Anakeesta (576 Parkway, 865-325-2400) is scheduled to open in June. This new development will feature a 12-minute chair lift up to a 70-acre forest playground from downtown Gatlinburg; ride in a four-person Condola—the first of its kind in North America!—or a six-person gondola cabin (that’s ADA accessible, to ensure everyone is welcome). Atop Anakeesta Mountain you’ll find a dual-racing 1,000-foot zip-line, a high-speed single-rail mountain coaster with thrilling twists and turns through the trees, a 22-bridge canopy walk that’s 40- to 60-feet above the ground, a scenic overlook with views of Mount LeConte and downtown Gatlinburg, dining and magical tree house-themed shopping in Firefly Village (that will feature handmade local crafts plus goodies from Savannah Bee Company), and more. (Even more to come! Tree house lodging will be added in Phase II.) We got a preview while construction was in progress and think Anakeesta will be a fun addition to the already extensive lineup of Gatlinburg attractions. (We’ll test it out on a future visit. Stay tuned for the full report!)
Odds of Encountering Children: Inevitable, but a “Children’s Tree House Village” may lure most of them away from the aspects of this place that adults will favor.
Arts & Crafts
Cliff Dwellers Gallery (668 Glades Rd., 865.436.6921), has served as an arts and crafts shop since 1933. Originally built as a home, studio and gallery for Louis Jones, the building was moved from the Parkway to its current location at the heart of the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community in 1996. It currently serves as a work space for four artist owners—watercolor painter Louise Bales, weaver Sherry Mummert, marbler Pat K. Thomas, and potter Winnie J. Utterback—as well as a retail gallery for their work plus the creations of more than 60 local and regional artists working in a variety of mediums and styles including jewelry, quilts and other fiber arts, woodworking, glass and much more. You can watch the artists at work and/or browse the extensive collection of works available.
About the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community, artist Louise Bales says, “This eight-mile loop is a world away from kitsch.” Indeed. The works sold at the more than 100 shops, studios and galleries along this stretch of Gatlinburg are handcrafted. (Look for the “member” logo to be assured of handcrafted quality.) Looking for a one-of-a-kind piece? This is your shopping mecca. (To reach it, turn onto Hwy. 321 at Traffic Light #3 in downtown Gatlinburg and go three miles.)
Want to try your hand at making a craft? Arts and Crafts “Hands On” workshops are available at certain times of the year. On a more regular basis, Fowler’s Clayworks (1402 E. Parkway, 865.412.1003) offers hands-on studio classes where you can make your own mug or bowl. (We’ll test it out on a future visit. Stay tuned for the full report!)
The Parkway is home to specialty retail shopping, along with lots of eateries and entertainment—it’s Gatlinburg’s main drag and is routinely abuzz with vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Definitely allow time to stroll it during your visit to tap into Gatlinburg and make your own discoveries; among my personal favorite stops is the Steel Revolt jewelry store.
I was introduced to a new personal favorite area of Gatlinburg during this visit. Tucked away like a secret from the main hustle and bustle of the Parkway is The Village, a collection of 27 shops. Laid out in graceful curves around brick walkways, The Village has an old-timey feel and Old World vibe that is relaxed. Step into this little alcove for tasty treats at Coffee & Company and The Donut Friar then shop for everything from T-shirts to Celtic treasures, silver jewelry to nesting dolls, scented candles to hot sauce and more.
Stroll the Parkway and you can pop into multiple distilleries, including two Ole Smoky tasting rooms: The Holler, which specializes in moonshine, and the Barrelhouse, which focuses on whiskey. The Holler just so happens to be America’s most visited distillery and is where all of the company’s signature flavors of Tennessee Moonshine are produced, so in addition to tasting a sampling of the product lineup (for $5), you’ll also see and smell moonshine being made right on site (for free!). About 15 different whiskeys are available at the Barrelhouse, including straight, blended, and flavored. Read more about Ole Smoky.
Gatlinburg is a tourist hotspot and along the Parkway attractions glow their neon invitations, from the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Odditorium to the Sky Lift, from the Space Needle to the Marvelous Mirror Maze, from the only ski area in the Tennessee to the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, and on and on. Signs exclaim “Amazing! Extreme! Exciting! Challenging! Action-Packed! Biggest!” and other boasts. Attractions appeal to folks of all ages; depending on when you visit, however, you can have a more adults-oriented experience. @21plusTravel Tip: For the best odds, stroll the Parkway at night or during the week when school is in session.
Kitschy fun isn’t limited to the Parkway and can be found throughout downtown Gatlinburg. If curiosities intrigue you, don’t miss the Museum of Salt & Pepper Shakers, billed as “the only salt and pepper shaker museum in the world” (…even though it has a sister museum in Spain). Museum curator Andrea Ludden says, “After 22 years of collecting over 20,000 salt and pepper shakers, I still enjoy and admire the creativity of the people who came up with such a variety of ways to contain and dispense salt and pepper.” This museum is packed with more than 20,000 pairs of salt and pepper shakers from different eras and different countries. Shelves are organized by theme, such as wood, animals, celebrities, chefs, etc. Quirky and fun, far more interesting than you might suspect, the collection is displayed in such a way that you can spend as much or as little time as you want to take inspecting it. Find your favorite design, look for the smallest, the biggest, the most expensive, the most surprising (for me, it was the set with long handles), and even start your own collection by choosing a set among the more than 1,000 salt and pepper shakers available in the gift shop.
Where To Stay…
Old Creek Lodge
680 River Road
Old Creek Lodge has all the modern conveniences you need and can reasonably expect, but it’s all served with a level of genuine heartfelt service that feels nostalgic—starting with the warm cookies and lemonade available in the lobby upon arrival. All guestrooms have a rustic décor style that suits the hotel’s Smoky Mountains locale; some guestrooms have sofas and leather club chairs, some have whirlpool tubs, and all offer gas fireplaces and private balconies over a picturesque stream.
- Located within walking distance of downtown Gatlinburg
- Free parking
- Free Wi-Fi
- Free continental breakfast
- Outdoor pool
- Coffee makers and basic supplies in each guestroom
The Gatlinburg CVB also shares several new lodging options that have opened or will soon open within walking distance of the convention center and the Parkway:
Margaritaville Resort (2018)
Fairfield Inn and Suites (2017)
Hampton Inn (2017)
Courtyard by Marriott (2016)
Holiday Inn Express (2016)
Where To Eat…
1359 East Parkway
Grab a seat indoors or out, but be sure you’ve brought an appetite because portions here are generous. The Guinness-braised Rueben sandwich is scrumptious, messy and huge. In addition to sandwiches, the menu offers salads, flatbreads and pizzas, barbecue, house-smoked meats, pasta and more. “Three Jimmy’s is all about fresh and homemade food that never disappoints,” is the website boast. I can’t say they exaggerate.
The Park Grill
This restaurant is the “foodie”-est option in downtown Gatlinburg. Open for lunch and dinner, it’s upscale (though you can dress casual) and a bit retro with its massive salad bar at center stage. The menu features hearty portions and preparations of fresh cuts of beef, pork, fish and chicken while aiming to showcase classic flavors of Southern Appalachia. Sauces, dressings, desserts and more are made from scratch on site. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park doesn’t have an official lodge or dining option; this restaurant fills that void. It’s located next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance and its décor showcases the Park. It’s not uncommon to find Park Rangers seated throughout the dining room.
The Gatlinburg CVB also reports several new restaurants that have joined or will soon join the local dining scene:
Landshark Restaurant (2018)
Mama’s Farmhouse (2017)
Maddog’s Creamery and Donuts (2016)
Farmer’s Burger Barn (2016)
Gatlinburg Brewing Co. (2016)
– Photo Credits: Anakeesta courtesy Anakeesta; The Holler courtesy Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine; Keith Watson by Olwen Claiborne; remainder © HSP Media LLC
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.