Gatlinburg is a town of so many attractions that you might be tempted to stay forever. But sadly, most travelers have to cap their visit sooner or later.
Generally, the answer to how many days should you stay in Gatlinburg and the ideal amount of time to spend in the town depends on why you’re visiting and what you’re hoping to see.
In this article, we will take a look at how to plan out your trip and how many days you will want to stay in Gatlinburg.
So, How Many Days Should I stay In Gatlinburg?
If you’re pressed for time but still want to see the best of what the town has to offer, three days is a good amount of time to spend in Gatlinburg. It’s possible to see a good portion of Gatlinburg in just two days, as the town isn’t that big. But a two-day Gatlinburg itinerary can feel rushed.
Three days tends to work for most people visiting Gatlinburg, but you can add more days or take some away if that doesn’t feel right for you. Every traveler is different!
What is there to do in Gatlinburg?
When trying to decide how many days in Gatlinburg you need, first decide what you’d like to see and do on your itinerary. This will give you an idea of whether you can realistically visit the town in three days, or whether you should allocate more or less time.
Attractions can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour to half a day. You can complete most attractions in an hour to two hours—something to keep in mind when planning your itinerary.
The most popular attractions in Gatlinburg include:
- Gatlinburg Space Needle
- Gatlinburg Trolley
- Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen
- Gatlin’s Fun Center
- Arcade City
- The Village
- Ole Smoky Distillery
- Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium
- Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
- Ripley’s 5D Moving Theater
- Ripley’s Haunted Adventure
- Ripley’s Super Fun Park
- Alpine Axe House
- Wild Bear Falls Water Park
- Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
- Gatlinburg Pinball Museum
- Earthquake the Ride
- Hollywood Star Cars Museum
- Mysterious Mansion
How long do you need in Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
Most travelers to Gatlinburg hope to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park is less than five minutes from the town and remains open all year, though some roads around or inside the park may close due to weather in the winter.
Travel experts recommend between four and five days in the park if you want to do it slowly and properly, taking your time at all of the highlights and splitting your time between hiking and taking scenic drives.
However, it’s also possible to visit the park in less time, as long as you’re okay with not seeing as much of it. Note that four or five days in the park also includes venturing into nearby towns, such as Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, or Waynesville, North Carolina.
Some of the most popular things to see and do inside the park include:
The valley known as Cades Cove is one of the most in-demand locations in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Millions of visitors arrive at the valley each year hoping to take in the stunning and tranquil scenes. There’s a loop road that runs 11 miles through the valley and offers visitors the chance to absorb the picturesque views.
Along the loop road, you will see historic buildings and natural wonders. Visitors have a high chance of spotting active wildlife here, so be on the lookout for deer, squirrels, and even black bears.
Cades Cove is particularly convenient if you’re traveling from Gatlinburg, as it’s located just to the south of the town.
You can access the valley by following Gatlinburg’s Parkway road which travels through Downtown Gatlinburg, eventually entering the park.
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s actually the highest point in the state of Tennessee, so you know you’re in for some world-class views at the top! The observation tower stands more than 6,600 feet tall and even serves as the highest point east of the Mississippi.
From the dome, you will be able to see magnificent views for up to 100 miles into a number of surrounding states—though air pollution can reduce this to a distance of 22 miles. The sunrises and sunsets from the top of the dome are particularly mesmerizing.
The dome straddles the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. Visitors can access the observation tower by driving along Clingmans Dome Road from Newfound Gap and then following the trail for half a mile
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to several waterfalls, one of the most famous being Rainbow Falls. The mist from the falls, which plunge 80 feet, creates a rainbow effect, hence the landmark’s name and popularity.
It’s moderately difficult to hike to the falls, and the trail is around 5.4 miles round trip. You can reach the trailhead from the Parkway in Gatlinburg, turning at traffic light number eight and continuing on to the Historic Natural Trail into the park. Keep traveling past the Noah “Bud” Ogle homesite until you reach the Rainbow Falls parking area.
Another waterfall worth seeing in the park is Laurel Falls. The trail is the most popular hike in the park and features an easy loop of fewer than three miles that provides breathtaking views of the falls, which also plunge 80 feet.
You can access the Laurel Falls trailhead by traveling along Little River Road from the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
When is the best time of year to visit Gatlinburg?
The beauty of Gatlinburg is that the town remains open all year, even in the low season. The best time to visit depends on your priorities.
Do you want to enjoy a lot of outdoor activities? Hit the slopes? Beat the crowds or get a good hotel deal?
U.S. News explains that the best time to visit Gatlinburg is generally September, the shoulder season following the rush of summer. June, July, and August tend to be the busiest months in Gatlinburg, so visiting in September will ensure that you won’t have to contend with as many other tourists.
September also features mostly warm and pleasant weather, plus the brilliant colors of fall start to appear around the town. You can see oranges and reds in the natural foliage but also in the decorations that locals drape along the main street.
The accommodation also tends to be less expensive in September than in the peak season.
You can also score cheaper lodging in April, the spring shoulder season. Spring is another great time to go because of similarly mild weather and fewer crowds.
However, if hot days of sunshine matter to you, and you don’t want to risk any attraction closing early, summer may be the best time for you to go to Gatlinburg. Just be mindful that if you don’t plan ahead and get an early start every day, you’ll face long lines everywhere in town.
Of course, if you plan on enjoying winter activities while you’re in Gatlinburg, want to see the famous festive lights, or can’t wait to visit Ober Gatlinburg, winter is probably an ideal time to visit.
The town remains open, as does the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and there will be smaller crowds.
Just be prepared for very cold temperatures, sometimes dropping into the teens. Also, some of the scenic roads surrounding the park are closed in winter due to snowfall.
How to make the most out of your Gatlinburg trip
No matter when you visit Gatlinburg or how many days you spend in town, there are a few tips you can follow to make sure you get the most out of your trip.
Plan in advance
Gatlinburg is a small town, but there is a lot packed into it. If you wait until you arrive to plan your itinerary, there’s a high chance you’ll be overwhelmed. Rather, make a plan of the attractions you want to see and the places you want to eat at before you leave home.
Life doesn’t always go to plan and sometimes you’ll stray from your itinerary. But as long as you have a good idea of what you’ll be doing in town, you’ll be less likely to waste your time on the wrong attractions.
Go places early/late
If you are traveling during the high season, it can make all the difference to visit attractions really early, or really late. Between the hours of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., you can pretty much expect crowds and lines everywhere.
The majority of tourists will sleep in, so get your start early and beat the rush. For example, the Pancake Pantry, one of the town’s most famous breakfast joints, opens at 7 a.m.
Not all places take bookings, but if you arrive before most people, there’s less chance you’ll have to line up.
Buy tickets in advance
You can’t make reservations at all the attractions in Gatlinburg, but you can book tickets in advance for a number of them. And some establishments, like the Hollywood Star Cars Museum, actually offer discounts for purchasing tickets online ahead of time.
Buy tickets in advance where you can, and you will save a lot of time lining up (and possibly save a few dollars too!).
Many visitors feel completely safe in Gatlinburg. But like any popular town with immense foot traffic, there is an increased risk of crime.
In particular, protect yourself against theft by securing your belongings at all times. Don’t leave valuable items unattended in your cabin or hotel room unless you’re locking them in your suitcase.
How Many Days Should You Stay in Gatlinburg – Conclusion
How many days to spend in Gatlinburg will depend on what’s on your Gatlinburg bucket list.
In general, three days spent just in the town should be enough to see most of the attractions on your list, plus another few days to see the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
How long would you like to spend in Gatlinburg? Let us know in the comments below!