10 Great Things to Do in Gatlinburg in December

If you’re looking for exciting things to do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee in December, you’ll have plenty of options. This time of the year in Gatlinburg – a beautiful mountain resort in Sevier County – you are guaranteed the best holiday experience complete with snowmobiling and sleigh rides to shopping and holiday events.

While Gatlinburg promises unspoiled views of lush greens and mountain vistas of the stunning Great Smoky Mountains, visitors can enjoy a unique shopping experience at the Village District, try the local favorites like Coffee & Company and U Name It, or take part in a unique game of escape.

The winter season in Gatlinburg is the perfect time to try out the snow and skiing at Ober Gatlinburg. The ski slopes are open from mid-December until early March, and you can rent equipment for the day at this popular mountain. From family-friendly events to romantic getaways.

Here are the top 10 things to do in Gatlinburg in December to help you shake off the holiday season and ring in the New Year!

Best Things to Do in Gatlinburg in December

  1. Witness the Winterfest Lights
  2. See the Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade
  3. Visit Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort
  4. Give the Smoky Mountain National Park a Try
  5. Kick Back in Your Cabin Surrounded by the Smokies
  6. Go on a Picnic at Cades Cove
  7. Indulge in Indoor Attractions in Gatlinburg
  8. Go Winter Shopping in Downtown Gatlinburg
  9. Unleash Your Inner Artist at Art Studio of the Smokies
  10. Beat the Cold with Some Delicious Moonshine
witness the winterfest lights
Image: Judy Baxter

1. Witness the Winterfest Lights

Going to a winter festival can be a great way to escape the routine life and enjoy some time with friends, family, and neighbors.

The Gatlinburg Winterfest Lights is one of the most popular events held in Gatlinburg, starting from early November through February. Whether you’re looking for a fun night out with friends or an unforgettable holiday trip, you’ll find it at the Gatlinburg Winterfest Lights.

The annual event features more than 5 million lights strung between trees throughout downtown Gatlinburg. The lighting displays are made up of thousands of Christmas lights that decorate trees and buildings all around the town.

The major events of the Winterfest include the Great Smoky Thanksgiving and Christmas Arts & Crafts Show, Winter Smoky Mountain Tunes and Tales, Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parades, and the immensely popular Winter Magic Chili Cook-off.

2. See the Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade

fantasy of lights christmas parade
Image: Joel Kramer

The Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade is a holiday tradition in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The parade features a fire truck, horse-drawn carriage, and other floats. The show is held in the first week of December each year to celebrate the upcoming holiday season.

For this year, the parade is scheduled for December 2nd, beginning from Baskins Creek By-Pass, turning south on Parkway, and ending at Traffic Light #10. Don’t forget to book your flight early if you don’t want to miss out on this fantastic celebration!

The Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade is one of the largest events in Gatlinburg held during the Christmas season. It’s a favorite among families and tourists alike because of its many impressive floats and bands, who often play traditional Christmas carols.

To catch all the action, get there early for the Christmas Parade, which begins precisely at 7:30 p.m. If you’re looking for something different to do this holiday season, this is definitely an event worth checking out!

3. Visit Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort

ober gatlinburg ski resort
Image: Bryant Thomas

If you’re looking for a place to have some winter fun, Ober Gatlinburg is the perfect spot!

Ober Gatlinburg is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Smoky Mountains. Not only is it a great place to ski and snowboard but it also offers an incredible view of the mountains. The ski resort has over 25 slopes for skiers and snowboarders to enjoy the sport.

The terrain includes a wide variety of runs, including beginner, intermediate and advanced trails. Plus, there are plenty of other activities to keep you busy, like ice skating, snow tubing, and shopping.

December is a great time to go on a winter adventure in Gatlinburg with your family.

4. Give the Smoky Mountain National Park a Try

give the smoky mountain national park a try
Image: Bluedreamer2011

While the Smoky Mountains National Park is a beautiful destination to visit any time of the year, December is an especially popular month to explore the magic of the winter season in Gatlinburg.

The leaves have all changed color and the air is crisp and cool. The park is home to several beautiful waterfalls and gorgeous vistas, but its most popular feature is probably the Great Smoky Mountains themselves. This range runs along the eastern side of Tennessee from North Carolina to Georgia, and it’s the best side of the East Coast.

The park is also home to plenty of hiking trails that are perfect for those looking for an easy day trip or just a bit more strenuous activity. If you’re seeking something off the beaten path, there are plenty of hikes that take you deep into the backcountry away from any roads or trails.

The best time to hike is during daylight hours because the sun will warm you up and make it less likely that you’ll get lost in the woods. The trails are well-marked and easy to follow. You can bring your own food and water along but make sure you’re prepared for cold weather because these hikes tend to get snowed-in occasionally during winter months.

If you’re up for another adventure, continue along the trail until you reach Cades Cove Campground. This is a great place to camp and enjoy your surroundings. If you’re feeling ambitious, try hiking all day but be prepared for some challenging terrain if you choose to go farther than that!

5. Kick Back in Your Cabin Surrounded by the Smokies

cabin surrounded by the smokies
Image: Matthew Paulson

Gatlinburg is a small town, with a unique culture and rustic charm. This makes it a perfect spot for romantic getaways and family vacations for people who want to relax and rejuvenate in the best environment possible!

While outdoor adventures are fantastic for thrill-seeking and adrenaline boost, nothing beats a warm cup of coffee near a fireplace with your loved ones in December!

With the arrival of the holiday season and snowfall, we see a rise in various cabin rentals that are dotted throughout the city and cater to families of all sizes. These cozy little cabins come equipped with all amenities possible, from fireplaces to hot tubs, and jacuzzis to indoor pools.

The best thing about staying at a rental cabin is that you can get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and surround yourself with nature’s marvels. The stunning views of the Great Smokies offer a secluded escape for people who want to reconnect with nature!

These cabins will make you feel at home away from home, while you spend precious time with your family on a winter vacation in Gatlinburg.

6. Go on a Picnic at Cades Cove

go on a picnic at cades cove
Image: James St. John

As already mentioned, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the United States, and Cades Cove is a quiet and peaceful haven that can be found within the park.

With over 2 million visitors annually, Cades Cove is a picturesque destination surrounded by a backdrop of rolling greens, scenic loop roads, and towering peaks.

The park itself offers some spectacular scenery, but it’s Cades Cove that draws most people there. The cove offers a beautiful view of Mount LeConte from its ridge top, where you can see for miles around. The 11-mile road circles the entire Cades Cove and offers a charming driving trip through the Cades Cove Loop.

Visiting in December will give you the advantage of seeing snow-covered mountains and historical sites along the way. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some wildlife on your road trip!

It’s easy to see why this area was chosen for a picnic spot: it’s just as beautiful as any other spot within the park, yet it offers something special that makes it truly unique.

You’ll find that many visitors come here to enjoy the solitude and peace of this hidden gem, but you’ll also discover that there are plenty of places to enjoy food and drink without having to leave the grounds at all!

7. Indulge in Indoor Attractions in Gatlinburg

indoor attractions in gatlinburg
Image: Brent Moore

When the cold starts hitting a little too much, it’s better to stay inside but instead of getting bored, Gatlinburg offers you an array of popular and fun spots that you can enjoy in town.

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is an interactive aquarium and one of the most popular attractions in Gatlinburg. This world-renowned aquarium is home to over 10,000 different sea creatures. You can see sharks, stingrays, penguins, and more!

Plus, there’s a hands-on place where you can touch some of the animals. You can enjoy the beautiful Tennessee scenery while you watch the fish swim through their exhibits. The aquarium also houses a 5D movie theater and a cafe. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is a must-see for all those coming to Gatlinburg for the first time!

Another great indoor attraction in the city is the Sevier Air Trampoline and Ninja Warrior Park. This incredible spot will bring out your inner child and test your skills on 38,000 square feet of Trampolines and Ninja courses!

The ninja warrior zone features climbing walls, balance beams, cargo nets, and monkey bars to challenge you in your Ninja Warrior skills! The obstacles are designed so that everyone can participate regardless of their age or ability level. The park also has a food court where you can relax and refuel with delicious shakes and pizza.

If you’re on a Smokies vacation with your family, then these two places are a must-visit for an energizing kick in the winter season!

8. Go Winter Shopping in Downtown Gatlinburg

shopping in downtown gatlinburg
Image: James Carnes

Winter is the best time to shop in Gatlinburg. The town is decked with lights, trees, and other holiday decorations that make it look like a magical place.

You can enjoy shopping downtown and join other activities that are available during this time of year. Whether you want to get gifts for friends and family, or just treat yourself, downtown Gatlinburg is your place to go!

The city has many different shops and restaurants that you can visit while you’re there. There are also plenty of galleries that have great artwork for sale or to purchase as gifts for friends and family members.

There are also plenty of places where you can go to get hot cocoa or coffee. Don’t forget to visit the Village Shops and Mountain Mall to get the best winter deals on clothes, jewelry, and much more!

If you’re looking for antiques or vintage items from the 1920s through 1960s, check out this awesome list of Antique Shops & Malls in Gatlinburg! Here, you will find amazing deals for everything from furniture and collectibles to clothing and accessories. It’s an impressive collection of high-quality items that will make any shopper smile!

9. Unleash Your Inner Artist at Art Studio of the Smokies

Art Studio of the Smokies is a unique and fun experience for the whole family to enjoy. The studio is located in downtown Gatlinburg, so you can easily walk up there.

Here, you can explore your creative side with paint parties, art lessons, photography lessons, and group events.

The studios are especially popular among couples who love to spend some quality time together while being creative and making incredible memories! They offer art classes for kids and adults, as well as private lessons for groups or individuals.

With two large studios, they can accommodate up to 20 people at a time. The experience is customized to your liking and you can set your own design and schedule according to your mood!

10. Beat the Cold with Some Delicious Moonshine

delicious moonshine

Moonshine liquor is a popular drink native to the Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg. It is sure to warm you up on a cold December night around town!

Moonshine is a traditional Appalachian spirit that is popularly called “white lightning,” “hillbilly hooch,” and even “moonshine.” Moonshine is traditionally made from corn, sugar, yeast, water, and spices.

When on a holiday in Gatlinburg, you can visit several distilleries that offer tours and tastings. During your tour, you’ll learn about the history of moonshining in this area as well as how to make your own moonshine at home!

Most distilleries in Gatlinburg like Sugarlands and Ole Smoky Moonshine offer an exclusive distilling experience where you get to try signature variations of this iconic liquor.

You can also take behind-the-scenes tours and see how moonshine is produced, or buy a bottle or two as a gift for someone special!

Best Tours in Gatlinburg

Great Smoky Mountains NP & Cades Cove Self-Guided Tour

great smoky mountains np
Image: Don Sniegowski

This amazing self-guided tour will take you through the stunning landscapes of the Great Smoky Mountains, offering a chance to explore and hike through the secluded wilderness.

From Cades Cove to Cataract Falls and everything in between, you will get to enjoy sweeping views of the mountains, waterfalls, and streams as you drive around the country’s most-visited national park.

Helicopter Tour of Gatlinburg.

helicopter tour of gatlinburg

While the Smoky Mountains offer scenic panoramas from the ground, witnessing it from a high vantage point is an unforgettable experience that you don’t want to miss out on!

During your tour, you will have a bird-eye view of iconic spots like Sevierville, the Pigeon Forge Parkway, and downtown Gatlinburg, as your pilot provides you with information about every location you cross.

The tour will end over Tennessee’s biggest attraction, Mount LeConte.