Gatlinburg Winter Getaway
Updated: Jan 22
I love east Tennessee. I went to school out there and have visited the Smokey Mountains many times, but it had been a while since we visited and we have never went with our kids. Ideally, I dreamed of going during their Christmas season to enjoy all the lights and holiday events; however, our family had entirely too much going on during that time to be able to get away. Instead, we decided to make a winter trip over the MLK holiday weekend. While there is limited activities in the winter compared to summer months in the Smokies (and we battled bad weather), we found some fun places and had a great time.
Now, I am a mama of 2... but you will notice as I share our experience that only our 5 year old girl was with us for the trip. Luckily my sweet mama came to stay with our baby boy since he is too little to have been able to do anything at our main destination.
So... what did we do? Check out our full itinerary, details and what we recommend.
We had about a seven hour drive to the mountains from our house. We left just after lunch and got in after dark. Up and around the windy mountains just minutes from downtown Gatlinburg was our cabin that my sweet friend Alyssa booked for us (if you aren't using a travel agent to book for you - do it. Feel free to use mine!). She found us this absolute GEM of a cabin in the best location, with a great view and a very reasonable price! All of us were impressed and excited when we pulled up and unloaded.
This was our big day of planned activities and Ober Gatlinburg visit, and I am so glad the weather cooperated for it! A snow storm was on the way in and it was very cold; however, the rain, sleet and snow stayed away until Sunday.
To start the morning, we went for breakfast at the highly recommended Pancake Pantry. There was a short wait when we arrived at 8:30am, and I watched that line get longer as we waited. I was glad that I had Rick drop off our daughter and me while he parked the car so that we could snag our spot. About 25 minutes in line (outside... in the cold) and we were seated. LJ loves waffles, so that is what her and Rick ordered, while I got their sweet potato pancakes. Food arrived quickly and my order was very good (if you haven't ever tried sweet potato pancakes, you need to at least once)... but the waffles were AWFUL. I would never recommend them to anyone and you have to be warned not to order them. My waffle loving daughter wouldn't eat them and instead had some of my huge order of pancakes. Overall we all agreed that while the other items were good, they were not rave worthy and not worth waiting any longer than we did (some people waited 45 minutes to eat!).
We wanted to do some window shopping and see what fun stops we could make on our way down to the Ober Gatlinburg tramway. It was so cold outside, so we went into many of the fun shops and just browsed. We came across an arcade and decided to spend most of our time in there where it was warm. It was a really fun arcade and LJ loved it. I think it was one of her favorite parts of the whole trip and we definitely recommend stopping in for an hour or so.
Now it was time to head to the tramway. Very important to note that the aerial tramway that takes you up to Ober Gatlinburg is extremely busy and you need to plan a good chunk of time to wait in line and ride up. Get your tram tickets in advance to skip the ticket line, but you will still wait in the long line to ride. This also means that if you have reservations for anything at Ober (like snow tubing) you need to plan accordingly to be up there before your time. You can drive up to Ober; however, it is very fun and pretty to take the quick tram ride and you don't have to park again (we stayed in the same place all day).
We did have afternoon reservations to Snow Tube! We got up to Ober early enough to walk around and find where to put our stuff (they have lockers for less than a dollar) and grab a quick snack at their snack bar. Then it was time to head to the snow. It was even colder and starting to snow while we were up there. LJ and I wore snow pants and boots and we all had on hats, gloves and the usual winter gear on top of our warm base layers. You get 1.5 hours to snow tube and it was perfect for us with the weather conditions; but you do spend a good bit of time waiting in the line to get back up to the top of the tubing hill. They have a moving walkway (like at the airport) that takes you and your tube to the top where they have about 8 lanes to tube down, but the walkway is single file and they have to scan your access badge each time so it takes a bit to get everyone through (I really think they can improve this process so you can make more trips). We all had a blast! Younger kids (4-6) have to ride with an adult in a double tube and everyone else has a single. We took turns riding with LJ and seeing who could get down the fastest. News alert - I'm slow and my husband has some weird snow tubing skill apparently. Note: you do need to make these reservations well in advance of your visit because they sell out for most weekends!
Next, we decided to try the ice skating that they have inside. For only $10 a person it was worth a shot for everyone to experience it and LJ was begging to try it. It wasn't crowded and most people were novices (including my husband and daughter). Again, my husband was better than expected, but my little girl was having a hard time for sure. Even though it was hard she still had fun trying and was a good sport.
Finally, we got changed into our clothes for dinner and headed down the tram back to downtown Gatlinburg. I made us reservations at the Park Grill so we could celebrate our girls birthday. No matter where you choose to go for dinner in Gatlinburg - make the reservations! We wanted to try The Peddler because it is so recommended; however, it is very hard to get through their phone line to get a table. You have to call when they open at 4pm to get a reservation for that night. We were told you have better luck being at the restaurant when they open, but our snow tubing reservation was at that time. Nevertheless, the Park Grill did not disappoint! It was not at all crowded, had a great lodge atmosphere and the best salad bar I have ever had! We had steaks and dessert that was all fantastic and would definitely go back.
It was cold and wet with the winter storm on its way, so we made some plans to spend the day a little more relaxed and check out some places we could stay inside. We slept in and went to brunch at one of my favorite brunch spots - Ruby Sunshine (yes, just like Ruby Slipper if you have ever been near one) in downtown Gatlinburg. After a glorious brunch and some mimosas, we were ready to go check out Pigeon Forge just down the road and explore WonderWorks, the upside down mansion museum.
WonderWorks is full of fun science-like exhibits geared toward kids. It was a lot of fun for all of us, but I think it is best for kids 5 and up with some of the activities. There were several exhibits that you had to be over 42" to enjoy and our little girl is just shy of that even at 5. If you do decide to go, tickets were about $35 each, but if you are celebrating a birthday, like we were, be sure to get on their birthday club online to get a free entry for the birthday person and discount of $2 on everyone else! Plan to spend 1.5-2 hours here.
We asked LJ what she wanted to do and she loved the arcade from day one so much, she wanted to go again. Lucky for her they had another location in Pigeon Forge so we went there for another hour or two and got her all the tickets to get some cool prizes while the sleet came down outside.
There is a neat spot in Pigeon Forge called the Old Mill with a recommended restaurant so we decided to give it a try. Big portions of delicious southern style food (I'm still dreaming of their corn fritters!). Every item seems higher priced ($21-$25) for what it is, until you realize that it comes with a salad, soup, side and dessert for each person! Incredible value, great location with a view, and a cozy atmosphere with friendly service.
It was time for us to head home and see baby brother! Even with less than ideal weather, our little crew had a great weekend getaway! Rick and I both said we would go back again, even to that same cabin, and LJ had the best birthday weekend trip.