Beautiful views of the Smoky Mountains

Although the Smoky Mountain region is more commonly thought of as a summer vacation destination, there is still plenty of fun to be found year-round. Don’t rule out a winter trip just yet. Did you know that there are dozens of holiday shows, festivals, and events taking place during the winter months?

Beautiful sunrise in the Smoky Mountains

Add in numerous opportunities for winter recreational activities, rustic winter cabin rentals, Christmas at Dollywood, beautiful mountain scenery, and more. As you can see, there is more than enough going on to easily fill up a weekend itinerary. Below I have listed 7 fun activities and events in and around Gatlinburg to add to your winter to-do list.

1. Enjoy the scenic tram ride at Ober Gatlinburg

Aerial tram ride at Ober Gatlinburg

No visit to the Smokies would be complete without a scenic ride along the Ober Gatlinburg aerial cable car ride. This 10 minute ride takes you up high (2.1 miles) above the Smokies for a fabulous view of the surrounding landscapes. You will be taken up to the resort which houses beginner to advanced skiing with 100% snow-making.

Don’t worry if skiing is not your cup of tea, there are plenty of other entertaining attractions including an indoor ice skating rink, shops, a wildlife encounter attraction, and restaurants. Tram rides run $29 per adult and $20 for Children aged 5-11. Don’t forget to pick up your $1 off coupon in the Smoky Mountain Coupon Book. Trams run 7 days a week (check Ober Gatlinburg website for hours).

Also be sure to check out SkyBridge, Gatlinburg’s newest and hottest attraction. At 680 ft, it’s the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the US.

Ober Gatlinburg is located at 1001 Parkway #2, Gatlinburg, TN 37738

2. Take a holiday lights ride tour

Winter magic trolley in Gatlinburg TN

Hop aboard for some Christmas cheer along Gatlinburg’s fun, festive annual trolley light tour. The 45 minute journey will take you through downtown Gatlinburg’s amazing 1.6 million dollar light display and also around the many light displays located along Hwy 321. The beautiful snowflakes lining the light posts of Main Street will really get you into the holiday spirit. Keeping in line with the rustic theme, you will find many Smokies themed displays such as Black Bears along the way.

I highly recommend this winter ride for any tourist new to the area – the tour guide provides plenty of interesting and fun stories to keep you entertained! The event typically runs from mid November until the end of December. Visit Eventbrite to book your tickets. Rides cost $5 per person.

Meetup for the trolley is at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, located at 88 River Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738.

Update: As of 2023, you can now pick up a map and see the lights for yourself via. self-guided tour.

More info

3. Run the Santa Hustle Half Marathon

Santa Hustle Half Marathon Seiverville TN

This festive Santa themed holiday half marathon and 5k (which started in Chicago) has grown to include 6 cities including Sevierville TN. Thousands of Santas line up in this brisk mid-December event and race down the streets of Sevierville and Pigeon Forge in the country’s most festive half marathon.

This fantastic themed race, which is loaded with fun festive touches such as Christmas carols, holiday decorations, and cookies and milk along the route, is sure to please anyone who loves the holidays. A cute dry-fit Santa shirt, hat, and beard are given to each participant to wear.

The course is hilly, although the festive atmosphere and beautiful mountain scenery will help propel you to the finish. In fact, I even PR’d in this race despite the tough hills. Afterwards you can head right over to the indoor water-park at Wilderness at the Smokies Resort for a little R&R (the partner hotel & starting point of the race – runners receive a discounted rate!). Check out the Santa Hustle Smokies Race website for more info.

4. Shop for holiday gifts and decor at The Incredible Christmas Place

South's largest Christmas store in Pigeon Forge TN

Make sure to plan a stop at the South’s largest Christmas store. With more Christmas than you could imagine jam packed into one place, it’s no surprise that this shop frequently ranks among the best year-round Christmas specialty stores in the country. This jolly shop is home to the biggest Christmas selection I have ever seen; you will find anything and everything here. The store is absolutely gorgeous with dazzling holiday displays, over 60 beautifully decorated trees, and any ornament you can imagine.

Everything is conveniently organized into sections i.e. nutcrackers, water globes, lighting, outdoor decor, color coded ornaments, etc. This is a great place to shop for unique decorations and ornaments for your house that you will not find in a typical department store. Decorations for every budget and style line the aisles. The shop is open year-round so you can get into the festive spirit no matter what time of the year you visit.

Across the street, you will find The Inn at Christmas Place, a year-round holiday themed hotel, featuring beautiful Bavarian architecture and festive events all year round.

The Incredible Christmas Place is located at 2470 Parkway in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Hours are 9:00am-10:00pm (holiday hours may vary).

Visit the Christmas Place website to shop online.

5. Ski/ice skate at Ober Gatlinburg

Skiing at Ober Gatlinburg - Tennessee's ski resort

Be sure to schedule a visit to Ober Gatlinburg, Tennessee’s only ski resort, on your winter trip itinerary. The scenic tram ride up to the ski area is a worthy of a trip up in and of itself. Snowmaking starts each season when the temperature drops below 28 degrees. Skiing and snowboarding lessons are available for beginners.

Ice rink at Ober Gatlinburg

Nothing says Christmas is around the corner quite like ice skating. It’s festive, it’s fun, and it burns tons of calories. The year-round indoor ice rink at Ober is located right in the middle of the shops and restaurants. The large rink (140 by 75 ft) is large enough to accommodate plenty of skaters. Ice skating is available as part of a package wristband deal ($49 for the tram and all activities). Hours are 10am-6pm.

Ober Gatlinburg is located at 1001 Parkway #2, Gatlinburg, TN 37738

Visit the Ober Gatlinburg website for slope conditions, pricing information, and hours.

6. Escape the cold at the Wild Water Dome Indoor Water Park at Wilderness at the Smokies

Indoor water park at Wilderness at the Smokies Resort in Seiverville TN

What better way to warm up during the brisk winter months than a trip to Tennessee’s largest indoor water park? Wild Water Dome, located inside Wilderness at the Smokies Resort, is a fantastic choice for those craving some fun-in-the-sun! With a glass roof, toasty 80+ degree weather all year-round, a pool bar, and snack shops, you will feel like you are outside on a warm summer day!

This 66,000 square foot water park features most of the traditional water park features, including a wave pool, a massive indoor/outdoor hot tub, a thrill ride, a family raft ride, a Surf Rider experience, and even a kid’s area. Guests staying at Wilderness at the Smokies resort receive free admission to the park each day of their stay.

The Wilderness resort is a laid-back, rustic themed hotel loaded with numerous amenities such as on-site restaurants, gift shops, an arcade and much more.

7. Take a stroll around The Village Shoppes

Charming ambiance at the Village Shops in Gatlinburg, TN

The Village Shoppes in downtown Gatlinburg is a charming Bavarian themed village home to 27 independent shops. The festive Old World ambiance makes this the perfect place to do a bit of Christmas shopping. Treat yourself to a fresh donut or cinnamon roll at The Donut Friar, warm up with a coffee at Coffee & Co (Gatlinburg’s oldest roaster), browse through the wonderful Master’s Edition art gallery, and check out the variety of shops.

The Village Shoppes is located at 634 Parkway Gatlinburg, TN 37738. Hours are 10am-10pm, 7 days a week.

More winter fun

Check out a museum – Both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are home to a number of interesting museums. A few to add to your bucket list include the Titanic museum, the Salt and Pepper Shaker museum, and the Hollywood Star Cars museum.

Ghostbusters Ectomobile at the Hollywood Cars Museum in Gatlinburg, TN
The Ghostbusters Ecto Mobile at the Hollywood Stars museum
The wonderful Titanic museum, featuring 400+ artifacts

Treat yourself to a hearty breakfast – The entire Smokies region is home to more pancake houses than you could possibly count. The Pancake Pantry is super popular with tourists and conveniently located in the center of downtown Gatlinburg. Crockett’s is another popular breakfast choice due to the rustic ambiance, central location, and hearty portions. A cozy warm breakfast is a great choice on a cold winter day!

Crockett's Breakfast Camp in Gatlinburg, TN
Breakfast burrito at Crockett's Breakfast Camp

Wine tastings – Simply take a stroll around the main drag in Gatlinburg and you will find an abundance of wineries offering free tastings.

Hike to a waterfall – Assuming there is no snow or ice on the ground, consider hiking to one of the breathtaking waterfalls located within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park is just a quick drive from Gatlinburg and many of the best waterfalls are easily accessible. The best-of-the-best is 80 foot Laurel Falls, viewable after a reasonably moderate hike of just 1.5 miles.

Laurel Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Have you/are you planning a vacation to the Smokies? Did you participate in any of the above activities? Which winter activities would you add to the list? Gatlinburg vs. Pigeon Forge – which resort town offers more amenities? Share your feedback on any Smoky Mountain related vacation ideas!