Jam-packed with family-friendly attractions, breweries and distilleries, fudge and candy shops, old-time photo studios, local wineries, museums, live music, outdoor activities, and an impressive calendar of events, the welcoming towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge in the Great Smoky Mountains are the vacation go-tos for millions of people each year. With so much to do, even a full week here isn’t enough time to fit it all in.
But we know that you don’t always have a full week to get away. That’s another one of the great things about the Smokies. It’s more centrally located than most national parks in the country, so it’s just a few hours’ drive for many. So if you just have a weekend to slip away, Gatlinburg is a great pick. If you’re coming for a few days and need some ideas, read on. We’ve got a 3-day lineup for a quick trip to the Smoky Mountains!
If you just have a few days in the Smokies, you want to hit as many of the “must dos” as possible. Start with a big pancake breakfast, which you’ll soon see is a rite of passage in Gatlinburg. There are tons of places to choose from, but a few of my favorites are Pancake Pantry, Crockett’s Breakfast Camp, and Applewood Farmhouse (try the julep) in neighboring Sevierville. Then you’re ready to start exploring!
If you’re already downtown after eating, spend the rest of the morning strolling along the Parkway. You might pop in for an old-time photo (an awesome souvenir), get a custom-made airbrush t-shirt, browse the Village Shops, and enjoy the 360-degree views from the top of the Gatlinburg Space Needle before taking a break for lunch. Ogle dogs, cheesesteaks, and sausages with peppers and onions at Fannie Farkle’s is a quick lunch, or you can sit down for barbecue at Calhoun’s, get a burger and beer at Smoky Mountain Brewery, or enjoy down-home cooking at Three Jimmy’s Restaurant.
After lunch, play some mini golf before treating yourself to something sweet. Get a box of creamy fudge, a candy-coated caramel apple or chocolate-dipped strawberry from Kilwin’s, and a bag of brown bears or fresh-pulled taffy from Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen to take back to the cabin. Or you can head to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, home to thousands of underwater creatures. Touch stingrays, walk beneath sharks, watch sea turtles swim, and let the kids play on the 4-story playground inside!
If you’re ready to call it a day after lunch downtown, just grab the sweets and spend the rest of the day lounging around the cabin, watching movies, playing games, and soaking in the views. Watching the sun set over the Smoky Mountains is the perfect end to an exciting day in town! If you went grocery shopping, grill up burgers and steaks for dinner and finish the night with a soak in your hot tub!
If you’re not up for another pancake breakfast, start this morning with a homemade meal in the cabin. You can do your own shopping or order our Mountain Breakfast basket for some easy and quick options before heading into town. Today’s the day to lace up your boots and head over to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are 800+ miles of trails to explore, and you can hike, bike, go horseback riding, have picnics, see historic buildings, and take scenic drives in the park.
If you want to spend some extra time in the park, pack a picnic lunch (or order our Smoky Mountain Picnic) and plenty of snacks and water. Then you won’t have to leave for lunch! Need a sweet treat while you’re at the park? Stop in for soft-serve ice cream at the Cades Cove Campground store. Then you can take a scenic drive through Cades Cove, where you can watch for turkeys, deer, and black bears and enjoy incredible views.
Day 3 is 2 classic attractions in the area: Ober Gatlinburg and The Island in Pigeon Forge. Ride the Aerial Tramway to Ober Gatlinburg for a coffee and pastry at Ski Mountain Grind Haus to start the day. Once there, you can ride the Ski Mountain Coaster or Alpine Slide, go ice skating, enjoy the Wildlife Encounter, play mini golf, or do some skiing (if you’re here in winter). After Ober, it’s time to explore Pigeon Forge.
Make your way to The Island, where a family-style meal at Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen or a drink at Margaritaville awaits. If you have a sweet tooth, The Island has everything from classic candies and ice cream to donuts and daiquiris. Take a ride on the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, listen to live music at the Ole Smoky Moonshine stage, watch the show fountain splash around, or challenge your group at The Escape Game. The Island is the perfect place to spend an afternoon and evening walking around, with dozens of shops for kids and adults.