Plan YOUR Winter Vacation in the Smoky Mountains

Picturesque throughout the year, the Great Smoky Mountains is especially enchanting as winter settles into Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The mountain peaks are tucked under a shimmering blanket of snow. Christmas lights brighten up seasonal events and shopping windows. Local attractions put a wintry spin on fun activities. And the weather is great for cabin life, snuggling in front of a crackling fireplace or relaxing in a steamy hot tub at the end of the day. Winter is the perfect time of year for couples, families, friends, and groups to vacation in the Smokies! 

Need help planning your unforgettable winter escape? Cabins for YOU — a top vacation rental company with 450+ cabin rentals of all shapes and sizes, pet friendly and budget friendly options, and even luxury accommodations — has you covered with information on exciting area events, winter activities in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, cabin recommendations packed with amenities, and helpful tips to enjoy the Great Smoky Mountains in wintertime. 

Note: All events, attractions, restaurants, and cabins are complying with COVID-19 protocols that include proper social distancing, face masks, temperature checks, hand washing/sanitizing stations, and intensified cleaning and disinfecting procedures.

Winter Events in Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge

Whether you’re looking for a fun performance to impress the kids, something to keep a large group entertained, or a special outing for date night in the Smokies, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge deliver — with fun winter events! Check out some of our favorite events you can toss into your winter vacation plans below.

  • Winterfest Chili Cook-off | Nov 12, 2020
    • In preparation for the winter season, Gatlinburg hosts a chili cook-off in November to kick off Smoky Mountain Winterfest with flair and flavor! Local restaurants will be whipping up homemade — hearty, mild, grandma’s secret recipe, adventurous, spicy, and downright wild — chilis for guests to sample and vote for the People’s Choice Award. Live entertainment will be provided all night, and the official Winterfest lighting ceremony will be held with city leaders. Space is limited this year, so purchase your $10 tickets ahead of time online. The chili cook-off begins at 5:00 p.m. and ends at 8:00 p.m. at the Anakeesta Plaza.
  • Smoky Mountain Winterfest | Nov 13, 2020 – Feb 22, 2021
    • An annual event since 1989, Smoky Mountain Winterfest features brilliant holiday-themed displays with millions of LED lights filling the cities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville. Local restaurants offer seasonal dishes such as turkey and dressing, cornbread, ham, and pumpkin pie. Area attractions are decorated with snowflakes, Santa Claus figures, and holly berries. Dinner and comedy shows put on seasonal performances. Shops smell of cinnamon and spice, and carolers fill the air with beautiful music. It’s a fun winter event with something for everyone!
  • Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade | Dec 4, 2020
    • If you enjoy free and festive outdoor events, plan your visit to include the annual Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade! On this winter night, the streets come alive with all things Christmas. Get excited to see bright LED light displays, giant balloons, marching bands, holiday characters, and talented performers make their way through town. The Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade is free to all and usually begins around 7:30 p.m., but you better get there early for a good spot! 
  • New Year’s Eve Ball Drop & Fireworks | Dec 31, 2020
    • Ring in the new year at the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop in Gatlinburg or party at The Island’s New Year celebration in Pigeon Forge! Rally friends and family at the base of the Space Needle in preparation for Gatlinburg’s annual ball drop and spectacular fireworks show at midnight on December 31. Or choose to spend the last moments of the year playing at The Island, to feature live music and dancing, contests with grand prizes, and a celebratory fireworks display — all for FREE!
  • Winter Magic Trolley Ride of Lights | Unconfirmed for 2020
    • Grab a ticket, hop aboard, and relax for a magical tour on the Winter Magic Trolley Ride of Lights in Gatlinburg. Featuring 4+ million LED lights, custom displays portray classic mountain activities, local wildlife (including foxes, deer, and rabbits), jolly characters, and best of all, a winter wonderland! And you can see it all from the comfort of a cozy trolley at only $5 per person (children under 3 may sit on an adult’s lap for free). Or simply take a leisurely evening walk downtown to see the brilliant illuminations up close without paying a dime and with a tall Starbucks latte in hand to keep warm.
  • Winter Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales | Unconfirmed for 2020
    • Along the Parkway in downtown Gatlinburg, you’ll find characters (including Santa, Frosty, and Rudolph), vibrant storytellers, and lovely carolers wandering about and showcasing their many talents in costume. Feel free to talk to them, snap a picture together, or join in on a few carols! The streets come alive with this display of yuletide cheer every year, and it’s a wintertime event locals and visitors alike really enjoy. Plus, it’s totally free!

Winter Activities in Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge

Adding to the winter wonderland created by snowfall, ice, and holiday lights, there are lots of winter activities in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge to keep people from 1 – 100 happy.  There’s a whole mess of entertaining attractions, tasty restaurants, shopping centers, and outdoor adventures just waiting for YOU. From snow tubing down a giant hill and watching tropical fish swim by to gobbling up Southern delicacies and buying all the souvenirs downtown, let the fun begin!

Pro Tip: Book as much as possible ahead of time to ensure the success of your trip, and don’t let potential mishaps bring down the awesome winter vacay vibes.

  • Ski, Snowboard & Ice Skate at Ober Gatlinburg
    • Start things off with a ride on the Aerial Tramway towards winter sports at Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area & Amusement Park! Ski, snowboard, or snow tube towards the powdery bottom of the frigid slopes, ice skate or steer the ice bumper cars indoors (a nice respite from the biting breezes), and build a sassy snowman with the kiddos in the Cubbies Snow Zone. The indoor ice rink is open year-round for ice skating, and the Ski Mountain slopes open for skiing and snowboarding sometime in mid-December, depending on the weather. You can rent your equipment on-site and even take lessons with professionals. You’ll also find indoor shops and eateries along with additional attractions, so you can stay and play for hours on end! 
  • Explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
    • Another great way to have some outdoor fun in Gatlinburg in the winter is by bundling up and hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (no cost to enter), where winter couldn’t be more beautiful and serene. With dark evergreens, snow-covered peaks, sleeping black bears, trickling streams, frozen waterfalls, sleeping wildlife, and a calming quiet, the national park is the perfect place to reconnect with nature and rejuvenate the soul. Horseback ride, bird watch, hike, journal, sketch, photograph…the options are endless! Most importantly, wear warm, layered clothes and water-resistant shoes because you may trek through some snow!
  • Take a Scenic Drive Through Cades Cove
    • With slick, rainy, or icy conditions and plummeting temperatures, it’s not everyone’s idea of fun to spend the day outside. But that doesn’t mean you have to miss the beauty of the national park. Take a gorgeous scenic drive through the Great Smoky Mountains instead! One of the best places to drive through the park at a leisurely pace to spot wildlife, historic sites, and breathtaking views is Cades Cove. This 11-mile route is paved and offers some of the best sightseeing in the Smokies from your vehicle.
  • Sip & Sample Along the Rocky Top Wine Trail
    • Try a favorite adult activity that’s perfect for warming up during winter — wine tasting! The Rocky Top Wine Trail features 5 Smoky Mountain wineries within 12 miles of each other: Apple Barn Winery, Hillside Winery, Apple Barn Cider House, Mountain Valley Winery, and Mill Bridge Winery. All 5 locations are open 7 days a week, so you can visit a different winery each day of your vacation — no need to complete the trail all in 1 day! Pick up a free wine trail passport at your 1st stop, get a free wine glass at your 3rd winery visit, and receive another gift when you visit all 5 locations.
  • Experience the Wonder of the Holiday Season at Dollywood
    • Venture to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge for an exciting Smoky Mountain Christmas extravaganza (early November – December)! Enter the winter zone dubbed Glacier Ridge — starring twinkling light displays and a 50-foot Christmas tree with video motion! Attend the Parade of Many Colors, featuring 5+ million lights, classic characters (like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer), plus endless mugs of hot cocoa. Watch dazzling fireworks displays and holiday shows with music, dancing, and laughter. And don’t forget to take photos with Santa Claus!
  • Dine with a Show at Dolly Parton’s Stampede
    • Looking for something fun for the whole family? Try Dolly Parton’s Stampede Dinner Attraction in Pigeon Forge. With a scrumptious 4-course meal — that serves a whole rotisserie chicken, homemade biscuits, corn on the cob, and more — and show-stopping entertainment that includes horseback riding stunts, clowny comedy, bluegrass music, and special effects, this is sure to be a crowd-pleasing treat! 
  • Find Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice (to Eat) at The Apple Barn
    • Visit the original Apple Barn in nearby Sevierville, Tennessee. From more than 4,000 apple trees growing on the hillsides of the Smokies, the Apple Barn produces delicious ciders, turnovers, jams, and more! The farm features 2 family-friendly restaurants — including the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant, built from a converted 1920s farm — and an award-winning winery. It’s one of the most popular (and delicious) stops in the Smokies!
  • Snow Tube Indoors at Pigeon Forge Snow!
    • Ever wanted to play in the snow…indoors? You’re in luck! Pigeon Forge Snow is the first indoor snow park in the country. Their snow is made from 100% water, so it’s the real deal! Snow tube down 15 lanes of powdery bliss, build snow people and make snow angels in the play area, and refuel at the snack bar overlooking the snow tube lanes. It’s a great option for couples, friends, families, and groups who want to enjoy the snow this winter — no matter the weather outside!
  • Warm Up with Ole Smoky Moonshine
    • Wet your whistle with some of the smoothest, tastiest liquid lightning at Ole Smoky Moonshine, the most visited distillery in the nation and a fun place to hang in Gatlinburg in the winter. A wide variety of flavors delight and include everything from apple pie, margarita, and butter pecan to mountain java, hunch punch, and white chocolate strawberry cream. And you’ll never guess their best seller — moonshine pickles! When you give them a try…you’ll taste (and feel) why. 
  • Play, Shop & Dine Atop Anakeesta Mountain
    • Why not mix sightseeing with your dinner? Anakeesta is one of Gatlinburg’s newest attractions that is drawing a lot of popularity with their alpine-inspired shopping village, fun activities like duel ziplining, riding a mountain coaster, and strolling among the tree canopy, and delicious dining spots overlooking some of the most incredible Smoky Mountain views. Enjoy drinks and dinner at Cliff Top, boasting savory all-American eats, smooth specialty cocktails, and sweeping views of the snow-capped Smoky Mountains.
  • Try Cross-Country Skiing Paired with Breathtaking Views at Clingmans Dome
    • Want to try something new or challenge yourself this year? Take a cross-country ski or snowshoe trip on the snowy slope leading to Clingmans Dome — the highest point in the national park where you can see 360 mountain views of rolling snow-capped peaks against a peaceful winter sky! Dress warm and park your car at the intersection of Dome Road and US 441 to begin your snowy adventure. Once you’ve taken in the pure majesty of nature and snapped your pics, enjoy a nice ski downhill back to your car where the road is closed (but still plowed and maintained), making it a 15-mile round trip journey with half being downhill. 
  • Play with Penguins at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
    • Tour Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, an award winning aquarium in Gatlinburg with multiple levels of underwater beauty and adventure. Visit the Tropical Rainforest, Shark Lagoon, Coral Reef, Stingray Bay, and Penguin Playhouse — where yes, you can plan to play with the adorable penguins or watch them paint a picture. Plus, you can pet moon jellies and horseshoe crabs, ride in a glass bottom boat above sharks, and splash around with majestic rays. And this is only 1 of a whopping 8 Ripley’s attractions in the area!
  • Shop Post-Holiday Deals at Local Shops & Boutiques
    • They don’t call it retail therapy for nothing! Once you’ve done all the sightseeing and winter activities your heart desires in the Smokies, take advantage of the post-holiday sales in the area as they need to clear their shelves for the fast-approaching spring season. Our recommendations include The Village Shops in Gatlinburg, which has 27 unique boutiques in a storybook setting, and The Island in Pigeon Forge, which is a shopping and entertainment complex where you can shop, refuel, play, then shop some more! And if you’re looking for more common retail shops, then head to Tanger Outlets in nearby Sevierville.

Cozy Cabins for YOU in Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge

After playing at wintry events and attractions or holiday shopping and moonshine sippin’ in the Smokies, you’ll need a place to return to for roasted marshmallows around the firepit, muscle-soothing hot tub soaks, and snuggles by the fireplace. Whether romancing your love, bringing your family, coming with a small group of friends, or getting away on a large-group retreat, Cabins for YOU has you covered — currently with 450+ cabin options ranging from 1-16 bedrooms in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN! 

Each Smoky Mountain cabin rental features unique amenities to keep everyone comfy and entertained, from game-filled rec rooms and a private indoor pool to a home theater and king-size beds. And if you’re planning a memorable Christmas in the mountains, what better place to stay than a log cabin? Our experienced vacation specialists will even help you plan at 1.800.684.7865! 

  • 18 Things to Do at a Cabin in Winter
  1. Swim in your private indoor (and heated) pool that may have bonus features like bridges, a spa area, color changing lights, waterfalls, and a swim-in grotto!
  1. Prepare fluffy stacks of pancakes, fix lunch spreads and delectable dinners, bake sweet treats, and store restaurant leftovers in the fully equipped kitchen.
  1. Watch your favorite comedy, thriller, adventure, or romance DVD or Blu-ray on the big screen TV or massive projector screen in the home theater, with theater style seating and surround sound.
  1. Light a few tea candles, put on a positive podcast, and toss a lavender bath bomb into the warm water of the indoor jetted tub for a relaxing soak in your master suite.
  1. Host a dinner party with your very own private professional chef at the cabin who will whip up a 4-course feast and even clean up afterward.
  1. Let your stresses melt away with a scheduled in-cabin massage after touring the towns or hiking in the national park.
  1. Pre-order a variety of gift baskets and flowers (Java Time, Spirit of the Smokies, Petals of Love, etc.) to spice things up.
  1. Read a new novel by the crackling (gas, wood burning, or electric) fireplace with a warm blanket and a glass of wine. 
  1. Soak in the hot tub with steam rising off the water and jets massaging your muscles, making a great contrast with the crisp cool air of winter.
  1. Set up a game tournament of champions in the rec room with games like pool, air hockey, foosball, shuffleboard, and Ms. Pac-Man!
  1. Play board or card games, set out arts and crafts, or open your laptop for a browse online at the dining or coffee table.
  1. Revel in sweet dreams and the peaceful tranquility in your plush king-size bed far away from stress and work.
  1. Roast marshmallows and enjoy chatting with friends and family around a toasty firepit.
  1. Fire up the charcoal or gas grill for a cabin cookout with burgers, grilled veggies, steak…you name it!
  1. Sip morning coffee or cinnamon hot chocolate with your bestie in a rocking chair or porch swing while taking in the spectacular views from the deck.
  1. Cuddle with your fur baby at one of our pet friendly cabins anytime — it’s such a pleasure to bring the whole family on your winter vacation.
  1. Simply take in the breathtaking scenery all around, from icy rivers and serene forestry to city lights and majestic mountains.
  1. Hop on the complimentary Wi-Fi to check out local restaurants, video chat with friends, or grab your attraction discounts with Cabins for YOU.
  • Christmas at a Smoky Mountain Chalet
    • Find that quintessential Southern Christmas at a Smoky Mountain chalet in December, with holiday decorations, a chimney for Santa to bring presents, beautiful mountain scenery at every glance, and quality time with loved ones. No need to go out every night (unless you want to) when you can play board games around the dining room table, hang out by a warm fire in the living room, splash in the private indoor pool, shoot pool or watch football in the recreational room, bake cookies in the full kitchen, and kick back together in a bubbly hot tub. Most of all, it’s a great opportunity to make memories to last a lifetime with those you love during the holidays.
  • Vacation Specialists to Help YOU Plan
    • Simply selecting a Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg cabin and heading to town sounds nice, but we all know there’s a whole lot more to planning a fantastic winter vacation, so we have vacation specialists on standby to take care of your planning needs. Feel free to ask any questions regarding cabin requirements, personal wants, and area information. With a passion to help guests make wonderful memories, our vacation specialists are more than willing and happily ready to make this the best winter cabin getaway for YOU — at 1.800.684.7865 or via an online inquiry!

Tips for Winter in the Smokies

With gorgeous mountain views, numerous festivals and events, tons of shopping and restaurants, and cozier than ever cabins, a trip to Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge in winter is certainly worth braving the cold. The Smoky Mountains seem to transform into a magical place as streams freeze, icicles form ornaments for the trees, and snowflakes fall gently on the hiking trails and sidewalks. Snowfall and ice make the area such a delightful place to be…but they are also 2 things you should prepare for. To avoid any possible issues and experience a fabulous winter vacation in the Smokies, do plenty of planning ahead of time and be sure to keep in mind these winter tips and tricks

  1. Check the Weather Forecast Daily
    • Wintertime temperatures typically top off in the 40s and dip down into the 20s, but in December and February, they can rise into the 50s. Before you go out and explore the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area, make sure you check hiking conditions, road updates, etc.  You don’t want to find yourself stuck in traffic or sliding on ice during your stay. For a quick glance, you can also check out our live weather cam in Gatlinburg, TN.
  1. Dress Accordingly 
    • Icy sidewalks and cold winds are no match for warm boots, comfy scarves, and tied-up trenches, so pack for all kinds of winter conditions. When in doubt, layer, layer, layer! You can always take off any excess, but it’s best to be ready just in case.
  1. Pack Smart
    • Pack the right gear. Don’t forget to keep extra snacks and blankets in the car and at your Smoky Mountain cabin for the days when getting around proves difficult. Also, bring games and decks of cards so you have plenty to keep you busy and entertained in front of the fireplace.
  1. Drive Safely
    • Traffic delays are often inevitable when visiting Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Add icy roads, and it could slow down even more, so arrive with patience and research alternate routes before driving to the area. Play it extra safe with these tips for surviving winter traffic in the Smokies, and you and your family will have a pleasant winter getaway even with the snow and ice.
      • Drive an all-terrain vehicle and/or use snow chains. If you’re driving into higher elevations, like winding your way up to that cozy cabin, consider driving a vehicle that can handle all terrains and/or using snow chains. Many local roads are very steep and curvy, so having this added traction is often a must in winter.
      • Keep emergency supplies in your trunk. Winter weather can turn on a dime. You never know when and where you might get stuck. Keep a flashlight and batteries, windshield ice scraper, first-aid kit, and extra blankets on hand so you can stay safe no matter what happens. 
      • Pack non-perishable snacks. When you’re stuck in unexpected traffic or have to take the long way back to your cabin, the last thing you want is to drive around with a car full of hungry people! Keep snacks on hand to curb the between-meal munchies. Don’t forget to store several water bottles as well — at least one for every person in your vehicle. And if you’re traveling with kids, keep fun activities in the car to prevent any potential meltdowns. 
      • Take the trolley when you can. The Gatlinburg Trolley system services 50 miles in and around Gatlinburg and provides free maps at any of the Gatlinburg Welcome Centers. Ride an unlimited amount of times for only $2 per day, and then you can enjoy the sites without having to hassle with navigating unfamiliar streets and terrain!
      • Check road/weather conditions before you leave. Websites like the National Park Service’s site for the Great Smoky Mountains post up-to-date road and facility closures each day. You can also call (865) 436-1200 for updated road and weather information. Be sure to check these closures before you head out so you can save yourself the headache of getting stuck or lost on an alternate route.
      • Take it slow. The best tip for surviving winter weather and wintertime traffic is to simply be patient and take it slow! Icy patches can catch you off guard if you are cruising too quickly. So, instead of rushing, throw it in first gear, take your time enjoying the beautiful scenery, and have a safe and pleasant stay during your Smoky Mountain vacation!
  1. Choose a Cabin with a Fireplace
    • Many Smoky Mountain cabins are equipped with fireplaces, so take time to look around and pick just the right place to stay snug inside. A big wood-burning fireplace will heat up any weekend getaway. Plus, there are gas and electric (with heat) options if you prefer as well.
  1. Take Advantage of Indoor Entertainment
    • While much of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge is enjoyed in the great outdoors (we recommend it!), there are also a lot of great things to do inside. Enjoy shopping, Ripley’s attractions, mini-golf, dinner shows, escape games, and more. Whether you’re in the mood for action or relaxation this winter, there is a little bit of everything in town.
  1. Make Time to Take in the Scenery
    • Bare limbs on the trees make it possible to see all the beautiful wintertime birds and the rolling hills of the Great Smoky Mountains for miles! You can capture stunning views from almost any elevation in the winter months, loading your camera with memories that will last for a lifetime. So get out there (at least onto your cabin’s deck) and enjoy the stunning scenery!
  1.  Don’t Fear the Great Outdoors in Winter
    • Wait a minute. Are you saying we should actually go outside when the air is crisp, holiday light displays adorn the cities, evergreens flourish in the national park, and pure-white snow blankets the mountain peaks? Yes, while jackets and scarves may be in order, it will be totally worth it as you attend seasonal events, play at snowy attractions, and take a winter hike in the area’s natural winter wonderland — the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

Don’t hide inside this winter — make this cool season one to remember with a memorable, fun, cozy, and safe vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains today!


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