Experience the Winterfest Lights
Every winter, Sevier County becomes a winter wonderland with more than 5 million lights brightening the night. Now in its 31st year, Winterfest has become one of the most anticipated celebrations in the Smokies. Wherever you drive in the county, you’re sure to see many stunning light displays. Businesses get in on the fun, too. You can see amazing arrangements at The Old Mill, The Island, Dolly Parton’s Stampede and so many more! The city of Pigeon Forge publishes a Winterfest Driving Tour Map that YOU CAN DOWNLOAD HERE that will take you through all the best lights in the city.
Take a Winter Hike Through the Smoky Mountains
There is truly something special about hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the winter. Many people probably think hiking in the winter sounds too cold, but there are some things in the park you can only see in the winter! So bundle up and check out the distant views from the Smokies!
The winter reveals lots of things that are usually hidden. Since the trees are bare in the winter, you can see much farther into the woods while you’re hiking. It gives you the feeling of walking through a wide open space. Also, during the winter, you will have a better chance of viewing wildlife without leaves obscuring the vision.
You’ll also get the chance to see some artifacts you probably missed in the summer and spring seasons. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park has the largest collection of human artifacts out of all the national parks. But, many of these artifacts are hidden by the foliage most of the year.
Not to mention all the amazing things you’ll see on a winter hike, there are other perks to hiking this season. Because so many people are turned away from falling temperatures, you won’t have to navigate the large crowds during the busier spring and summer months. The trails are quiet, serene, and offer a better chance of reflection.
If you do decide to tackle a winter hike, make sure you’re prepared. Higher elevations in the park can experience sudden snow, icy conditions and sudden dropping temperatures. Vesna Plakanis from A WALK IN THE WOODS reminds winter hikers to dress in layers that keep you warm and dry, and to drink lots of water. Another thing to consider is road closures. Several secondary roads in the park close in the winter, BE SURE TO CHECK OUT THE NATIONAL PARK’S WEBSITE FOR A COMPLETE LIST OF ROAD CLOSURES. Preparation is key, but a properly planned winter hike can be magical!
Take a Guided Tour Through the Smokies
Do you want to explore the Smokies but don’t want to deal with the stress of driving or picking a trail to explore? That stress can be especially high in the winter when dealing with snowy or icy conditions. Well, why not take a guided tour through the Smoky Mountains? It takes all the guesswork and stress out of traveling. Worrying about where to stop? Your guide has it covered. Looking for a sight to see off the beaten path? Your guide knows all the spots. Guide services can help connect you with anything you need to have a great vacation, from securing lodging and restaurant reservations to securing tickets to the best attractions. If you’re looking for an amazing guide service to take you and your family through the Smokies, be sure to check out the following chamber members:
With holiday deals, after-Christmas sales and winter offerings, winter is the perfect time of year to do some shopping! It can get you out of the cold and offer a fun respite from outside. Also, just like hiking in the winter, you will be dealing with smaller crowds. This makes for a calmer shopping experience. There are lots of places in the Smokies where you can find many shops concentrated in one area, like TANGER OUTLETS. Tanger Outlets in Sevierville offers your favorite brands in one spot so you don’t have to spend a long in the cold before heading to your next shop!
Explore the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community
The GREAT SMOKY ARTS AND CRAFTS COMMUNITY is the largest collection of crafters and traditional artists in the United States. On their 8-mile loop in Gatlinburg, TN, you’ll have the opportunity to visit over 200 different businesses focused on specific traditional arts. From soap makers to woodworkers to glass blowers and potters, the only limit to what you’ll find in the community is the time you have to spend there.
The community and 8 mile loop is open during the winter. And, visiting in the winter is especially fun. The drive on the loop is already scenic in other seasons, but the white on the trees and nip in the air make it extra beautiful. Many businesses in the community regularly offer demos to show off their skills or even classes to teach you how to do what they do. Be sure to check out this amazing community this winter, and see what all they have to offer.
Have a Winter Adventure at Ober Gatlinburg
Ober Gatlinburg is the ultimate destination for a winter adventure in the Smokies. For many people, winter in the Smokies means one thing: skiing and snowboarding at Ober Gatlinburg. The slopes at Ober tentatively opens during the holiday season and continues throughout the winter. There are 10 different ski trails at the park with varying levels of difficulty. Everyone, from beginners to experts, can have a great time!
If you’re new to skiing or snowboarding, the folks at Ober also offer lessons from experts in the field. Not up for skiing, but still love the snow? Snow tubing is a great option for everyone – there’s nothing like zipping down the huge hill on an intertube! When you’re done hitting the slopes, you still have so much to do. Your family can head inside to check out the plethora of shops, the food court, or even go ice skating and try out the ice bumper cars!
Take a Scenic Drive Through Cades Cove in the Winter
Anyone who has driven through CADES COVE knows that is one of the most beautiful parts of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. But, in the winter, there is a special beauty to Cades Cove that you won’t find any other time of the year. One of the most popular things to do is to take a winter drive. Cades Cove is situated on an 11-mile one-way loop road that gives you the chance to sightsee at a leisurely pace. Along the way, there are plenty of pull-offs if you want to stop and take in the scenery. You’ll definitely want to take your time. With the bare trees of winter, you have a much greater chance of seeing some of the wildlife that calls the cove home. Some of the animals you could potentially see include black bears, white-tail deer, coyotes, turkeys, and more!
One of the coolest things about Cades Cove at any time of the year is the history. Cades Cove has a plethora of historic sites from the early European settlers to the area as well as evidence of the original hunters of the cove: the Cherokee. Some of the many historical sites include three churches, a working grist mill, barns, log houses, and several other restored buildings. You can grab a self-guiding tour booklet at the start of the cove that discusses the history of the area.
Like we indicated earlier in our list, winter hiking is an awesome activity. And, Cades Cove has no shortage of fun winter hikes. Two hikes of particular interest are Abrams Falls and the Middle Prong Trail. Abrams Falls is a five mile, moderately strenuous hike that culminates with the titular waterfall. Although Abrams Falls is only 20 feet tall, the massive volume of water that rushes over makes up for it! The Middle Prong Trail is considered one of the best waterfall hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains. You’ll pass by three major waterfalls, several smaller falls, cataracts, and cascades. Winter is the only time when you’ll have a chance to see beautiful frozen waterfalls while hiking the Middle Prong Trail.
Take a Spin on the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel
Whenever you visit riding the iconic Great Smoky Mountain Wheel is a must. Riding the wheel is fun any time of year. But, when you ride in the winter, you have the chance to see the beautiful mountains blanketed with snow. There’s nothing like experiencing a bird’s eye view of Pigeon Forge during a winter snow shower. If you’re worried about the cold, don’t stress. Each pod that you ride in on the wheel is climate controlled, meaning you can have a comfortable ride any time of year!
View Nighttime Winterfest Lights from the Sky
You can now experience the magic of Winterfest from a one-of-a-kind point of view! Scenic Helicopters will launch its Winterfest Night Flight tours in conjunction with Pigeon Forge’s Smoky Mountain Winterfest. This guided tour will fly you over the cities of Sevierville and Pigeon Forge
on your way to see the millions of twinkling lights of Dollywood and The Island. Scenic’s pilots are your helicopter adventure guides, providing their unique perspective of the cities and lights below.
Visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Rain or shine, snow or sun, there’s never a bad time to visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. This immersive facility is regularly recognized as one of the top aquariums in the United States. And, in 2016, it was named by USA Today as the best place in the US to see penguins! There are so many exhibits to explore and animals to see, that you could spend the entire day at Ripley’s and still have more to do. In addition to their exhibits, the aquarium regularly hosts special events, such as divers heading into the shark tank to feed the fish. Once you’re done checking out the fish, the kids can enjoy the aquarium’s new gigantic indoor playground! If you’re looking to escape the cold and still have an adventure, Ripley’s is the place to go.
There’s so much to discover in the Great Smoky Mountains — America’s most visited national park — and surrounding East Tennessee. Get to know the region using our below guide to its day-trip destinations, from the cascades of Deep Creek’s Three Waterfalls Loop to the coasters of Dollywood.
Upper Pigeon River
The Upper Pigeon River is the Smokies’ whitewater-rafting capital, with lush riverbanks and class three and four rapids. Through companies such as Smoky Mountain Rafting and Rafting in the Smokies, you can explore them on tours of up to six and a half miles, providing a more adventurous kind of day trip.
Wildlife lovers can’t get enough of the Cattalloochee Valley, where the state re-introduced a herd of elk back in 2001. But this is also a popular destination among hikers and history enthusiasts, thanks to its horse camp, seven miles of nature trails, and nineteenth-century chapel.
The Deep Creek area is known for boasting many of the Smokies’ pretties waterfalls, which can be accessed on routes like the Three Waterfalls Loop and Deep Creek-Indian Creek loop. It also houses one of the area’s best mountain-biking trails, so it’s another great choice for active travelers.
While your car can take you along main roads through the mountains, you’ll need an ATV or UTV to visit the backroads. For this reason, many people sign up for a drive with one of the area’s off-roading outfits, such as Smoky Mountain Adventure Tours. You can also rent vehicles independently through groups like Mtn Trax.
Old Mill District
It’s definitely worth a visit to the Old Mill District, centered around a nineteenth-century gristmill. With charming shops, a general store, and a central square, the National Register of Historic Places-designated landmark is a fascinating place to learn about the area’s pioneer history.
One of Gatlinburg’s coolest day-trip spots is also one of its newest attractions: the 680-ft. SkyBridge, opened May 2019. If you’re looking to make a day just out of such unique and record-setting bridges, America’s longest swinging bridge is just 30 minutes away, in Sevierville.
For unbelievable views, you must visit Clingman’s Dome, which is among the highest mountains in the eastern U.S., and the highest in Tennessee. On a clear day, the lookout’s vistas sweep all the way over the surrounding coniferous rainforest and often more than 100 miles out.
*Note that the road to the lookout closes from December 1-March 31, and when weather conditions require.
Star of Knoxville
For a classic experience of not just Tennessee, but the American South, take a river cruise aboard the paddlewheeler The Star of Knoxville. Here, you can admire the tulips, dogwoods, or fall foliage along the banks, depending on the time of year, and sample hearty barbecue fare.
Winter has to be one of the most enchanting times of the year to visit Pigeon Forge, TN. The mountain town transforms into a festive, holiday celebration that lasts well into early March, complete with fireworks, twinkling lights, and traditional Appalachian music. Here’s a guide to some of the best ways to enjoy this season.
The Smokies are gorgeous when blanketed in snow, and the classic way to experience them is by lacing up your boots and heading out for a hike. Now that the trees are mostly bare, you’ll have clearer-than-ever views of the mountain landscape, including traditional log cabins, wildlife — such as deer and coyotes — and perhaps a frozen waterfall or two.
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Have you ever wondered why most evergreens keep their leaves in the winter? Their leaves are shaped differently than deciduous leaves—instead of being broad and flat, they are rolled up tight and shaped like needles. They are also covered in a waxy coating. Both their shape and their coating allows them to hold on to their moisture more efficiently than deciduous trees can. They usually keep their needles for two or three years, and when they drop, they don’t all drop at once. Photo credit: David Lambert
Holiday shopping takes on a special significance in the Smokies, whose eight-mile Crafts Loop doubles as America’s largest arts-and-crafts community. Chat with whittlers, basket-weavers, candlemakers, photographers, and woodcarvers as you stock up on unique handmade wares made with traditional artisanal techniques.
Winter is a great time to support local breweries, wineries, and distilleries located in towns like Sevierville and Gatlinburg. Visit a few of them individually, embark on a Moonshine & Wine excursion with Tennessee Mountain Tours, or a drive around the Rocky Top Wine Trail.
The Ober Gatlinburg amusement complex is about 20 minutes outside of town, but it’s well worth the drive to experience the Smokies’ take on skiing, snowboarding, tubing, ice skating, and other winter sports. The amusement park and ski area even offers “ice bumper cars” and a special snow park for younger guests.
Live entertainment is popular in Pigeon Forge at any time of year, but it’s during the winter season that it becomes most dazzling and over-the-top. Catch seasonal shows at popular venues such as Dollywood, Smoky Mountain Opry, and Comedy Barn. If you’re visiting in early December, hit the Parkway for Pigeon Forge’s annual Christmas in The Smokies bluegrass festival.