Gateway to the Smokies | Gatlinburg | RTX Traveler Magazine

Nestled at the base of the 300,000 acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg is appropriately nicknamed the “Gateway to the Smokies.” With three entrances to the park from downtown and numerous roads and trails leading into the park, there are endless opportunities for outdoor recreation in the area. In fact, it was the creation of the national park in 1926 that boosted tourism to the area and with the end of World War II in 1945, tourism became one of the biggest economy boosters for this sleepy town.

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First Course

One thing Gatlinburg is famous for besides moonshine and mountains is the abundance of pancake houses found throughout the town. Some say there are more than 80, and it’s easy to believe as you’re driving around reading sign after sign boasting the “world’s best pancake” or some similar brag. If you don’t want to wait in the hour-long lines that some more popular pancake spots promise, the Mountain Lodge Restaurant is a great place to start your day on the way in to downtown. Sure, they have pancakes if you really need a fix, but you can also choose from a variety of home cooked breakfast items that will fill your belly for less than $10. This cozy, old-fashioned diner is bustling with locals and visitors alike, and the prompt service is just the thing you need to start your morning right.


Downtown Gatlinburg’s main artery is Parkway Road, and the stoplights are also landmarks as each one is numbered. Most directions will include something like, “turn left at stoplight #3.” There are several parking lots and decks in the area with varying price points, but most are convenient for exploring downtown and stopping back at the car to store shopping bags. The shops and restaurants are a blend of quaint, kitsch and country, and you’ll find yourself charmed by the atmosphere. We’ve included a few must-see stops as the area may be a bit overwhelming:

Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC): This outdoor gear and supply store is located just a few feet from one of the entrances to the national park on the west end of town. Whether you’re in the market for travel or camping gadgets, souvenirs or gifts, high quality outdoor clothing or you just want to browse, this is a great spot to start your downtown excursion.

Sugarland Cellars: Just across the street from NOC, this winery offers free tastings of up to eight of their varieties based on your palate preferences. Tours of the winery are offered daily. There are plenty of wine-related gifts to take home along with a reasonably priced bottle or two.

OleSmokyMoonshine Web(3)Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine Distillery: It’s no secret that moonshine is a part of the area’s history and culture, and Ole Smoky became the country’s first legal moonshine distillery, showing a pride in something that was once kept covert. Ole Smoky is in the heart of downtown and offers free tastings of their six regular varieties and whichever of their six seasonal varieties are available. Shelves line the large store wall-to-wall with moonshine surrounding the tasting bars, and the adjacent gift shop sells t-shirts, shot glasses, jams and other goods made with the ‘shine. Across an open air corridor, Informational panels looking into the actual distillery will explain the process of making moonshine and a little bit of history as well. The outdoor area offers shelter from weather along with space heaters in the winter, and if you’re lucky a bluegrass band will take the small stage and put on a free show.

The Village Shops: This area of quaint boutique shops was designed to look like old German village, and sure enough you feel as if you’ve been transported to the old world. From taffy pulling at the candy store to magically twinkling lights at night, this is a must-stop among downtown’s shops. Don’t miss the Donut Friar for a cup of coffee and a slice (or a loaf!) of their famous cinnamon bread.

Hikes & Sights

OgleFarm Web(3)While many of the area’s hikes and outdoor sites require a bit of a drive, there are a few places to get back to nature just minutes outside of town. The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a 6-mile, one-way loop that starts and ends in town and is a good drive to enjoy the scenic river and waterfalls. If you have your hiking shoes, there are plenty of places to park along the way and explore trails that lead to even more views and sites to explore.

The first stop along the Motor Nature Trail is the Ogle Farmstead, which is an easy loop trail that features old buildings, a creek-side tubmill and even a handcrafted wooden flume plumbing system. Rainbow Falls and Grotto Falls are other worthwhile treks off of the Motor Nature Trail.

Head a bit further into the park to the Sugarlands Visitor’s Center for information, maps and guidebooks that will outline other easy hikes in the area, several of which start at or near the center. The Gatlinburg Trail, Fighting Creek Nature Trail and Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail are all easy to moderate trails that reward hikers with breathtaking sights.

With the area’s natural beauty, unique culture and fascinating history, Gatlinburg has plenty to offer. Whether you’re looking for a shopping excursion, an adventurous outdoor endeavor or  just to get away and relax, you can do it all in Gatlinburg. Call RTX today at 888-988-4RTX or log in to your RTX account to start planning your Gatlinburg exchange, getaway or weekend retreat.

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