Where is Gatlinburg?
Gatlinburg is located about 40 miles southeast of Knoxville, Tenn. Its residential population of just over 4,000 swells in the summer and fall with hundreds of thousands of tourists and visitors from all over the United States, and beyond. It’s located within driving distance of Atlanta, Ga. (199 miles), Nashville, Tenn. (223 miles), New Orleans (224 miles) Indianapolis (398 miles) and Chicago (585 miles). But people come from all over: New York (708 miles), Dallas (884 miles), Denver (1,376 miles) or even Los Angeles (2,224 miles). On one visit, I met a young couple from Mongolia!
How did Gatlinburg get its name?
Centuries after Cherokee hunters, and other Native Americans before them, had been living in and exploring the area of present-day Gatlinburg, white settlers came into the picture. At the dawn of the 1800s, a South Carolinian named William Ogle built a cabin (assisted by members of the Cherokee tribe) in a remote clearing near the foot of towering Mount LeConte, when the region was known as White Oak Flats. Ogles went back to the Carolinas to fetch the rest of his family, but he died of malaria before he could return. A couple of generations later, his great-grandson opened one of the first businesses in White Oak Flats, a general store—and today, nearly 10,000 people, mostly in the Southeast, claim kinship to the Ogles. Thanks to land grants from the U.S. government, many veterans of the Revolutionary War, and their families, added to the population. The town wasn’t called Gatlinburg, however, until after another settler, Radford Gatlin, arrived from Georgia in 1854. He was an itinerate preacher who opened his own general store, which also became the local post office. An outsider and an outlier from the get-go, he was a contentious figure known to engage his neighbors in petty lawsuits (most of which he lost) and rankle just about everyone with his fiery Confederate views—in an area that largely sided with the Union. He became a notorious business competitor feuding with the town’s founding family, the Ogles, and his church drew congregants away from the White Oaks Baptist Church, the first house of worship in the area. Eventually, around the start of the Civil War, Gatlin left town, either forced out or finding some other reason to move along. Many residents said good riddance, but he had certainly made his mark and left his legacy, and he also left his name behind—as the little community in the wilderness became thereafter known as Gatlinburg.
What time is it in Gatlinburg?
Gatlinburg is on Eastern Standard Time, so whatever it is where you are, adjust your devices accordingly—if they don’t automatically do it themselves!
What’s the temperature in Gatlinburg?
In Gatlinburg, the summers are long and humid (typically between 80 and 90 degrees during the day), the winters are wet and cold (ranging between lows in the mid 20s and highs anywhere between 40s and 60s); snow is not uncommon, and clouds come and go year-round. The mountains are a big influence on the day-to-day weather.
Where can I stay in Gatlinburg?
You can stay at the historic Gatlinburg Inn, where the song “Rocky Top” was written.
Options for lodging in and around Gatlinburg abound, from motels and inns just off the main drag through town—the “parkway” section of U.S. Hwy. 441—to scenic mountain cabins and condominiums of all sizes sprinkled for miles around. One of the more recent additions is the Margaritaville Resort, inspired by the Jimmy Buffett hit, with indoor and outdoor pools, a spa, a grill, coffee shop and a themed bar. If you want to stay somewhere “famous,” try the Gatlinburg Inn, which has been around since the early 1930s. It’s been fully refurbished, but it still has a cool retro aura of bygone days, like when songwriting couple Felice and Boudleaux Bryant—who wrote the Everly Brothers’ hits “Bye, Bye Love,” “Wake Up Little Susie” and “All I Have to Do is Dream”—holed up in 1967 and came out with “Rocky Top.” Later designated as one of Tennessee’s official state songs, the upbeat tune was written in just a few minutes as a diversion from the slower, more serious songs the Bryants were cramming to complete for an album by super-picker Chet Atkins and
Hee Haw star Archie Campbell. The song has been recorded by dozens of artists, including Dolly Parton, John Denver and Lynn Anderson, who had a Top 20 hit in the early 1979s. A version of the tune—which laments the loss of a simpler way of life and a freer existence in the hills of Tennessee as development began to encroach on it—continues as a musical staple for the nearby University of Tennessee’s marching band, which has played it at the school’s sporting events since the early 1970s.
When are the Christmas lights in Gatlinburg?
Many visitors come—and keeping coming back—every year for Gatlinburg’s spectacular display of Christmas lights, decorations and the sounds of the season. The lights go on this year Friday, Dec. 2 (it’s always the first Friday in December), followed by the annual Christmas parade through town—and a visit from Santa Claus! In nearby Pigeon Forge, Tenn., Dollywood will host its annual winter festival, Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas, Nov. 6 through Jan. 2.
Will I see bears in Gatlinburg?
On the very edge of the Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg offers its visitors good chances of seeing wildlife, especially within the park itself, on the roadsides or hiking trails. You might come across a variety of animals (including deer, wild hogs, elk and even bears), if you’re lucky, from the safety of your vehicle as you drive through the park to Cades Cove or along other scenic routes. But sometimes American black bears—often lured by food in trash bins or left outside—make their way into town, where their “pop-up” appearances lead to YouTube videos as they cross the street, prowl parking lots or even open unlocked doors to see if there’s anything tasty inside! And, as wildlife officials and park rangers continually remind everyone, bears are large, wild animals, and their behavior can be unpredictable, especially when startled or they feel threatened. So, remember to keep your distance, never attempt to approach or feed the bears, and
always maintain a safe distance if you find yourself sharing outdoor space with a mama bear and her cubs. A better way to experience bears up close and in person is the Ober Gatlinburg Wildlife encounter, where they live in a controlled habitat.
Are there celebrities in Gatlinburg?
It’s not Hollywood, but the stars do come out in Gatlinburg. Celebrity TV chef
Guy Fieri showed up for the grand opening of his latest eatery, Guy Fieri’s Chicken Guy! Country star Blake Sheldon—also the longest-running coach on TV’s The Voice—sometimes takes the stage at his Old Red restaurant and entertainment venue; perhaps he’ll stop by with his wife, rocker Gwen Stefani, when you’re there! Another country hitmaker, Jason Aldean, is building his own spot, the Jason Aldean Kitchen + Rooftop Bar, along the parkway. At the Hollywood Wax Museum (which operated in Gatlinburg for years before moving into a much larger facility in Pigeon Forge), you’ll encounter dozens of movie stars and silver-screen icons—actually, the life-size likenesses of a show-biz who’s who, from Brad Pitt, Bradley Cooper and Anne Hathaway to John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis. And if you come to Gatlinburg and see hundreds of white-bearded men in red suits, you’re not having a Miracle on 34th Street daydream—you’ve arrived during the annual Santa Claus Family Reunion, a regional get-together of those who carry the Christmas torch during the Christmas season, and other times, as Jolly Old Saint Nick. The next Santa reunion is scheduled for April 15-20, 2023.
Is there free entertainment in Gatlinburg?
Yes! Many of the food and drink establishments feature no-charge singers and groups. And in fact, it’s usually hard to
avoid the music in Gatlinburg! An outdoor stage outside Sugarland’s Distilling Company, one of several spots that offer moonshine tasting on the parkway, presents free shows by hot-picking bluegrass musicians. You never know who you’ll see at Old Red, the restaurant and live-music franchise named after country singer Blake Shelton’s 1993 hit, previously recorded by George Jones and Kenny Rogers; Shelton himself has been known to pop in and play, and otherwise there’s almost always someone else on stage. But one of the surefire hits of a trip to Gatlinburg is coming during Tunes & Tales, a strolling celebration of Appalachian culture with groups of regional musicians and storytellers “doing their things” all up and down the street, culminating in an all-together outdoor hoedown every evening. That’s when the music truly flows all over town. This year’s summer Tunes & Tales runs July 1-31; there’s a fall edition Sept. 16-Oct. 15, during the Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival; and even when the weather gets cool and then cold, the streets are filled with music and “Winter Magic” on Friday and Saturdays Nov. 25 through Dec. 17.