My eat and do Gatlinburg Guide. Never heard of Gatlinburg? It’s in Tennessee. This post is a doozie, I’m stuffing this blog with photos too. Tennessee is too beautiful and so very worth the drive from Pennsylvania.
When we told my brother we were heading out this way to be vendors in the Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair he was excited about our destination. He had been here recently with his family. We now know why they enjoyed their visit. I’ll tell you upfront, based on our laid back and non-glitzty travel style, skip the touristy fluff and spend time in the parks. Beautiful flowers and vegetation (rhododendron grows like ground cover everywhere), wildlife and scenery. Breathtaking really.
So here are my travel notes and all that jazz.
When we are on the road I always look for local eats and mom & pop shops. I got a bit of help from Nashville blogger, Local Forkful. We also got the scoop from a few art & craft show friends who have been to the area. My brother took his family to the Smoky Mountains and loved it. I thought their excitement about the area was weird, until we arrived. I started a to do list for all the advice. It makes it easy for me to share it with you as a to do list.
So, if you happen to be in Gatlinburg, Tennessee there are some places you need to visit and places to totally skip, and this is how it goes.
- We rented from Stony Brook Lodging (on the recommendation of my brother) but there are many cabin rental agencies. We skipped the hotels on the downtown strip. We found for a minimal amount we could get a good view and get away from the crowd.
- Never ask me if we did go-cart racing or Dolly Wood anything, Ripley anything or chain restaurants. I feel like I need to get that out of the way. No. We are not into that but if you are, stay in Pigeon Forge for the full experience. The traffic between Pigeon Forge and downtown Gatlinburg can be messy.
- There are so many touristy, flashy light, chain things in Pigeon Forge, just outside of Gatlinburg. You’ll find the same boardwalk stuff in the Myrtle Beach, Ocean City MD areas.
If you are staying in the Gatlinburg area get started with the park by visiting the Sugarlands Park Center. We had limited time the day we were there but several easy trails can be picked up from that hub. We took a guided tour to a small waterfall. Learning about the ecosystem, the easy hike and an adjoining trail we took after the hike made this visit enjoyable. We did not spy bear on the post-guided hike but we did come across a small cabin.
The 3 photos above are from a short hike we did at the Surgarlands Park Center. It was lovely and something children and non-children folks would enjoy.
You must make time for this trip. If you are able and the weather is accomodating, plan to bring a picnic meal and a swimsuit. The drive to Cade’s Cove is beautiful but at least 45 minutes from the park entrance. There are areas to pull off along the way for photos or to spread a reading or picnic blanket. Some areas were full of river swimmers.
When you arrive at Cades Cove pick up a $1 tour pamphlet. It was a rainy day on our visit but still so very worth it. Cades Cove is a one way, looping drive full of areas to pull off for photos, walk through historic buildings or marked hikes. You will find all those details in the $1 map.
The cars drive slowly through this loop, be patient. This is easily a full day event between the drive to and from Cades Cove. Be sure to plan to take your time. The drive in is just as stunning. You will find breathtaking views, wildlife and flowers. We were wildly excited to see black bears! We caught a momma bear with her three cubs crossing the road and later on the trail a black beat taking a lazy afternoon stroll. It was like a paparazzi of tourist surrounding that fellow but he seemed oblivious.
When visiting any parks respect the land and wildlife. The park stresses folks not feed the wildlife or leave trash. Do I really need to say that? I feel like I can give my readers more credit for their behavior.
We did not make it here but will on the next visit. We’re told it is the most amazing hike and stunning views of the Smoky Mountains. It’s steep but they do have benches along the way. Photographers line up early for the perfect sunset view, or so I’m told.
You can catch this trail right off the downtown Gatlinburg strip, just up the hill from the Convention Center. It is a looping, 2-way drive that is gorgeous. Plan to drive slowly. You will see black bears, we did anyway! There are hiking and waterfall destination trails off this road and you will see older structures that you can walk through. Easy because if it’s location and just plain beautiful.
Where to Eat
- Apple Barn Cider Mill, Pigeon Forge – been to Shady Maple? This place is kinda like that but without a buffet. Sort of like Shady Maple meets Cracker Barrel. You’ll get fun food samples before you even order. The apple sauce is so cinnamon-y and sweet it could be the only thing you eat for days… if you even walk into the gift shop and buy it. We got so much food I had to take half of it to go. Dan loved the french toast. I had to go with pecan pancakes. recommended by local chef and food blogger, Local Forkful.
- The Donut Friar, Gatlinburg – I will forgo food just to eat one of two of these donuts. The shop is darling and nestled into a tiny shopping area. Follow the brick road, off the main street in touristy Gatlinburg, to get to this cozy shop where the donuts are freshly prepared. Take your time in here. I think time stands still just as you walk in the doors. We picked out an assortment of flavors and shared with our show friends but I’ll say the plain glazed was the best flavor. Recommended by local chef and food blogger, Local Forkful.
- Calhoun’s, Gatlinburg – FYI, the probably wildly wealthy folks who own most of the property on the Gatlinburg strip also own several downtown restaurants. My guess is Calhoun’s is one of those six. (mind you it’s the word on the street that one family owns so much property and we really don’t care either way) We sat at the bar because this place is always packed. It’s always fun to talk with new folks and the bartenders were wicked amazing. The food was good – nothing to write home about, but good. I’ve had the salmon and though they are known for their ribs Dan (a ribs lover) has yet to order them. The salmon I ordered was a fillet but sliced in half lengthwise. Does that make sense? It was thin. Okay.
- Cherokee Grill Across the strew from Calhoun’s. Really, really enjoyed it. Again, we sit at the bar. We are never up for an hour wait after a long day of work. Spacious bar with a few TV’s for the sports fans. Good cocktails (strawberry mint bourbon mash) and only their beer. Great burgers, ribs and mac and cheese (best mac and cheese I’ve had on the road… the 3 Jimmy’s owners should go and taste it). The crab stuffed mushrooms appetizer was perfect as a dinner portion.
- Smokey Mountain Brewery, Gatlinburg – Skip the Smokey Mountain Brewery. The do brew on premises but it’s not good… tourist go bonkers for it. The Brewery does have great pizza (the white chicken pizza is what you must order) but the service stinks. Get it to take out if you must but the best pizza we have had ever, of all time, was at Best Italian (further down the list).
- Old Mill Pottery Cafe, Pigeon Forge – We never made it but it was recommended by local chef and food blogger, Local Forkful.
- Mellow Mushroom, Gatlinburg – It’s a chain but I was so happy for it’s existence! Pizza. Sandwiches. Salads. Great bar and healthful options. Would so very highly recommend if you’re tired of fried, pork-style or just belly bloating food. Vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.
- Best Italian, Gatlinburg – It’s just like the name say. Period. Best. can’t wait to get back.
- Three Jimmy’s Restaurant, Gatlinburg – Their website says “best homemade food in Gatlinburg.” I’m not sure about that but I am a bit of a mac and cheese snob. Dan liked his smoked pork. We felt his destination is more about the bar and music. Great live music! We’ll be back.
- Annie’s Amish Foods, Sevierville on Chapman Road (know by locals as Main St) for baked goods and pimento cheese spread. Recommended by local chef and food blogger, Local Forkful. We never made it here. I could not find it but we never went back up to Pigeon Forge once in Gatlinburg but it sounds lovely.
- Gondolier, Sevierville – Looks like it might be a chain. Best Italian had amazing Italian food and was conveniently located to where we were. The craft vendors love Gondolier for the Italian food. If you can’t get enough Italian food then here is your plan B.
- Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant, Pigeon Forge – Never made it but hear folks love it. Recommended by local chef and food blogger, Local Forkful.
- The Alamo Steakhouse, Gatlinburg – We heard the best things about this place but never made it.
- Skip the other moonshine places and head right to Sugarlands Distilling. Know what… Try the others. You’ll find Sugarlands is the best. You won’t believe me until you do it. Sometimes Sugarlands has live music on their stage out back. Loved that too.