Must-do List for a Gatlinburg Visit

I’ve got three different groups of friends visiting Southern Serenity in Gatlinburg in the next few months. None of them know each other. And yet each of them asked me what to do and see when they visit. I could go on and on about things to do, places to visit, food to eat and hikes to take. But instead I’m going to mostly leave it to them to find out what suits them best.

Having said that I did create a list which I texted to each of them. I sort of ‘distilled’ down my list of things to do. If you are going to visit Gatlinburg and you’re probably only going to do this once, and you’ve got 4-6 days, what would I tell you to be sure to do?

Well here’s the list, and it is in preferential order. Having said that, know that some of these will depend on who you are travelling with; very little people, older people who don’t walk much, young and energetic people. So I guess here’s the list – depending…

  1. Sugarland Visitors Center – start here. Ask the Rangers about hikes if you want to do them. Also there are often programs in the park, and they change weekly, ask about those too.
  2. Sugarland Visitors Center Movie – The movie plays every 30 minutes and lasts for 20 minutes, and it’s worth every penny. Especially since it’s free! Well worth the time – I’ve seen it numerous times and always learn something. Gives you a flavor for the history of the mountains and it’s people, wildlife are showcased and flora and fauna are discussed.
  3. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail – a favorite of ours!! My husband and I would drive this multiple times on each trip when we were in Gatlinburg. It is just beautiful with lots of windy roads and a few stops to soak in the mountain views. I even saw bear on this loop one spring. I feel like this is a gem that is not well-known, so Shhhh don’t tell anybody.
  4. Newfound Gap – Highest point in the park you will get to by car. You can stand in both Tennessee and North Carolina at the same time. A thrill for any schoolkid – and others as well. This is where FDR made his dedication speech when the park was opened. On a clear day you can see for over 20 miles.
  5. Glades Road/Arts & Crafts Community – This is an 8-mile loop with individual shops of all kinds. There are many talented artists on this loop so make sure to stop at some of the places that look a bit rustic – you never know what you’ll find inside. My favorites are Alewine Pottery and Paul Murray gallery.
  6. Hikes – Trillium Gap Trail is my favorite hike in the park because it is relatively easy and follows the river almost all the way to Grotto Falls, where you can walk behind the waterfall – very cool! Another favorite is a handicap accessible trail just south of Sugarland Visitors Center. The trail is paved, relatively flat, 1/4 mile loop with seats along the way, has old structures and plant information, and is right next to the river. I like this trail for any level hiker.
  7. Groceries – If you’re staying at Southern Serenity go to Food City. It’s a few miles away and has everything you’ll need for your stay. They also have small packaged items because of the amount of tourists that shop there.
  8. Dinner Shows – I’ve only been to one, Dixie Stampede in Pigeon Forge. It was great fun and an interesting experience. Watch the show in the horse arena while you are served the same food everyone else is eating. No menu so no choices to make.
  9. Where to Eat? – For really good homemade family-style food we like Mama’s Farmhouse in Pigeon Forge. The menu varies based on the day of the week and time of day. But again, you’ll be eating what everyone else is eating, and as much of it as you like. Be sure to have the Banana Pudding. Now my mouth is watering! Another EXCELLENT place to eat in Pigeon Forge is The Old Mill Cafe and Grille. All the food is made from scratch, and it tastes like it!  Mountain Lodge Restaurant in Gatlinburg is another favorite, the locals like it too. It’s located just a few miles from the cabin – so easy to get to.
  10. Pancakes – This is a must-do when you’re in the area. There are lots and lots of pancake houses, you can go to any of them and get pretty good ‘cakes. Of course we have our favorites because of the variety of options and quality of food and service; The Pancake Pantry was Ken’s favorite, I prefer The Log Cabin Pancake House, and usually have the Bananas Foster pancakes.

So there you have it – my distilled list of things to do in Gatlinburg. This should keep you busy for a few days.

Oh, and the Ultimate MUST DO when you are visiting Southern Serenity? Set a spell in the Rocking Chairs on the front porch and listen to the waterfall. It’s a great place to drink some sweet tea, rest yer legs and read a book on a sunny afternoon!4647820429


Dinner Shows and Movies

I must confess we don’t attend many of the dinner shows in the area, but it’s not because there are limited choices. We aren’t opposed to dinner shows, we just prefer to spend our time in the park during the day and are usually pooped out by the time the sun sets. If you like the nightlife a dinner show or two might be just the ticket to complete your Smoky Mountain vacation.

Comedy Barn

Comedy Barn (Photo credit: fahrenheit45one)

When you travel to Gatlinburg from the north the advertising starts on the Interstate and continues to bombard you about all the different dinner shows in the Sevierville/Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area. Most of them are in Pigeon Forge.

Just a few of the dinner shows that come to mind are Fanny Adams, Comedy Barn, Dixie Stampede, Lumberjack Feud, and the Smith Family something or other. These apparently did the best job of advertising as I remembered them, and I’ve only been to one of them!


Phil (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been to the Dixie Stampede and can tell you that the setup is similar to Medieval Times, and I think many of the other dinner shows are similar. You are seated around the arena or stage at a table facing the show. The food is prepared en masse and served while the show is taking place. Food at the Dixie Stampede was abundant and good, although I wouldn’t attend just for the food, and the show was very entertaining. It was a fun evening.

Show listings by city:
Pigeon Forge

If you are interested in a movie date night you’ll find The Forge Cinemas in Pigeon Forge. There is also a Movie Theater in Sevierville, their schedule can be found at

Oktoberfest in Gatlinburg

Ober Gatlinburg is a Gatlinburg destination atop a mountain with family activities and a ski hill.  Elevation of the mountain is 2700′ at the base and 3300′ at the top. The mountain and lodge are open year round with all kinds of activities. You can take a tram ride from Main Street Gatlinburg to the lodge at Ober Gatlinburg.  This year Ober Gatlinburg celebrates their 50th anniversary!

In the fall Oktoberfest is the event to see and do at Ober Gatlinburg.  They have free music daily, serve German food and steins of German beer, the men are in lederhosen, there is German music and dancing, accordions  cow bells, and just a fun atmosphere. We’ve been to Oktoberfest the past three years and I am sure we’ll be attending again. The hubby really likes the German food, and the pints of beer aren’t too bad either!

Admission to the lodge is free, but on occasion we had to pay to park, it was about five bucks. And you don’t want to miss the Bavarian Fun Band’s rendition of the beautiful and tranquil song Edelweiss played on cow bells!

Also the view from the lodge is quite spectacular in autumn. Take the tram or drive your car, either way you’ll enjoy what Ober Gatlinburg has to offer once you’re on top of the mountain.

Ober Gatlinburg aerial tramway.

Ober Gatlinburg aerial tramway. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wild Plum Tea Room

What fun we’ve had at the Wild Plum Tea Room in the Smoky Mountains!  Of course this is mostly for ladies, although I’ve seen couples each time I was there.  You will find this quaint restaurant on the eastern edge of the Arts & Crafts loop in Gatlinburg.  I’ve been there twice, with my female friends, and everyone likes it!  Although the restaurant doesn’t have a website you can find information about it from this review on Trip Advisor.

Table at Wild Plum

The table is set with fabrics and lace.  The dishes are antique china and glass, mix and match of course.  The waiting line is usually formed out onto the porch, but it doesn’t take long to get a seat.  Make sure you have their signature wild plum tea, iced or hot.  I prefer iced, but  my friend Donna reports the hot was delicious too.

They serve an assortment of salads, hot dishes including soups, and cold sandwiches.  They always have a special of the day – sometimes two, and dessert is a must!  Wild Plum Tea Room was just what the ladies needed after shopping the loop in Gatlinburg!

Daily Menu

Tennessee Tooth Fairy

My friend Mary started it.  When we came to TN in September to vacation we stopped to eat just north of KY and Mary broke her front tooth. She had trouble with this tooth so it wasn’t a big surprise, but is was certainly inconvenient to have a tooth break on vacation! She got it fixed right away and was very pleased with the tooth in the end.

Well today I did it too! Yep, I broke my front tooth, while eating breakfast when vacationing in TN nonetheless! I still have the tooth and am contemplating super glue to fix it until I get home and see my dentist. But the tooth isn’t bothering me, and I knew it would need work soon. Besides it is Halloween weekend so what better time to look like someone with poor dental care?  Happy Halloween Tooth Fairy!!

Dixie Stampede

It seems Dolly Parton is her own brand in the Pigeon Forge area.  We saw a show put on by the Dolly brand tonight, Dixie Stampede in Pigeon Forge, and it was a very entertaining dinner show.  I’m not a big fan of these shows but it is fun to attend in a group and that is just what I did.

We got there early enough to see the horses in their stalls, listen to the pre-show bluegrass and hillbilly rap music.  The food was plentiful and tasted pretty good, considering the number of folks they have to feed.

The talent of the folks who were riding the horses for our entertainment was fabulous.  All in all a nice experience.  If you like dinner shows this one should be considered.

Where to eat?

A friend recently vacationed at Southern Serenity in Gatlinburg, so of course she asked me for restaurant recommendations.  Here is the list I sent her of where I would eat in the Gatlinburg area, of course there are soooo many restaurants there is no way I could have been to them all, so this is my current list.  Check back in a few years, and I’m sure you’ll see a different list.

Bear Creek Grill – East on Hwy 321(next door to Jackson Mountain Homes check-in) – Delicious Italian and Trout
The Rib Shack – hwy 321 east to Birds Creek rd, right on Pittman Center Rd., Shack is on the left – smoked ribs and chicken.  A real experience, and only open Thursday to Saturday 11am-6pm when we were there in May.
Hellbenders – downtown Gburg – outdoor dining and music
Pancake Pantry – downtown Gburg – best pancake place (and there are LOTS of them)
The Atrium – Gburg – get the apple pancake featured in Taste of Home – YUMMY!
Mama’s Farmhouse – Pigeon Forge – Delicious homemade everything from scratch.  AYCE and every meal served family style.  Make sure to have the banana pudding for dessert (my mouth is watering)
Old Mill Café – Pigeon Forge – everything is homemade, even the plates!

Places I haven’t been to yet, but will go there based on others recommendations:
Wild Plum Tea Room – Glades Rd.

Smoky’s Pub & Grub (Formerly The Ship) – Glades Rd. – Recently acquired as an add-on to the original located at the start of Smoky Mountain National Park. I’ve not been here but heard from locals it is good.

Also check the guest book at Southern Serenity for other recommendations and the binder in the cabin provided by JMH. 

If you want to eat in, and there is a full kitchen in the cabin, your best bet for groceries is at the Food City on Hwy 321, only about a mile from the cabin.  They offer smaller size goods for travelers needing items for a week or less.