Gatlinburg, Tennessee- Family Fun in the Smoky Mountains Where to Stay

BY Jenn Greene TIMEAugust 13, 2022 PRINT

Gatlinburg Tennessee is the gateway to the Smoky Mountains , and offers ample family fun. Whether you are looking to explore the Smoky Mountain National Park, dine downtown, or come up close with penguins. You will find memorable ways to spend your vacation days.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee
The mountains are calling in Gatlinburg, and there are so many ways to explore them. Honestly, this town is a vacation destination in and of itself, and you can spend an entire trip exploring.

Where to Stay

We weren’t staying in Gatlinburg, but you cannot go wrong with a cabin in the Smokies, and here you may or may not see the black bears that call the mountains home. We stayed at Lucky Bear Cabin, about 30 minutes from downtown.

If you want to be in the downtown area of Gatlinburg, I suggest the Bearskin Lodge on the River or Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg. Both are centrally located to the Parkway, and the main areas of dining, shopping and attractions.

Where to Eat

There is no shortage of great places to eat in Gatlinburg, we dined twice during our visit. Once was on the parkway and the other was 1600 feet above parkway!

Pancake Pantry

Sitting among The Village in downtown Gatlinburg, and directly on Parkway is home to Tennessee’s FIRST specialty pancake restaurant. Since 1960 this restaurant has packed patrons from all over the world for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast lines are quite long, so I suggest going during non-peak hours, lunch. Which is exactly what we did. They serve their famous pancakes and crepes all day. The European inspired lunch menu begins daily at 11.30 am.

I enjoyed the Blue Ribbon Burger, no clue what’s in the special sauce but the mix of bacon, beef and banana brings it all together for an unexpected winner.

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(Courtesy of Jenn Greene)

If you still want their amazing pancakes there are tons to choose from. My Mom enjoyed the Caribbean pancakes, and they were amazing. The batter is light and fluffy, and the flavors are outstanding.

The servings are HUGE, so you can certainly share, or not.

Cliff Top at Anakeesta

Enjoy an elevated dining experience at Cliff Top restaurant located in Black Bear Village. You do need valid admission to Anakeesta in order to dine here, but I would pay just for the views and experience.

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(Courtesy of Jenn Greene)

Offering sweeping views of the Smoky Mountains, I’m not sure you would find these anywhere else. There will likely be a wait, you can put your name in with the host stand and they will text you when your table is ready. Believe me there is plenty to explore, so you won’t just be sitting around.

As we entered the restaurant we were greeted with amazing views. You can dine indoors or outside, it was quite hot that day so we stayed indoors. We began our meal with Cheese Curds, and the girls had burgers while I enjoyed the Nut & Berry Salad with Steak. Both the food and service were outstanding.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Jenn Greene)

What to Do

There is plenty to do in Gatlinburg! From kids activities to thrilling glass bottom bridges, you won’t tire of this mountain town. You can always walk down Parkway and enjoy the many stores and unique shops. Be sure not to miss the taffy making at the candy shop in The Village.

Ripley’s has many attractions in Gatlinburg and we were able to experience a few of them during our visit as their guests.

Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze– The mirror maze is right on Parkway and offers fun for every age. Surprising corners, dead ends, continuous circles and rotating mirrors will have your family laughing. You can go through as many times as you would like with your admission.

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(Courtesy of Jenn Greene)

Ripley’s Super Fun Zone– Step back into the 80’s at this fun spot on the Parkway. Experience laser tag, make you mark in the shooting gallery, and master 18 holes of indoor mini golf. I loved all of the retro merchandise on display and for sale. I would like to say, I am still the laser tag champ in the family.

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(Courtesy of Jenn Greene)

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies – If you are looking for an afternoon adventure with sharks, stingrays and penguins, you must visit the aquarium.

Soar through paths alongside rays and sea turtles, soak up the beauty of exotic fish, and come face-to-fin with sharks only at Ripley’s Aquarium.

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(Courtesy of Jenn Greene)

The Shark Lagoon was a family favorite. You travel underwater on a moving 340-foot long glidepath along the ocean floor! Wind your way through the tunnel and come face-to-face with sharks, tarpons, sea turtles, giant stingrays, and sawfish. The sawfish look like they are smiling at you, it’s so weird but fascinating.

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(Courtesy of Jenn Greene)

The penguin playhouse is an up close and personal look at these little guys. Here they swim and splash in their Playhouse, in both indoor and outdoor habitats. I’ve been to a lot of zoos with penguins and never gotten this close before. It was really neat.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Jenn Greene)

Be sure not to miss Touch a Ray Bay where you get up close with the stingrays in this shallow lagoon. Their skin is smooth as silk, and they are fascinating sea creatures. My daughter loves sting rays, her friend however wasn’t so sure about these guys.

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(Courtesy of Jenn Greene)

Be sure to check the events calendar for the day and make sure not to miss the Penguin feeding, the interactive mermaid dive show, and the educational Ray Bay dive show.

In order to do all of these amazing Ripley’s attractions, be sure to buy a combo ticket as it’s actually a little less than buying the tickets ala carte. The combo passes include your aquarium ticket, and however many other attractions you choose (from 2-7). You can decide what you want to visit when you get there.

Parkway Attractions

  • Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!
  • 5d Moving Theater
  • Mirror Maze
  • Haunted Adventure
  • Super Fun Zone Laser Tag
  • Super Fun Zone Indoor Mini-Golf
  • Old Mac Mini Golf (18 Holes)
  • Davy Crockett Mini Golf (18 Holes)
Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Jenn Greene)

We had such a great visit to Gatlinburg, and I cannot wait to go back again and explore so much more that it has to offer.


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Jenn Greene
Jenn is a mom, writer, marketer, small business owner, and social media influencer. She loves to travel- solo, with her family, or with a group of friends. Journeys with Jenn was named Top 45 Traveling Mom Blogs of 2022.
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