Gatlinburg, Gateway to the Smokies

Located at the northern entrance to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Gatlinburg has become as much a family destination as the park itself. While the park offers a tranquil nature experience, the bustling mountain town reverberates with a theme-park atmosphere. From the Earthquake Ride, Hollywood Wax Museum, and Hillbilly Golf to pancake houses, fudge shops, and T-shirt stores on every block of the entertainment district, Gatlinburg is perfect for strolling and shopping.

Beyond the thrills and souvenirs, Gatlinburg offers world-class attractions. Plan to spend several hours with the 10,000 exotic fish and sea creatures at the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, rated as one of the top three aquariums in the nation. The jellyfish exhibit mesmerizes as the delicate creatures drift through the water like clouds on a breeze. An underwater tunnel leads through a 700,000-gallon tank filled with sharks, swordfish, and schools of rainbow-colored reef fish. Children thrill at the touch of stingrays and horseshoe crabs in the touch tank.

For a sample of authentic mountain culture, take the eight-mile Arts and Crafts Trail, which loops through the hills just beyond the city limits sign. You can chat with more than 100 artisans that display handmade furniture, carvings, paintings, textile, jewelry, and ceramics in their studio/galleries. The guild of artists, the largest in the nation, dates back to 1937 when the group organized to preserve and promote their traditional skills.