There's no bad time to vacation in the Smokies. Sure, spring, summer, and fall are more popular (and with good reason), but visiting the mountains in the winter is a whole other experience entirely. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge turn into alpine mountain towns with plenty of winter fun. Whether you're into skiing, snowshoeing, or just curling up by the fire with a warm mug of hot cocoa, a winter vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains is a perfect getaway. Plus, you'll get to avoid the crowds and be able to really enjoy the mountains the way they were meant to be seen. So pack your wool socks and coziest sweaters and hit the road for an offseason winter adventure through the Smokies.
Traditionally, apple season is a fall event (and honestly, fresh apples are one of the best things about autumn), but when you're as dedicated to all things apple as Sevierville's Apple Barn, the fun doesn't have to end when the leaves are finished falling from the trees. For starters, they pick and store enough apples to keep making fresh cider all the way through until Christmas. Plus, the restaurant, general store, wine bar, cider bar, and candy factory are open year-round. Whether you're tucking into a big, Southern meal at the restaurant, noshing on apple fritters at the bar, sipping on fruit wine, or picking up apple butter and candy apples to bring home, the down-home and rustic atmosphere of this place (it's actually located in an authentic barn) is sure to enchant. The smell alone is enough to get you excited about all things apple, so definitely grab something fresh-baked as a treat!
No trip to the Smokies is complete without stopping to see a show. The Smoky Mountain Opry puts on a Christmas show that's guaranteed to entertain the whole family. It promises live animals, living toys, flying sugar plum fairies, and, of course, the big man in red himself: Santa! All of the shows are super high quality-- from the costumes to the lights and sound to the talent-- and the Christmas show is the perfect way to get yourself in the holiday spirit. Of course, the Smoky Mountain Opry show during the rest of the year is just as fun, but who doesn't love a feel-good Christmas extravaganza?
There's no better way to experience country living vibes than with a stay at The Lodge at Five Oaks. This farmhouse-themed hotel boasts warm, spacious rooms, with rustic details like hickory wood furniture. But, of course, you'll get all of the modern amenities you expect from a hotel: wifi, TV, the works. Add in a free continental breakfast, fire pits and other bonuses, and it's an all-around awesome option for families and solo travelers alike. And the best part is, it's a brand new hotel, so you can expect everything to be updated.
Keep the authentic Smoky Mountain vibe going with a stop at The Old Mill Pottery House Cafe and Grille. The mill here is a 19th century-era grist mill that powered Pigeon Forge well into the 1930s. While it no longer serves as a power plant, post office, mattress factory, or knitting mill (all of which the building operated as while it ground grist), it still converts grain into about 1,000 pounds of product each day, six days a week. The restaurant that also now operates on site is a local favorite, especially for breakfast. You can still buy mill products like grits and pancake mix, along with locally-made pottery and other general store goodies. You might have to wait for a table, but luckily, between checking out the mill, admiring the scenery, and browsing the store, there are tons of things to see and do here.
It's no surprise that the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum is adorably quirky, but few are prepared for the utterly overwhelming size of the collection. The museum has about 20,000 sets of salt and pepper shakers from across the globe... and that's not even counting the impressive pepper mill collection. You can spend a surprisingly long time here, checking out the kitschy shaker sets. And, of course, you can't leave without buying a new salt and pepper shaker set for yourself! Plus, it's only $3 for admission, which is pretty darn reasonable.
Get a taste for the local flavor with a stop at the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery. Tennessee and moonshine are totally synonymous, and you won't find a better experience dipping your toes into riding the white lightning than at Ole Smoky. Tour their distilling operating, learn how moonshine is made, and get some fascinating background on how the potent potable rose to prominence in the Smoky Mountain region. You'll get to sample a variety of Ole Smoky's offerings, and you're bound to find a flavor that tickles your fancy.
Gain a new sense of appreciation for the role the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has played in the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area while enjoying a delicious meal at the Park Grill. Dedicated to the rich Native American and Appalachian history of the region and the park's past, the Park Grill has a totally unique vibe. From the menu-- which incorporates local flavor into its hearty dishes like Moonshine Calamari, Jack Daniels Creme Brulee, barbecue, and local rainbow trout-- to the décor-- which prominently features the work of local artists who draw inspiration from the mountains-- this place is as authentic as they come. After your meal, take a moment to admire the wind sculptures by Lyman Whitaker outside!
Another ideal place to cozy up for a long winter's nap is the Bearskin Lodge on the River. Right at the edge of the Smokies, and located super close (like, walking distance close) to tons of other popular Gatlinburg attractions, the Bearskin Lodge on the River is also supremely cozy-- especially if you snag a room with a fireplace. Enjoy the free continental breakfast, then spend some time relaxing and soaking up the view from your room, or get out exploring.
If you're looking for something special to do, look into the Winter Magic activities around town. Called "Winterfest" in Sevierville and Pigeon Forge, this event runs between November and February, and offers millions of lights, holiday craft shows, parades, ice sculptures, and tons more. Ask the friendly staff at the hotel what events will be going on during your stay, and they'll be more than happy to guide you around the holiday magic in town!
The ultimate winter must-do in Gatlinburg is Ober Gatlinburg, the area's premier winter sports mountain. Starting in November, skiing, snow tubing, snow boarding, ice skating, and more are available at Ober Gatlinburg. If you're a beginner on the slopes, they rent all kinds of gear and offer tons of lessons. Or, if you prefer, rushing down the mountain on a snow tube is just as exciting, and requires zero lessons! Ober even has a Cubbies Snow Zone, where smaller kids can simply play in the snow. And, if you get too cold or tired, there are restaurants and shops where you can warm up before hitting the slopes again.
Finally, end your winter adventure with a trip into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Take a cruise through scenic Cades Cove, which looks especially pretty below a blanket of snow, or bundle up and go for a quiet hike through the woodlands. A lot of the park's waterfalls freeze up in the winter, providing a totally unique view that you definitely don’t get during the summer. Just check and see which roads and visitor centers are closed during your visit, and enjoy having the park pretty much to yourself!
From frozen waterfalls to skiing to Winterfest lights, there's really nothing like the Smokies in the winter. Whether you're trying to get into the holiday spirit, or you just want to explore the region minus the crowds, there are tons of great reasons why the offseason is the best time to visit. Plus, nothing beats cuddling up to the fire after a long day of ice skating or exploring!
If an authentic and one-of-a-kind experience is what you are looking for in a Smoky Mountain vacation, we have just the place for you! Each lodge is different, while showcasing its own surroundings and history. We hope you will be our cherished guest at our Smoky Mountain Collection of Lodges soon!