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Top 5 Must-Visit Attractions Near the Smokies

By Sara Branson, Posted on 20 Nov, 2023 at 04:08 pm

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 Top 5 Must-Visit Attractions Near the Smokies

Imagine standing in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, surrounded by lush forests, picturesque valleys, and the enchanting melodies of nature. Gatlinburg, Tennessee, offers not just this breathtaking natural beauty, but a gateway to a world of captivating attractions that will make your visit an unforgettable adventure. From the thrill of Dollywood to the tranquil charm of Wears Valley, the excitement of Dixie Stampede, the cultural richness of Oconaluftee Indian Village, and the serenity of Cosby Nature Trail, this guide is key to exploring the best that Gatlinburg and its surroundings have to offer.

Each of the attractions is a unique gem, offering a different Gatlinburg activities and facet of the Smoky Mountain experience. Whether you're an adventure seeker, a history enthusiast, or someone simply looking to connect with the wonders of the great outdoors, Gatlinburg has something extraordinary in store for you.

In this guide, we will take you on a journey through the very heart and soul of Gatlinburg and its neighboring attractions. We'll not only reveal what makes these places so special but also unravel the stories, traditions, and experiences that are intricately woven into their fabric.

So, get ready to embark on a remarkable journey with us as we explore these attractions, and prepare to be captivated, inspired, and ultimately, enchanted by the beauty, culture, and excitement that Gatlinburg has to offer. Let's begin this adventure together!


  1. Dollywood Gatlinburg: A Unique Southern Experience

Dollywood, nestled near Gatlinburg, is a one-of-a-kind theme park founded by the legendary Dolly Parton. It's not your typical amusement park; it's a tribute to the culture and spirit of the Smoky Mountains. Dollywood Gatlinburg is more than rides; it's a gateway to Southern heritage.

This park, initially called "Rebel Railroad" in the 1960s, has evolved into a 150-acre wonderland that preserves and celebrates Appalachian traditions. Dollywood's signature roller coasters, including the record-breaking "Lightning Rod," offer exhilarating thrills for adrenaline seekers. But it's the live entertainment that truly sets it apart, featuring Appalachian music, theater performances, and more. 

What makes Dollywood exceptional is its commitment to preserving regional crafts. Skilled artisans demonstrate glassblowing, blacksmithing, and woodcarving, allowing visitors to connect with the rich cultural history of the area. The Chasing Rainbows Museum offers a glimpse into Dolly Parton's life and extraordinary career, emphasizing her humble beginnings and remarkable success. 

Dollywood is a family-friendly haven, with rides and attractions suitable for all ages, ensuring everyone has a memorable experience. Whether you're captivated by the roller coasters, fascinated by the craftsmanship, or simply there to enjoy the lively atmosphere, Dollywood promises a delightful blend of excitement and culture in the heart of the Smoky Mountains.


  1. Wears Valley: Nature's Paradise in the Smoky Mountains

Wears Valley, a serene hideaway near Gatlinburg, is a nature enthusiast's dream come true. This pristine valley, nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, offers a tranquil retreat filled with natural wonders.

The valley's greatest allure is its unspoiled natural beauty. Surrounded by the majestic Smoky Mountains, it's a haven for outdoor adventurers. Hiking trails, such as the Cove Mountain and Laurel Falls Trails, wind through the valley, leading to breathtaking vistas and cascading waterfalls. It's a perfect opportunity to get up close with wildlife like deer, black bears, and a variety of birds.

The scenic Wears Valley Road (Route 321) offers picturesque drives, especially during the fall when the foliage transforms into a kaleidoscope of colors. The Foothills Parkway, often called the "Missing Link," provides sweeping views of the valley and surrounding mountains, ideal for capturing remarkable photographs.

Wears Valley's charming downtown area is dotted with local eateries serving delightful Southern cuisine, and unique shops where you can discover handcrafted treasures and local souvenirs.

Throughout the year, the valley hosts various events and festivals that offer insight into the vibrant local culture. From car shows to craft fairs, these gatherings provide a chance to connect with the welcoming community.

Lodging options range from cozy cabins in the woods to charming bed-and-breakfast inns, allowing visitors to fully immerse themselves in the valley's tranquility.

Easily accessible from Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Wears Valley is the perfect destination for anyone seeking a genuine and serene encounter with the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains. Whether you're an adventurer, a nature lover, or simply looking for a peaceful escape, Wears Valley promises an enriching experience in the heart of the Smokies.


  1. Oconaluftee Indian Village: A Cherokee Heritage Journey

Positioned in Cherokee, North Carolina, the Oconaluftee Indian Village is a living history museum offering an immersive glimpse into the rich culture and heritage of the Cherokee people. This attraction is designed as an authentic 18th-century Cherokee village, with staff dressed in traditional attire, playing the roles of Cherokee artisans, storytellers, and residents.

The village is a tribute to Cherokee culture and history, where visitors can interact with residents, ask questions, and engage in hands-on activities. Skilled Cherokee artisans demonstrate traditional crafts, including pottery, beadwork, and finger weaving, providing insight into their materials and techniques.

Live performances and storytelling sessions bring Cherokee history and traditions to life, offering an opportunity to delve into Cherokee legends, customs, and daily life. The village is not only about entertainment; it's an educational experience that fosters a deeper understanding of Cherokee heritage, language, spirituality, and their profound connection to the land.

The village's gift shop offers authentic Cherokee crafts and souvenirs, allowing visitors to support local artisans and take home a piece of Cherokee culture. With seasonal operations, reservations are recommended during peak tourist seasons. A visit to the Oconaluftee Indian Village is not just a journey into the past; it's a cultural exploration, a chance to pay respect to indigenous cultures, and an opportunity to celebrate the enduring traditions and contributions of the Cherokee Nation in the Great Smoky Mountains.


  1. Dixie Stampede: A Southern Dinner Show Extravaganza

Dixie Stampede, located in Pigeon Forge near Gatlinburg, is a unique dinner show created by Dolly Parton, offering an immersive experience that celebrates Southern culture and entertainment. The heart of Dixie Stampede is its dinner show, featuring a friendly North vs. South rivalry with musical performances, equestrian acts, and comedy. The equestrian feats are the highlight, showcasing remarkable horse-riding skills in a breathtaking display.

What truly sets Dixie Stampede apart is the four-course Southern feast served during the show. From rotisserie chicken and hickory-smoked barbecued pork to creamy vegetable soup and flaky biscuits, the meal is designed to be enjoyed without utensils, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for visitors.

Dixie Stampede is a family-friendly attraction, keeping both children and adults entertained throughout the evening with thrilling performances and interactive elements. The show not only entertains but also pays homage to the historical and cultural significance of the American South, reflecting the importance of horses and the traditions that have shaped the region.

Reservations are highly recommended due to Dixie Stampede's popularity, and special themed shows, like Christmas performances during the holiday season, offer additional opportunities to experience this unique Southern dinner show. A visit to Dixie Stampede promises an evening of fun, laughter, and an authentic taste of Southern charm, leaving a lasting impression in the heart of the Smoky Mountains.


  1. Cosby Nature Trail: Your Gateway to Smoky Mountain Tranquility

Situated in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Gatlinburg, the Cosby Nature Trail offers a blissful escape into one of the nation's most biodiverse and pristine natural settings. This hidden gem invites you to immerse yourself in the serenity of the Smokies while discovering its exceptional natural beauty and biodiversity.

The trail, spanning a gentle 1.1 miles, caters to hikers of all levels, making it a family-friendly adventure. Well-maintained and thoughtfully marked with informative signs about local wildlife and ecology, this trail is both an outdoor classroom and a tranquil sanctuary.

As you explore, keep an eye out for the vibrant wildlife that calls this area home, from white-tailed deer and wild turkeys to songbirds and the occasional black bear. The changing seasons offer an ever-evolving landscape, with wildflowers in spring, lush greens in summer, and a brilliant tapestry of fall colors in autumn.

The Cosby Nature Trail provides more than just a walk in the woods; it's an opportunity to form a deeper connection with the natural world, to savor the symphony of birdsong, and to breathe in the crisp mountain air. Whether you're a seasoned hiker or a nature enthusiast, this trail beckons you to embrace the serene beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains and create lasting memories of your visit to this remarkable national park.

Last but not least, the Smoky Mountains provide an array of Gatlinburg activities and experiences, each contributing to a rich and diverse range of options. As you plan your visit, remember that this region offers more than just places to see; they are opportunities to immerse yourself in the beauty, culture, and traditions that make this area an exceptional and timeless destination. Whether you're an adventurer, a nature lover, or a history enthusiast, the Smoky Mountains promise a memorable journey, where you can connect with the essence of the region.

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