Small Town Snapshot: Gatlinburg
This little mountain hamlet has added lots of new reasons to visit.
Nestled against the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg offers a charming gateway to those majestic mountains and packs more entertainment into its slice of the Blueridge Parkway than you can shake a hiking stick at.
The park includes just over 520,000 acres in Tennessee and North Carolina and remains the most popular national park in America. Visit Gatlinburg now and you'll see lots of familiar sights, like families making their way from Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies to the Pancake Pantry to Ober Gatlinburg's Aerial Tramway. You and your honey can still dress up like a cowboy and a saloon proprietress to have your picture made.
But new attractions have come online—including SkyLift Park Gatlinburg's 680-foot pedestrian suspension bridge set to open in spring 2019. So if you haven't been to Gatlinburg lately, you don't know what you're missing.
And if you've never been? Here's what you need to know.
While over 11 million people visit the national park annually, Gatlinburg has under 5,000 residents. And they're a friendly lot.
Picture quaint German village meets Tennessee frontier town meets P.T. Barnum. Gatlinburg aims to (1) keep you entertained and (2) celebrate those glorious mountains every minute of every day.
New Mountain Park
Ride a Chondola up a mountainside to the 72-acre Anakeesta outdoor adventure area, which includes a racing zipline, mountain coaster, tree canopy walk, scenic overlook, playground—and, of course, shopping opportunities.
Since 2016, Gatlinburg has added several new chain hotels, including Holiday Inn Express, Courtyard by Marriott, Hampton Inn, and Fairfield Inn and Suites. And here's the big news for Parrot Heads: Gatlinburg has a new Margaritaville Resort and LandShark Bar and Grill. The jury's still out on whether Jimmy Buffett's frozen concoction of choice will outpace local moonshine in popularity.
Speaking of 'shine, a number of wineries and distilleries now operate in town, offering tours, tastings, and retail. Sugarlands Distilling Co. has dubbed its moonshine tasting bars "Sippin' Posts."
Country star Blake Shelton's Ole Red Gatlinburg (March 2019 opening) brings Shelton's "country lifestyle brand" to the mountains, with food, drinks, and live country music.
Why We'd Move
"I've lived here 20 years, and you couldn't drag me away," says Jeff Schoenfield, owner and broker at All Pro, Realtors, Inc., in Gatlinburg. The four major draws, he says, are a stunning national park right in your backyard; four mild, yet distinct, seasons; a low crime rate; and great schools, both public and private.
Where's My Dream Neighborhood?
"There's a beautiful community right in town—the Holston Assembly Grounds—which was originally developed by the United Methodist Church as a retirement community for pastors," Schoenfield says. "You can walk down the Parkway and never find it unless you know where to look. It has everything from $200,000 homes to $2 million homes."
Two other communities he recommends are Hidden Hills and Cobbly Knob, "a beautiful community with fantastic views of the national park."
What Will It Cost?
"Think of us the same way you would a beach town," Schoenfield advises. "At the beach, you're interested in your proximity to the water and your particular view of it. Here, our beach is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It's all about proximity to the park and your view of the mountains. For example, if your house has a view of Mount LeConte, the highest point in the Smokies, that will drive the price."
What Questions Should I Ask?
While downtown Gatlinburg has recovered from the Chimney Tops 2 wildfire of 2016, some residential areas have not. Whether you're buying or renting, always ask whether the property you're considering is in or near a burn zone.
Get the lay of the land in advance so you can make the most of your mountain adventure—whether it's permanent or temporary.