Small Town Snapshot: Gatlinburg
This little mountain tourist mecca came back. Now it’s our turn.
If you watched the Chimney Tops 2 fire on television or online, you’ll be amazed by downtown Gatlinburg, which looks . . . exactly the same. Most everything downtown—from restaurants and hotels to popular attractions—is running full-steam, thanks to some heroic firefighters. The greatest damage occurred inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and in residential areas—some of which will need years to recover—but the main-drag Parkway was buzzing when we were there in February.
The Gatlinburg Sky Lift is closed because of the fire, but the owners plan to reopen. And some trails inside the park are closed. But even though the fire damaged over 17,000 acres, this 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.
New attractions are also coming along. Even Parrot Heads are heading for the mountains, with a new Margaritaville Resort planned for 2018. So get on up there soon, and show the Smokies some love.
Never been? Here’s what you need to know.
While over 11 million people visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park annually, Gatlinburg, a.k.a. “Gateway to the Smoky Mountains,” has less than 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 majestic mountains every minute of every day.
New on the Tourist Scene
Ober Gatlinburg’s Ski Mountain Coaster (which opened in August 2015) lets you control the breaks as gravity sends your individual coaster car zooming down the mountainside.
Scheduled to open in 2017, the 72-acre Anakeesta outdoor adventure area will include a racing zipline, mountain coaster, tree canopy walk, scenic overlook, playground—and, of course, shopping opportunities.
Gatlinburg added two new chain hotels in 2016 and is adding another two in 2017. Then there’s the aforementioned Margaritaville.
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.”
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?
“Whether you’re buying or renting, always ask whether the property you’re considering is in or near a burn zone,” Schoenfield recommends.
"While everything you love to do in Gatlinburg is ready and waiting", he explained, "some residential areas, including rental houses, were very hard hit. Chalet Village, particularly north Chalet Village, lost hundreds of homes".
Get the lay of the land in advance so you can make the most of your mountain adventure—whether it’s permanent or temporary.