The October 1966 cover of Southern Living featured a breathtaking shot of U.S. 441 with a camper-shelled pickup leading a caravan of cars through fall foliage in what is now the most visited national park. Our readers have loved the Smokies forever. And their favorite spot? Gatlinburg.
Given the millions of people who visit this area every year, the actual size of Gatlinburg—less than 5,000 residents—escapes many travelers, but it’s the homey Appalachian charm that helps draw all of them here in the first place.
The village has continued to evolve, with a variety of new attractions joining the perennially popular pancake houses, candy shops, and craft galleries. Two-tiered Anakeesta has a shopping village downtown where you catch a “chondola” lift to the mountaintop Firefly Village, with canopy walks, zip lines, and other outdoor- recreation options. Now Parrot Heads also have a mountain perch with the opening of Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg. Take the SkyLift to the new 680-foot SkyBridge, billed as North America’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge.
Blake Shelton has opened an outpost of his Ole Red restaurant here. There’s also locally owned Gatlinburg Brewing Co. with its downtown taproom, or you can sample flights of hooch at moonshine tasting rooms.
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For lodging, rent a cabin in the Smokies (or a room at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort in neighboring Pigeon Forge), and make the drive to Gatlinburg for entertainment. Or reverse that, booking a room in the thick of things and taking a day trip into the mountains for hiking and horseback riding.
But that’s all icing on the cake. In the end, people will always head to the Smokies for the exact same reason Southern Living did in 1966: This place is gorgeous.