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Thanksgiving in Gatlinburg: Celebrating in the Smoky Mountains

Thanksgiving is right around the corner. For many families across the United States, Thanksgiving brings to mind images of homemade pies, turkey dinners, and quality time with loved ones. But if you’re looking to add a little extra magic to your Thanksgiving this year, consider taking your celebrations to the idyllic mountain town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Nestled at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg offers stunning natural scenery, cozy log cabins, festive holiday attractions, and boundless opportunities for old-fashioned family fun. Read on to discover why Gatlinburg is the ultimate destination for an unforgettable Thanksgiving getaway.

An Unforgettable Thanksgiving Getaway in Gatlinburg

Located adjacent to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Sevier County, Tennessee, Gatlinburg is a charming resort city known for its stunning natural scenery. Surrounded by verdant forests, rugged mountains, and cascading waterfalls, Gatlinburg provides easy access to the national park while also offering modern amenities like shops, restaurants, attractions, and accommodations.

Though the town has grown into a bustling tourist destination, Gatlinburg still retains its old-time charm and small-town atmosphere. The quaint downtown area features arts and crafts shops, candy stores, festive decorations, and holiday music that evoke nostalgia and Yuletide cheer. Visitors strolling along the main street are treated to picturesque views of the mountains rising majestically in the distance.

With a year-round population of around 4,000 that balloons to over 40,000 during peak tourist season, Gatlinburg welcomes millions of visitors annually (NPS 2019). The town offers an array of accommodations, from convenient hotels and cozy cabins to luxurious rental chalets equipped with amenities. This abundance of options makes it easy to find the perfect home-away-from-home base for your Smoky Mountain Thanksgiving.

Why Visit Gatlinburg for Thanksgiving

From the natural beauty to the holiday festivities, Gatlinburg offers endless ways to celebrate Thanksgiving in style. Here are just a few of the highlights you can look forward to:

Scenic Beauty Great Smoky Mountains National Park boasts over 500,000 acres of pristine wilderness to explore (NPS 2019). With elevations up to 6,643 feet, the park contains ancient mountains, lush forests, cascading waterfalls, and an incredible diversity of plants and wildlife. From scenic drives to hiking adventures, Gatlinburg provides limitless ways to soak in the awe-inspiring natural splendor. Breathing in the fresh mountain air as you take in panoramic vistas of vibrant fall foliage makes the perfect prelude to Thanksgiving dinner.

After working up an appetite on a nature walk, relax sore muscles while gazing at mountain views from your own private hot tub on the balcony of your vacation rental. Then cozy up next to a warm fireplace or bask on the patio before heading out to the next holiday activity. With stunning natural beauty right at your doorstep, every day in Gatlinburg feels like Thanksgiving.

Festive Holiday Atmosphere

From early November through New Year’s Eve, Gatlinburg transforms into a winter wonderland, complete with twinkling lights, festive storefronts, and endless holiday cheer. The town kicks off the season with the Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade in mid-November, featuring illuminated floats, dancers, and marching bands. Late November brings the official lighting of the town Christmas tree and extended holiday store hours for Black Friday shopping.

Throughout December, enjoy dazzling light displays, carolers, Christmas craft shows, and visits with Santa at the Gatlinburg Convention Center. Ring in the New Year with midnight fireworks and a ball drop from the top of the Space Needle. With so much Yuletide excitement, Gatlinburg at Thanksgiving feels like a magical preview of the month-long holiday extravaganza to come.

Thanksgiving Attractions

In addition to the general holiday atmosphere, Gatlinburg offers several attractions that put a fun Thanksgiving twist on your Smoky Mountain getaway:

  • Harvest Festival at Dollywood – Dollywood transforms into a fall wonderland throughout November with autumn shows, crafts, and food. The Harvest Festival features Southern gospel performances, costume contests for kids, pumpkin painting, and more.
  • Annual Gatlinburg Turkey Trot 5K Walk/Run – Burn off some pre-Thanksgiving calories in this annual 5K race through downtown Gatlinburg on Thanksgiving morning. Prizes are awarded for top finishers.
  • Turkeyville at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies – Visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies for fun Thanksgiving activities like crafting turkey hats, taking photos with turkey props, and learning turkey facts from the naturalists.
  • Thanksgiving Buffets – Local restaurants like the Pancake Pantry, Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant, and Twin Creeks Restaurant offer indulgent Thanksgiving Day feasts.

Cozy Cabin Rentals

Instead of staying in a crowded hotel, opt for the privacy, amenities, and homey comfort of a luxe cabin rental. Gatlinburg and the surrounding Smoky Mountains offer hundreds of unique cabins and chalets that make perfect home bases for a Thanksgiving getaway. Choose from options like:

  • Spacious luxury cabins with fully-equipped kitchens, multiple bedrooms, fireplaces, hot tubs, and mountain views
  • Rustic log cabins and cottages with gas grills, fire pits, and wraparound porches ideal for enjoying crisp fall air
  • Secluded chalets on large wooded lots for complete tranquility and privacy
  • Pet-friendly rentals that allow you to bring the whole family

Picture preparing homemade pies in your cabin’s expansive kitchen as kids play yard games outside. Or unwind in an outdoor hot tub under a starry night sky after a day of hiking. A cozy cabin adds comfort, convenience, and privacy to your Smoky Mountain Thanksgiving.

Boundless Outdoor Activities

While turkey with all the trimmings anchors the day, Gatlinburg’s stunning natural setting provides endless ways to work up an appetite before the big meal. Rise early Thanksgiving morning to hike one of the hundreds of trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, like the paved 1-mile Gatlinburg Trail to the historic Methodist Church. Or walk off your pie indulgence on an afternoon stroll across the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America, located just minutes from downtown Gatlinburg.

Other outdoor activities perfect for Thanksgiving weekend include:

  • Scenic drives to marvel at fall colors along the 11-mile Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail or the 10-mile the Cherokee Orchard Loop
  • Family-friendly adventures like gem mining, mini golf, and exciting attractions like coasters and alpine slides
  • River rafting and tubing – many outfitters operate trips year-round, weather permitting
  • Horseback riding for scenic mountain vistas from the back of your trusty steed
  • Picnicking in the national park while enjoying idyllic mountain panoramas

With the Smokies as your playground, say goodbye to post-turkey sluggishness and yes to action-packed days outdoors.

Local Shopping and Entertainment

When you’ve had your fill of fresh mountain air, the downtown area offers plenty of shops, restaurants, and entertainment options:

  • Arts & Crafts Community – With over 100 craft shops, Gatlinburg is a creative haven for local artisans. Find woodcarvings, pottery, paintings, jewelry, and more.
  • Candy Stores – Satisfy your sweet tooth at old-fashioned candy shops like the Gatlinburg Candy Kitchen, stocked with fudge, taffy, caramel apples, and nostalgic treats.
  • Music and Theater – Enjoy holiday musical productions like Christmas at the Smoky Mountain Opry or classic motown tunes at the Soul of Motown Downtown.
  • Hollywood Star Cars Museum – See over 20 iconic movie and TV vehicles like the DeLorean from Back to the Future and the Batmobile.
  • Guinness World Records Museum – Marvel at record-breaking exhibits and interactive experiences.
  • Local Wine Tasting – Tennessee wines perfectly complement Thanksgiving dinner. Sample wines at Sugarland Cellars Winery or shop for a bottle at Gatlinburg Wine Gallery.

When you need some downtime after Thanksgiving festivities, Gatlinburg’s shops and attractions offer diversion for all ages and interests.

Thanksgiving Dinner Options

While many cabins allow you to prepare Thanksgiving dinner yourself, Gatlinburg restaurants also offer special holiday feasts:

  • Traditional Thanksgiving Buffets – All-you-can-eat buffets with turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, veggies, salads, breads, pies, and more. Family-friendly, with kids’ pricing available.
  • Thanksgiving Day Brunches – Lighter holiday meals often featuring breakfast dishes like stuffed French toast or eggs benedict in addition to classic sides and desserts.
  • Thanksgiving Dinners – Plated courses and family-style options at nicer restaurants. Make reservations early, as these fill up fast.
  • To-Go Meals – Select restaurants like Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant let you order complete Thanksgiving meals to-go so you can focus on enjoying time with family.
  • Local Delis – If you’re staying in a rental cabin, pick up side dishes, desserts, or full meals from delicatessens like Three Jimmy’s.

Is Thanksgiving a good time to visit Gatlinburg?

Yes, Thanksgiving is an excellent time to visit Gatlinburg! The town is already decorated for the holidays by late November, so you’ll get to experience the Christmas spirit and festive atmosphere. The weather is crisp and cool, perfect for enjoying the gorgeous fall foliage and mountain views. Crowds are smaller than in the peak summer season, so you’ll get to enjoy more of the attractions and restaurants without lengthy waits. Thanksgiving also kicks off Gatlinburg’s fun holiday event season, like the Fantasy of Lights Christmas parade. Many venues offer special Thanksgiving meals, activities, and entertainment options. While Gatlinburg does see an increase in visitors over the holiday, it’s not as crowded as some other popular travel weekends. If you book lodging well in advance, a Thanksgiving trip to Gatlinburg can be a magical way to spend the holiday surrounded by natural beauty and small-town charm.

FAQs

Is Gatlinburg crowded on Thanksgiving weekend?

Yes, Gatlinburg sees an influx of visitors over Thanksgiving, though crowds are less intense than during summer. Expect holiday traffic and longer wait times at restaurants. Making reservations helps minimize hassles.

What’s the weather like in Gatlinburg in late November?

Late November daytime highs average around 60°F, with nighttime lows around 36°F. Pack layers and be prepared for rain or snow showers. Elevations are higher in the Smokies, so temperatures drop significantly at night and with precipitation.

When should I book my Gatlinburg cabin rental for Thanksgiving?

Reserve your preferred rental as early as possible, even a year in advance if staying over Thanksgiving week. Many cabins book up quickly for the holiday. Flexible dates help, along with expanded search parameters.

Does it feel Christmas-y in Gatlinburg at Thanksgiving?

Yes! Light displays and Christmas music create a festive backdrop for Thanksgiving. Enjoy a sneak peek of December holiday spirit.

Can I see fall leaf color in the Smokies in late November?

Fall foliage season typically peaks in October but colors linger through November in higher elevations of the Smokies. Lower elevations will be past peak but mountains will still have beautiful autumn hues.

Conclusion

With stunning scenery, festive holiday fun, and limitless ways to enjoy quality time with loved ones, Gatlinburg offers an idyllic backdrop for your Thanksgiving getaway. Take in the mountain vistas, browse the quaint shops, indulge in delicious food, and make lifelong memories exploring the Smokies. From cozy cabins with fireplaces to scenic trails made for burning off stuffing, Gatlinburg has everything you need for an unforgettable Thanksgiving retreat. Start a new tradition this year and take your Thanksgiving to the mountains – you’ll be thankful you did.

Evelyn

My name is Evelyn and I started Camping The Camp to combine my love of the outdoors with my background in environmental science. I hope you’ll find helpful as you discover the joys of camping. It’s more than a weekend trip - it’s a chance to disconnect from devices, reconnect with loved ones, and make memories to last a lifetime

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