The Smoky Mountain village of Gatlinburg (pop. 3,900) is a good spot for families at any time of the year. If you’re headed there in winter, you’ll find holiday parades and light displays; skiing, snowboarding and tubing; and plenty of indoor activities.
WILD BLUE YONDER
Even if your tendency is to cling while your kids fling, zip-lining promises an adrenaline rush. This area offers several opportunities, including Gatlinburg Ziplines. Climb Works Canopy delivers 2½ hours of soaring adventure. The Gatlinburg Sky Lift offers another bird’s-eye view. Or try the 407-foot Space Needle, for a 360-degree view of the Smokies.
Gatlinburg Winter Magic bedazzles with millions of LED bulbs and light displays along the parkway and adjacent River Road. For the best views, take the Magic Trolley Ride of Lights. Join the expected throng of 80,000 spectators to watch the Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade, which has floats, marching bands and giant helium balloons. If you’re in town on Dec. 31, catch the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop & Fireworks at the Space Needle.
BABY, IT'S COLD OUTSIDE
There’s also plenty to do outside town at this time of year. Board the Aerial Tramway to visit Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort & Amusement Park. Take a spin on the indoor ice-skating rink or try skiing, snowboarding or tubing. Snowmaking machines keep the slopes white as long as winter temps are low enough. Before you leave, check out the mountain critters at Ober Gatlinburg’s Wildlife Encounter. You may spy the black bears Minnie and BJ, parents of twin cubs born earlier this year. While snowfall isn’t guaranteed in these parts, if you’re lucky you’ll catch some wintry landscapes as you drive the 11-mile loop around the Cades Cove settlement in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
WARM AND TOASTY FUN
Play a round of putt-putt at the glow-in-the-dark Black Light Miniature Golf at Fort Fun, which also has an arcade, laser tag and a 3-D theater. At Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze, wind your way along reflective paths that eventually lead to the Candy Factory, in the lobby. The Hollywood Star Cars Museum displays such famous automobiles as the 1966 TV show Batman’s Batmobile, the Munsters’ Drag-u-la and Hank Williams’s Cadillac. Even land-lubbers find Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies fascinating.
Gatlinburg resembles a real-life version of the board game Candy Land. At one of the two locations of Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen, try the taffy, fudge, divinity or hand-dipped chocolates. Aunt Mahalia’s Candies is chockablock with peanut brittle, pecan logs and stick candy as well as honey, syrups, jams and sugar-free options. A trip to Gatlinburg with the kids doesn’t get any sweeter than this.
Gatlinburg Ziplines: 125 Historic Nature Trail; ziplinesfamilyadventures.com
Climb Works Canopy: 155 Branam Hollow Rd.; climbworkscanopy.com
Gatlinburg Sky Lift: 765 Parkway at Maple Lane; gatlinburgskylift.com
Space Needle: 115 Historic Nature Trail; gatlinburgspaceneedle.com
Magic Trolley Ride of Lights: Reserve tickets at 865.436.0535
Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort & Amusement Park: 1001 Parkway; obergatlinburg.com
Great Smoky Mountains National Park: nps.gov
Black Light Miniature Golf at Fort Fun: 716 Parkway; 865.436.2326; smokymountainfun.com
Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze: 623 Parkway; ripleys.com
The Hollywood Star Cars Museum: 914 Parkway; StarCarsTN.com
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies: 88 River Rd.; ripleysaquariumofthesmokies.com
Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen: 744 Parkway, 865.436.4886
Aunt Mahalia’s Candies: 611 Parkway; 865.436.7992