How to Plan the Ulitmate Gatlinburg Vacation

Smoky Mountain Mist

Gatlinburg, Tennessee has long been one of those places that people have written about in books and included in movie scripts. There is good reason for that – people have seen the beauty of the Smoky Mountains for what it is. This is a place where dreams come true, stress melts away, and nature abounds at every turn. You no longer have to satisfy yourself with only a book, as Gatlinburg is a real place. It is not fiction. It is right there waiting for you to visit in all its splendor. This guide will give you much of the information you need to plan a great trip to the Smokies. Along the way, we will also insert some fun bonus travel tips that will get you in the spirit for the vacation adventure to come. 

We will begin our guide with a look at lodging opportunities that will provide you with some options sure to suit almost any budget. If you want to experience the great outdoors the way people did 100 years ago, we have some options to point out just for you. If you appreciate some modern amenities while on vacation, we have some options that will make you feel at home. We continue our guide by taking a look at some of the many places to see and activities to take part in throughout the region, along with some of the dining options that can help you plan. Rounding out the guide will be a complete packing checklist, a guide for organizing your Gatlinburg to-do list, and how to safely bring along your pets should you choose to do so. 

Log Cabin Deck With View

1: Lodging

The first thing to consider when planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains is where you will stay. There is certainly a range of options out there for you, but we always feel it best to rent a cabin. While there are many great hotels available throughout the region, Gatlinburg cabins combine the best that nature has to offer, with every level of modern amenity that you may crave. Unless you have recently won the lottery, the chances are good that you are living within a budget as you plan this trip. We have scoured the area for you and are pleased to note that there are cabins out there to fit any budget.

You will want to begin planning your trip by determining how much you are comfortable spending on your holiday. Some cabins are rustic and bring you back to the days of old. Those are going to be much easier on the wallet than cabins in Gatlinburg that offer you many of the comforts of home. As you explore, you will want to take advantage of our Diamond Deals to find the best rates on the type of cabin that you desire for you and your family. Just click on the link we provided and you will be taken to our site where you can find all of the latest promotions that we have in Gatlinburg.

As you begin your search, consider the following list of cabin amenities that we have found to be plentifully available in Gatlinburg. Decide which of these is important, and that should help narrow down your search. Bonus Tip: Our Amenities Legend will help you determine which cabins have the features you are seeking. Just go to our Gatlinburg Cabins page to scroll through to see which cabins fit your needs.

  • Close to Downtown – If you are more of a city person that likes to take occasional treks into nature, perhaps staying closer to the downtown area of Gatlinburg will appeal to you. You will be closer to many of the main dining venues and attractions.

  • Close to the National Park – Many people come to the Smoky Mountains to be close to their natural surroundings for the duration of the trip. If that is you, you will want to look for Gatlinburg cabin rentals near the national park.

  • Mountain View – As you will read in this guide, there are some spectacular mountain views to be seen in Gatlinburg. Imagine sitting out on your deck enjoying the sunset or rising over those mountains. You must see this to know how glorious a sight it is!

  • Waterfront – If you plan on participating in quite a few water activities while on your holiday, look for a cabin that sits close to the water. You will be closer to the attractions that are most important to you that way.

  • Secluded – There are times when you just want to get away from it all, and that includes people. Perhaps you are an author trying to finish a book, or a married couple going away on their anniversary. Whatever the case might be, there are Gatlinburg cabins in secluded areas waiting to be rented.

  • Pool Access – Don’t forget the summer months can heat up in Gatlinburg. If you and your family want to get in your fair share of swimming, look for a cabin with pool access.

  • Fireplace – Equally important for some will be a fireplace to keep nice and cozy during those brisk or downright cold fall and winter evenings.

  • Hot Tub – Imagine sitting out on your deck in your hot tub, all the while enjoying the spectacular views. Many Gatlinburg cabins have this as an amenity, so be sure to look for it if that appeals to you.

  • Pet Friendly – If you plan on bringing your pet with you, make sure that the cabin can accommodate him. Also, check out chapter 8 of this guide for more helpful information about bringing your pet along for the ride.

  • Game Room – Many cabins in the area have a dedicated game room. This is a great way to do some family or group bonding, and have a blast doing it!

Making a reservation for cabins in Gatlinburg is a relatively simple and seamless process, but the key is to plan. This is particularly true during any major holiday, as cabins tend to be snatched up pretty quickly. Here are three things to keep in mind as you go to make your reservation:

  • Selecting Dates – The first step to securing your lodging is to decide on the dates of your trip. If you have your heart set on a particular cabin, you will want to get your reservation in as soon as possible. Remember that holiday rental periods are particularly busy. If you have your heart set on that, consider booking up to a year in advance.

  • Deposit – Nearly all Gatlinburg cabin rentals will require a deposit. Make sure to read the terms and ensure that you are comfortable with the amount and what is expected of you payment-wise.

  • Cancellation Policy – Things happen that may cause you to cancel your trip. We know that, and so do cabin owners. At the same time, cancellation policies are in place to protect their business. Just make sure you know what the policy is and note it on your calendar.

Bonus Tip: Ask the owner of your cabin about exterior access to the cabin just so you can be prepared. Depending on where you decide to say, you could find that the road coming in is steep, single lane, paved, gravel, or that you will need a four-wheel drive vehicle. None of these are reasons to pass on the cabin of course, but it is best to be prepared with the proper vehicle.

clingmans dome overlook

2: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Now we get to the really fun part. The primary reason that we so highly recommend your next vacation be to Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is that there is so much to do in the region. No matter how big your traveling party is, there is bound to be something for everyone to do. You might find the most difficult part of the planning process to be deciding what to do tomorrow!

Different Ways to Explore the Smokies

If you go to Gatlinburg, it is only natural that you will want to get outside and explore the Smoky Mountains Range. Here is just a smattering of the outdoor activities that you and your family can participate in nearly year-round.

  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Biking
  • Auto Touring
  • Camping
  • Swimming
  • Fishing

Trail Guide

For the novice and experienced hikers alike, there are enough trails around the Smokies to keep everyone well entertained. The trails are well maintained and provide spectacular views of the region. We have located some great hikes for you to consider, based on your desired level.

  • Beginner Hikes – An easy-going hike that brings great views along the way can be found on the Andrews Bald Trail. This hike is an easy 1.8 miles and can be taken throughout almost the entire year, the exception being the coldest months.

  • Intermediate Hikes – If you want a hike with a bit of adventure, yet you would rather not need several days to recover after, Porters Creek Trail is a great option. You can take this hike at any time during the year thanks to its relatively low elevation and mild slopes, but spring offers you the best views.

  • Advanced Hikes – If you are an advanced hiker looking for a bit of strenuous activity, head to the Rocky Top/Thunderhead Mountain Trail. You will gain more than 3,600 feet of elevation during this hike, culminating with an out-of-this-world view of the Smokies.

Best Places to See Spectacular Views in the Smokies

Once you turn your eyes on the Smokies, you will immediately realize why so many paintings have been commissioned and stories told throughout the years. As you plan your vacation, you will want to make special note of the following places to ensure that get the best views possible.

  • Gatlinburg Bypass
  • Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
  • Clingmans Dome
  • Cades Cove
  • Abrams Falls
  • Mount Leconte
  • Newfound Gap
  • Chimney Tops
  • Laurel Falls


There are multiple waterfalls within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, some small and others rather large. The four most popular are Grotto, Laurel, Abrams, and Rainbow. Keep in mind that the larger waterfalls tend to draw the biggest crowds, but the smaller ones are very beautiful in their own right. You will find these coming out of almost every river and stream located throughout the park, so take a gander over there when you grow tired of being around so many people.


If you enjoy seeing wildlife in its natural habitat, you will love your visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You will need to look closely since a dense forest surrounds much of the area, but there are some places where you will be able to spot some of the most beautiful creatures around. Head to Cataloochee and Cades Cove to potentially see white-tailed deer, black bears, elk, raccoons, wild turkeys, woodchucks, and others.

Bird watching is another fun activity in the Smokies. The National Park is home to over 240 species of birds. If you love to observe birds, definitely bring your binoculars along as you will not tire of the variety of feathered creatures in the region.


If you have your car with you, plan on experiencing some of the most spectacular scenic drives in the country along the way. To get a feel of the scenery that awaits you throughout the region, take a drive to any of the following areas:

  • Balsam Mountain Heintooga Ridge Road
  • Cataloochee Valley
  • Newfound Gap Road
  • Clingmans Dome Road
  • Cades Cove

Aside from these scenic drives, almost everywhere you look through the National Park will have you gazing upon nature as you have never seen it before. Make sure you bring your camera, as you will surely be using it!

Bonus Tip: More than 200,000 visitors every year enjoy the waterfalls within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The falls are derived from an average rainfall total of 85 inches. You do not want to miss seeing at least one of these dramatic sights.

Gatlinburg night lights

3: Shopping

After participating in so many outdoor activities, you will welcome the opportunity to head indoors for some great shopping in Gatlinburg. There are many handicraft items native to this region that you will want to buy to memorialize your trip. Here are six of the more well-known shopping destinations in Gatlinburg.

  • The Village – At the Village Shoppes, you will find 27 different and unique boutiques. This is a great place to buy those regional souvenirs to remember the trip, and to grab some great gifts for those you left back home.

  • Arts & Crafts Community – Billed as the largest group of independent artisans in all of North America, you are in for a special treat when you visit the Arts & Crafts Community. This is an eight-mile historic loop located in Gatlinburg, and it should be on your ‘must-do list. It is something special, and you will almost certainly find a craft or three to buy and take home with you.

  • Specialty Shops – For any of your individual shopping needs, there are a variety of specialty shops located throughout Gatlinburg to serve you. Among the three most popular are Celtic Heritage Company, All Sauced Up, and Nantahala Outdoor Center.

  • Tanger Five Oaks – If you have the itch to buy some brand-name items at rock-bottom prices, you will want to hit up the Tanger Outlets in Five Oaks.

  • Belz Mall – This is where you want to go when you and your family, especially the teenagers, are craving an indoor shopping experience.

Bonus Tip: If your school or favorite charity has an annual arts and crafts sale, consider buying some items in Gatlinburg to sell back at the fair. They are sure to fetch a great price, and you will be able to promote your love for the Smoky Mountains at the same time.

Gatlinburg Ski lift

4: Things to Do and Attractions

Proving that the Smoky Mountains have more to offer than just spectacular views (although that is a great attraction in and of itself), take a look at the following attractions that are sure to be a hit with everyone in the family.

Ripley’s Attractions

For lovers of the Ripley franchise, and for those of you who would like to experience firsthand what all the fuss is about, the following attractions will provide more than a little excitement.

  • Ripley’s Aquarium
  • Ripley’s Believe It or Not
  • Ripley’s Moving Theater
  • Ripley’s Haunted House
  • Ripley’s Mirror Maze and Candy Factory
  • Davy Crockett’s Mini Golf
  • Old Macdonald’s Farm Mini Golf (Sevierville)

Seasonal Attractions

Proving that Gatlinburg has something special in store for you no matter what time of the year you visit, take a look at the following attractions open during certain seasons.

  • Aerial Tramway
  • Shopping
  • Ice Skating
  • Wildlife Encounter
  • Skiing
  • Snowboarding
  • Snow Tubing
  • Alpine Slide

Mini Golf

There is no need to carry a bag of clubs to enjoy a round of golf. Pay a visit to any or all of these mini golf facilities and have a great time with family and friends.

  • Treasure Quest Golf
  • Circus Golf
  • Gatlin’s Mini Golf
  • Hillbilly Golf

Other Attractions Worth Visiting

Take a look at the below list of things to do in Gatlinburg to help aid in your planning as well. There is something for everyone in the Gatlinburg area.

  • Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster
  • Fort Fun
  • Space Needle
  • Gatlinburg Sky Lift
  • Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre
  • Whitewater Rafting
  • Gatlin’s Escape Rooms
  • Hollywood Star Cars Museum
  • Fannie Farkle’s
  • World of Illusions
  • Bent Creek Golf Course
  • Gatlinburg Golf Course
  • Gatlin’s Laser Tag and More
  • Mysterious Mansion
  • NOC Gatlinburg
  • alt and Pepper Shaker Museum
  • Ziplines
  • Dollywood

In addition to all of the attractions already mentioned, you can also enjoy a new feature release movie at one of the two movie theaters in the area: Governor’s Crossing in Sevierville and Walden’s Landing in Pigeon Forge. Beyond that, we will provide a complete list of things to do located throughout the Sevierville and Pigeon Forge areas in a future post.

Bonus Tip: Decide ahead of time what your must-see attractions are so you can be sure to pack accordingly. Don’t forget that you can also split your traveling party up on certain days to accommodate the wishes of everyone.

Steak on Grill

5: Dining

While most Gatlinburg cabins will be outfitted with a fully functioning kitchen area, there are times when you will want to head out with family and friends for a hearty meal. The Smoky Mountains is full of great dining options, no matter what type of cuisine you are in the mood for. We have put together a list for you that should aid in your planning process.

  • Barbecue – Three popular choices to get some down-home BBQ to include Hungry Bear Barbecue, Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que, and Delauder’s BBQ..

  • Breakfast/Pancake house – Head over to the Log Cabin Pancake House on Historic Nature Trail for a breakfast that will set you up for the rest of the day.

  • Café & Deli – Parton’s Deli in Gatlinburg is the place to go for some traditional sandwiches, along with a few unique creations that are sure to fill you up after a morning of adventure.

  • Steakhouse – The three top choices in Gatlinburg for a nice, juicy steak are The Peddler Steakhouse, Cherokee Grill & Steakhouse, and Howard’s Steakhouse.

  • Seafood – Consider Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Smoky Mountain Trout House, or Captain Jim’s Seafood Buffet when you are craving some nice fish or lobster.

  • Mexican – Three good options for Mexican food in Gatlinburg are No Way Jose’s Mexican Cantina, Loco Burro Fresh Mex Cantina, and El Changarro.

  • Italian – We especially love The Best Italian on the Parkway, Taste of Italy, and New York Pizza & Pasta when we want to sample the cuisine of Italy.

  • Coffee House – For a nice cup of joe and good company, head to Coffee & Company, Burg Coffees, or The Village Café and Creamery.

Bonus Tip: Order some takeout at the end of a meal and bring it back to your cabin. You will be glad to have some quick food to eat when you return tired after activity and don’t have the desire to cook anything yourself.

Wooden bridge in the forest

6: Packing Checklist

Now that you have your lodging picked out, you know what attractions you want to see and activities you want to participate in, and you have some dining options in mind, it is time to start packing. Since you’re not going to the beach here, we have put together a detailed packing list that will make sure you are prepared for almost every eventuality on your trip.

Let’s begin with a list of travel essentials you will want to make sure you have with you. Some of these items you may need every day, while others you may not need but should bring just in case. We will continue with several other categories of items that you should put on your packing checklist.

Travel Essentials

  • Wallet
  • Driver’s License
  • Debit and Credit Cards
  • Health Insurance Card
  • Travel Maps of the Region
  • All Lodging Confirmation Numbers

Modern Technological Devices

  • Cell Phone and Charger
  • Either a Smartphone or a Digital Camera
  • Memory Cards
  • Headphones
  • Laptop Computer and Charger

Modern Technological Devices

  • T-shirts
  • Sweaters (it can be cool in the evenings even in the summer)
  • Shorts
  • Pants
  • Sandals
  • Water Sport Accessories
  • Swimsuit
  • Jacket
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Backpack for Hikes
  • Hiking Shoes
  • Tennis Shoes


  • Prescription Medication
  • Over-the-Counter Pain Remedies
  • Sunscreen
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Insect Repellant
  • Umbrella
  • Lotion

This is a good general list of what nearly everyone should bring with them on a trip to Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains.

Bonus Tip: Make sure to add anything to your packing checklist that is particular to you so that you don’t forget anything. You do not want to have to be spending a great deal of time trying to locate a store to buy these items when you are supposed to be out communing with nature!

Wooden bridge

7: Mapping Out Your To-Do List

We have given you so many tips and possible things to do in Gatlinburg that it would take you a decade to get through everything. That is ok because you can keep coming back as often as you would like. However, for this trip, you will want to map out a to-do list that gives you the best possible roadmap for a stellar and epic adventure.

Make a List of a Few Things You Want to Do

As you can tell, there is much more to do in Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains than you can do on one vacation. Most people would be hard-pressed to do everything within their lifetime. What you will want to do is make a list of the few items that you and your family (or traveling party) want to see and do. That will help you make sure that you don’t leave anything out and return home disappointed.

Make Sure You Leave Time to Relax

You want to make sure that you leave time to relax. This is a vacation, after all. Do not plan your daily schedule so tight that you collapse into bed exhausted at the end of every day. It is important to structure it sometime just to see what happens. This will allow you to experience things that you never knew existed. This is one trip where spontaneity truly will add some spice to your life.

Create a Schedule

Remember that list of things you want to do that you just made? If you want to make sure you accomplish even 1/10of the items there, you will need to create a schedule. Take the major activities and attractions and assign them to a day. Unless it is something that is time sensitive, you can leave the exact time that you do each item up in the air. The important thing is to have an idea of where in your trip each thing on your to-do list will fit. Everything after that point will eventually come together.

Bonus Tip #1: You could decide to group your activities by their locations, and visit several on your list that is nearby each other. That can save time to do other things further down your list.

Bonus Tip #2: If you’re an early riser, get in a hike or two before the others in the cabin wake up. You will feel fresh and ready to tackle the day when everyone else is still trying to roll out of bed!

Wooden bridge

8: Bringing Your Pets Along for the Ride

If you have a pet, it is likely just as much a part of your family as anyone else. There are times when you just do not want to leave your four-legged friend at home while you go on vacation, so you should consider bringing your pet along for the ride. There is plenty for him to do, and you will not be worried about how he is faring back at home.

Finding Pet-Friendly Gatlinburg Cabins

Many cabins in Gatlinburg are pet friendly. However, to avoid disappointment, you will want to contact the cabin owner or your rental company just to make sure. Some cabins or other types of lodging will have weight restrictions if your pet is going to be inside, so keep that in mind as well.

Tips for Traveling with Your Pet

You will be doing a lot of driving on this trip, so make sure your pet is up for the adventure (and most are!). Bring along your pet’s favorite carrier and some comfort items to keep him/her occupied.

Pet Packing Checklist

You need to be sure you bring a leash with you at all times. In addition, have plenty of ‘poop’ bags to clean up after your pet, and do not forget the water and food dishes. While you’re at it, remember to bring your normal pet food with you, as it is important to retain as much of your pet’s normal routine as possible.

Bonus Tip: Bring some creature comforts from home to make your pet feel at ease. Beds, toys, and special blankets can all help your four-legged friend better adjust to their new, albeit temporary, home.

We hope that this guide will help you in planning for a most memorable vacation in the Smoky Mountains. This is a lot to take in, but if you will look through all that there is to do, you will be well on your way to enjoying every moment of your trip. Once you have visited this spectacular area of the country, you will want to see other nearby regions as well. Look for more guides to come from us in the future on topics such as attractions in Sevierville and Pigeon Forge, full restaurant lists, free things to do, the best attractions for the family, and more.

Please feel free to contact Diamond Mountain Rentals anytime for more information or if you have any questions at all.