Gatlinburg is a tiny resort town tucked up against the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It features a host of family attractions and a thriving Arts and Crafts Community. Located on the banks of the Little Pigeon River at the foot of Mount Le Conte, the city has a great deal of natural beauty to recommend it, if you can overlook the gaudy attractions, crowds and traffic.
The town's location is reason enough for a visit. It makes a convenient base for exploring the national park. Lodging is plentiful and varied, including hotels and motels, bed and breakfast inns, and vacation rentals such as condos, cabins and chalets. You can find a place in the thick of things, or hidden away in a quiet hollow.
Arts and crafts have a long history in this area. The Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community was established in 1937, and today it's the largest group of independent artisans in North America. You'll find a variety of member shops, studios and galleries on an 8 mile loop off Highway 321.
The 70-acre campus of Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts was founded in 1945, and offers workshops in a wide variety of media. The school also houses five galleries, a resource center and a book and supply store, open to the public year round. The whole thing was started by Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women, which also founded the Arrowcraft Shop, the oldest giftshop in town and a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild. If you're looking for fine workmanship, Arrowcraft should be your first stop.
The biggest of the many attractions in Gatlinburg is, strangely enough, Ripleys Aquarium of the Smokies. It may seem rather odd to locate a huge salt water aquarium in the mountains hundreds of miles from the sea, but there it is. The aquarium features the world's longest aquarium tunnel, complete with moving walkway. You'll see an impressive variety of sea creatures here, including sharks, exotic fish, jellyfish, octopi, moray eels, rays and crabs.
Ober Gatlinburg is a combination winter ski resort and amusement park. It offers indoor ice skating year round. The park features an arcade, kiddie rides, miniature golf, water rides, restaurants and shops. You can take the aerial tramway (America's largest) from downtown Gatlinburg to get there, and to enjoy some spectacular views of the mountains.
The town is small enough to make getting around on foot fairly easy, a good thing since you'll want to ditch the car as soon as possible to avoid the traffic. You can also use the Trolleys, which go to just about all the points of interest, including a few areas in the Smoky Mountains National Park.