While the Great Smoky Mountains are a treasure all year long, the holiday season is an especially magical time to visit. In eastern Tennessee, millions of twinkling lights brighten up the mountains, and the holiday entertainment, shopping, festivals, and events are endless.
And while COVID has affected many of the usual festivals and attractions, the Smoky Mountains region of Tennessee still has plenty of holiday-season attractions to enjoy.
Here are six fabulous things to experience in the Great Smoky Mountains during the holiday season.
1. Take In The Lights And Sights
From November 13 to February 15, Winterfest in Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, and Gatlinburg transforms the Smoky Mountains area into a glowing wonderland of winter fun. More than 15 million lights turn the parkway that connects the towns into a twinkling drive, and for many people, touring the light display is an annual tradition.
In Sevierville, the lights are even wilder and more immersive at the Shadrack Christmas Wonderland drive-through light display at Smokies Stadium. This unbelievable light experience features holiday displays synchronized with music, a 300-foot drive-through lighted tunnel, and a brand-new 70-foot lighted tree.
In Gatlinburg, the lights come alive at the Gatlinburg SkyLift. At 1,800 feet tall, the lift puts the vast mountain on display during the day, and during the holidays, the lights of the city can be seen in all their glory. The Gatlinburg SkyBridge becomes a tunnel of lights and is a truly thrilling experience for those who are not afraid of heights.
The Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade in Gatlinburg will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. on December 4, complete with lighted floats, holiday-themed performances, marching bands, and even an appearance by Santa.
Pro Tip: Before navigating the Winterfest winter wonderland, download a free lights map. The Winterfest Celebration map includes the locations of all of the region’s special displays. If you attend the Shadrack Christmas Wonderland, try to make the drive during the week, since Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays are the busiest times with the longest lines of cars to contend with.
2. Spend Some Time In Spectacular Sevierville
The holiday season in Sevierville will kick off on November 13 with the 31st Annual Smoky Mountain Winterfest Celebration, which will run through February 22, 2021. But besides experiencing the lights, you can enjoy traditional ice skating at Sevierville’s Wilderness at the Smokies, a waterpark resort and adventure center that’s fun for the whole family. One of the waterpark’s pools, a 3,200-square-foot wave pool, becomes a festive ice skating rink complete with holiday lights and music. While Wilderness at the Smokies’ popular Santa’s Workshop attraction is closed this year, the grandkids will still have a chance to meet Santa and enjoy storytime with Mrs. Claus.
On December 5, Sevierville’s 58th annual Christmas Parade, hosted by the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce, will turn the streets into a holiday wonderland from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
3. Deck The Halls At Dollywood And The DreamMore Resort
The famous Dollywood Parks & Resorts makes the most of the holidays with its Smoky Mountain Christmas celebration, which will kick off on November 7. The park is illuminated with more than five million lights, and each area of the Dollywood theme park is decorated in a unique fashion. Every Friday and Saturday, weather permitting, the skies above Dollywood explode with a festive fireworks display, and on top of the usual annual Christmas shows, visitors can experience a new show featuring Dolly Parton’s family. The Dreamsong Theater’s Heart of the Holidays show includes members of Parton's extended family telling stories and performing songs from Parton’s brand-new Christmas album.
The curated shops at Dollywood make for a unique shopping experience, and the culinary scene at this adventure park promises award-winning recipes and meals.
Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa, recently named one of the country’s top resorts for families by Travel + Leisure, also brings out the best during the holiday season, with holiday decorations, special holiday meals, illuminated trees that come alive with music and dancing lights every evening, and hot apple cider served daily.
For more on visiting Dollywood and the DreamMore Resort with your grandchildren, see this piece.
4. Hit The Slopes At Ober Gatlinburg
Who says you need tall mountains and lots of snow to ski? At Ober Gatlinburg, a four-seasons adventure and ski park, the snow comes preordered. The adventure park sprays water mist when the temperature gets below freezing to create its ski hills, but the Snow Tubing Hill is created using a refrigerated snowmaking system called Snow Magic. It truly is magical, because this system can create frozen shaved/powderized ice that looks, feels, and behaves just like natural snow.
This year, the snow tubing will kick off on November 21 and will be available through Easter. The park’s ski slope is created when the temperature is cold enough to “make” snow, but the ski and snowboard season usually begins in early-to-mid December.
Please note that the ski slope opening and closing dates are as unpredictable as the weather. You can find a slope report on the park’s website. If you don’t want to drive the notoriously winding roads leading up to this Swiss-inspired adventure park, then you can board the Aerial Tramway in downtown Gatlinburg to arrive at the mountain without driving.
5. Twinkle Above The Trees At Anakeesta
Anakeesta, a family-friendly mountaintop theme park, is truly an uplifting experience -- and it’s even more so during the holidays. Named for the Anakeesta Formation of the Great Smoky Mountains, this treetop park is a favorite all-day (or all-night!) adventure. You can take the Chondola up to the park or book a Ridge Rambler adventure vehicle to wind through the forests up to the park.
Anakeesta underwent a $6.5 million expansion this year, including a new elevated dining experience at the Cliff Top restaurant, located in Black Bear Village. Also new to the park is the spectacular AnaVista Tower, the highest point in downtown Gatlinburg.
In addition to the holiday-lighted Tree Top Skywalk, the longest tree-based skywalk in North America, Anakeesta’s Enchanted Winter experience includes twinkling lights and seasonal decor all over the 70-acre park.
Starting on November 27, you and your grandkids will be able to visit with Santa from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Friday and Saturday through December 5.
There are also plenty of shopping opportunities at Anakeesta, both at Black Bear Village and Firefly Village. Many of these unique boutique stores offer soaps, handmade goods, jewelry, drinkware, games, and puzzles.
6. Enjoy A Perfect Holiday At Pigeon Forge
Pigeon Forge really goes all out for Christmas. The mountain town and popular vacation area is famous for its dinner shows, and its Christmas shows are no exception. This year’s Christmas shows include Dolly Parton’s Stampede, the Hatfield & McCoy Christmas Disaster Dinner Feud, Pirates Voyage, Paula Deen’s Lumberjack Feud, the Grand Majestic Theater shows (including Soul of Motown), The Comedy Barn, Country Tonite, and more.
Shopping is a big deal at Pigeon Forge, and this year promises new shops at The Island and at The Tower Shops at Mountain Mile. The Island is a family amusement park that features rides like the 200-foot-tall Great Smoky Mountain Wheel as well as more than 40 retail and boutique shops. The Tower Shops at Mountain Mile is a unique development offering retail stores, restaurants, lodging, and attractions.
At Christmastime, Pigeon Forge’s Titanic Museum turns its exact replica of the famously doomed ship into a once-upon-a-time Edwardian Christmas experience. Visitors -- each one assigned to a particular passenger -- can explore the hallways, parlors, cabins, and Grand Staircase of the Titanic. The museum contains 400 artifacts from the ship and its passengers, and visitors can see exactly what it was like to be on the ill-fated liner back in 1912.
The BlueGrass Christmas In The Smokies music festival is set to take place from December 9 to December 12 at the Evergreen Smoky Mountain Lodge & Convention Center, and the Crave Golf Club will once again become a winter wonderland, with 100 decorated trees and 30,000 Christmas lights.
Don’t forget about the Pigeon Forge Snow snow tubing attraction, a year-round indoor snow playground!
For more to do on a weekend in Pigeon Forge, see this page.
The Great Smoky Mountains region of Tennessee has plenty to offer during the holiday season, plus plenty of accommodations, resorts, and cozy cabins to stay in. Be sure to double-check the schedules of the attractions you plan to visit and reserve your accommodations early to beat the holiday rush.