‘After driving across Tennessee in the glorious autumn sunshine, we rocked up to Gatlinburg. I can safely say the city was NOT what I was expecting…’
Middle of nowhere…?
I mean Gatlinburg is in the Smoky Mountains National Park, and that’s in the middle of nowhere, right? All that wide open space, the walking trails, the rural towns and villages, and the big scary brown bears, mean that it’s an idyllic spot where you can get back to nature and enjoy total silence.
I’ve been road tripping around the US for more than a decade and you’d think I would know to expect the unexpected by now. Except that I don’t.
Blackpool on meth…
On arriving on the main street in Gatlinburg, I was speechless. It reminded me of going to Blackpool in England. And I don’t like it there. Both sides of the massively long street was packed full of restaurants, gift shops and tacky touristy stuff, which I was not at all prepared for.
I had visions of some remote location where I would have to walk miles to meet another soul if I wanted to borrow a cup of sugar. As it turns out, if I wanted sugar, I could buy it in a million different forms from a million different places.
Best of both worlds?
After staring out of the windows and spluttering some incomprehensible words at LT, I pulled in to a parking lot and we got out to explore. After getting over my initial shock, I realised my opinion of Galinburg didn’t really matter. It was extremely busy and filled with happy-looking visitors.
We weren’t in the city to stat, but rather had booked a log cabin in the Smokies for a few days. However, we were only a few miles from Gatlinburg, which meant we had the best of both worlds. If we ached for peace and tranquillity, we had it, and if we were desperate to buy tourist tat, we had a whole plethora of stores to offer it to us.
We also had more than a few bars to choose from, so that cheered me up somewhat. Most of them sell moonshine in a myriad of flavours, so it’s hard to be disappointed when you have such choice.
To be fair, Gatlinburg is offering what people want, and couldn’t really deny the effort they were making to satisfy their visitors.
A little bit of Gatlinburg history
Gatlinburg is a holiday resort in the boundaries of Seiver County, Tennessee. It sits on the edge of the fabulous Great Smoky Mountain National Park. On all sides, it’s surrounded by mountains. These rise majestically from the land and have wonderful names, such as Sugarland, Cove and Big Ridge.
The name ‘Gatlinburg’ originated from the local post office, which was run by a chap called Radford Gatlin. Radford and his neighbours, the Ogle family, didn’t get along very well. With Gatlin being a Confederate supporter and the majority of the townsfolk backing the Union, he was kicked out just before the start of the Civil War.
The area was fiercely fought over during the War. This was due to the lucrative salt mines at Alum Cave, on the Tennessee/North Carolina border.
On the arrival of the Union Army, Confederate fighters were pushed back towards North Carolina. They soon beat a hasty retreat over the Smokies and life returned to normal in Gatlinburg. Or whatever can be classed as normal when your country is at war…
Fire of 1992
In 1992, the town was partially devastated by a large fire. This destroyed Ripley’s Believe it or Not, believe it or not. See what I did there? Moving on, then… The fire also razed an entire block of stores.
Ripley’s also caught fire in 2002 and in 2003, so I decided not to visit. It hasn’t had a fire in a while, so I figured it might be due one.
Apart from the fire attracting Ripley’s site, there are countless other visitor hot spots to explore in the surrounding areas (no pun intended). Other attractions include ‘Dollywood’ and ‘Dollywood Splash Country’ in nearby Pigeon Forge and Ober Gatlinburg, which is Tennessee’s only ski resort. There’s also the Hollywood Star Cars Museum (which houses the General Lee from Starsky and Hutch), and the Mysterious Mansion haunted house.
There is certainly no shortage of things to do and families with kids must have a ball in town.
Eating and Drinking in Gatlinburg
We did, however, spend some time and up and down the main strip eating and drinking. There are numerous lovely little diners and restaurants to choose from. After clocking a Happy Days sign at the side of the road, we made a beeline for it.
If you can see past the fact that Gatlinburg is nestled between some gorgeous scenery and looks a touch out of place, it’s a really quirky town. In amongst some of the more touristy stores, there’s lots of really beautiful buildings and independent stores.
It is certainly worth taking a closer look at, and I’m so glad I did. I ended up being disappointed at myself for having judged it so harshly on arrival. After a few days passing through, I came to find it quite charming.
Gatlinburg isn’t somewhere I would necessarily stay. However, it was great to have the contrast of the tranquil mountains and this rather lively town.
Have you been to Gatlinburg? What were your favourite sights?