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January 27th, 2024

The Ultimate Gatlinburg Weekend Guide

February 12, 2014 January 27th, 2024

kids hiking nature trailWhether you plan to stay a week or a day, the Smoky Mountains are filled with so many things to do that it’s hard to see all you’d like to in a short time. Since there are many area attractions and natural beauties in Gatlinburg, choosing just a few things to do is challenging, so we’ve created a weekend itinerary for outdoor adventure seeking families visiting for only a weekend.

Get Started:

Once you arrive, be sure to check into your cabin or hotel, where you can unpack and stretch. After resting from the drive, check out the Sugarlands Visitor Center where you can pick up maps of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The rangers also provide a free 20 minute video the entire family will enjoy.


One of the best things to do in Gatlinburg is take a hike in the National Park. Though there are many hiking trail options, we recommend Sugarlands Nature Trail and Little Brier Gap Trail for families who want an easier and shorter trip.

(See Also: Three Ways to Get Active in the Smoky Mountains)

The Sugarlands Nature Trail is only 0.5 mile and can be completed without pausing in about half an hour. We recommend stopping and exploring. There are bridges and wildlife to spot and photograph, and there are even ranger led trips who can lead hikers to cabins and dig into the history of the park while having a blast.

Little Brier Gap Trail is slightly longer at 1.4 miles. This trail is ideal for families who want to explore cabins and historic sites. It is low difficulty, but you have to pay close attention to take the right bend to the historic cabin.

Auto Touring

cub and mother sitting in grass playing

The Cades Cove Loop Road is one of the best places to view wildlife in the Smoky Mountains.

After hiking, the family can spend some time enjoying nature with an auto tour of the Cades Cove Loop Road. This valley is surrounded by mountains, so an auto tour here will provide the best mountain scenery and wildlife viewing around. There are pull offs throughout, so you can catch photos or walk some of the area trails. Allow at least two to four hours to spend in Cades Cove because the 11 mile loop is one way, and there are tons of things to do outside the car including a gift shop, picnic area and short trails to explore as well.

After spending so much time outdoors, the family can rest and relax in their vacation rental because day two is even more exciting.


If you’re planning to spend a weekend in Gatlinburg, be sure to put sightseeing on the to-do list. Make a breakfast stop at the Pancake Pantry before wandering through downtown Gatlinburg. Two family favorites are the Gatlinburg Sky Lift and the Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway.

The sky lift provides amazing daytime views and stunning sights of the city lights at night. At the top, there is a gift shop and overlook where you can take photos and relax. Taking the tramway to Ober Gatlinburg provides another chance to see the spectacular mountain views.

Known mainly for the winter slopes, Ober is a unique year round attraction in Gatlinburg. Once you hop off the tramway, the family can ice skate at the indoor arena or scoot down the alpine slide. There is also a wildlife encounter with bears, river otters bird and more. A carousel, chair swing and tons more are also available for kids young and old.

group laughing while white water rafting

White water rafting along the Pigeon River is one of many exciting adventures in Gatlinburg.

Gatlinburg White Water Rafting

After a fun filled day in town, plan to head back to nature with the family. Gatlinburg white water rafting is one of the most exciting things to do while in the Smoky Mountains for the weekend, and it’s also one of the best ways to see the spectacular scenery around the Pigeon River. Filled with thrills and splashes, white water rafting keeps going even if it’s raining. Since families will be getting wet anyway, the wild adventure takes off each day as long as it’s safe for rafters and guides.

Below are Smoky Mountain Outdoors’ trip times, so you can see the times that are available while your family is in the area.


March 1 – April 27

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday



April 28 – May 23

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday


May 24 – August 31

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday



May 24 – August 31

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday



May 24 – August 31

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday



May 24 – August 31

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday

Smoky Mountain Outdoors is the top rated white water rafting company in Gatlinburg. Contact us today at (866) 412-3727 or book online to reserve a trip. We’ll be happy to help you choose which trip would be suit your family and can answer any questions you might have.