Mountain Time

Gatlinburg Mardi Gras Getaway

It’s Carnival time, and for those who are not too keen on Mardi Gras parades and crowds, there’s a Tennessee ski vacation close at hand. Head to Gatlinburg and take the two-mile aerial tramway to the top of Mount Harrison where there’s truly something for everyone at Ober Gatlinburg. Visitors may choose from hitting the slopes, dropping down 50 feet snow tubing or enjoying the ski mountain coaster. There’s also indoor ice skating, hockey, shopping and dining.

“We’re the only ski resort in Tennessee,” said Marci Claude, public relations manager at Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “And we always have snow, since it can be made. We can make it at 70 degrees. It’s like a snow cone ice maker.”

And even though Christmas is but a memory, there’s still a magical glow about Gatlinburg. The Smoky Mountain Winter Festival, which lights up in November for the holidays, continues through the end of February.

“We have 30 miles of lights from one end of the city to another,” Claude said. 

Stay

Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa lies just outside the bustling action of Gatlinburg, offering a little bit of a nature getaway — bears have been spotted! — but with lots of modern amenities. Villas offers plenty of room for families, with patios overlooking mountain views or bubbling creeks. After a day on the slopes, visitors may enjoy the resort’s heated indoor waterpark or a relaxing treatment or massage at Serenity Spa. Outdoor recreational activities abound as well, weather permitting.

Get High

In addition to Ober Gatlinburg, there are several ways to linger among the clouds. Choose between the Chondola or the Ridge Rambler to access the mountain amusement park of Anakeesta, an outdoor theme park that includes quaint “villages,” the TreeTop SkyWalk experience, and the AnaVista Tower, the highest point in downtown Gatlinburg. Or scale the country’s largest pedestrian suspension bridge at Skylift Park. Visitors take a ski lift 140 feet up to the bridge, then cross 680 feet across Crockett Mountain. Both attractions offer panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains. 

Dine

It’s a bit tricky winding through the back roads to reach The Greenbrier restaurant on the outskirts of town, but it’s well worth the GPS struggle. The upscale but casual dining experience includes delightful views of the surrounding woods, indoor and outdoor cozy fires, hand-cut prime steaks and craft cocktails. There’s even a Greenbrier Whiskey Society featuring some of the most sought-after whiskeys and bourbons, and the Greenbrier Women of Wine. It’s really not that hard to find; head east on the Parkway, turn right on Ridge Road, then left on Newman Court and follow the road to its conclusion.

A Quieter Park

The last two years saw record visitation for the National Park Service, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited of all parks, was no exception.

“Last year, we welcomed more than 12 million visitors to the park,” said Dana Soehn, the park’s management assistant for public affairs. “And, in 2021, we’ve set monthly visitation records each month.”

Each season, including winter and early spring, offers a unique Smokies visit, Soehn said.

“In the winter, hikers have the opportunity to see mountain landscapes and historic features like stonewalls without vegetation obscuring views,” she said.

Winter may also offer less crowds and a more back-to-nature experience. Soehn still recommends visiting in early morning or late afternoon or during mid-week to avoid peak times. 

“The busiest time in the park is between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.,” Soehn explained. “During those times, people should expect congestion and crowded parking lots at popular locations.”

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