The Great Smoky Mountains are a must-visit destination year-round, but winter offers a unique, magical experience that shouldn’t be missed. From snow-covered peaks to cozy Pigeon Forge cabin rentals with a hot tub, there’s something for everyone. Even if you’re not a fan of winter hikes or other outdoor sports, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are fantastic places to visit, with plenty of shopping, dining, and entertainment options to keep you and your loved ones busy.

Great Smoky Mountains Winter Activities

If you’re planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains, here are the top winter activities that’ll make your vacation one to remember.

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Deer standing in a snowy meadow in front of a large mountain also covered in snow.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open year-round, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, which means there are still tons of things to do in the Smoky Mountains in December. This is good news for visitors around the holiday season, as it means you can enjoy this beautiful park at any time, day or night. But keep in mind that certain areas of the park, such as campsites and roads, may have restricted hours or be closed off entirely during the winter months. For example, Cades Cove is only open to vehicles from 8:00 a.m. until sunset, and some hiking trails may also be closed in the winter due to hazardous conditions.

Some of the most popular hikes in the park include the Chimney Tops and Alum Cave Bluffs trails, but you will need to check the park’s website to confirm which trails are open and accessible before setting out. Cades Cove, featuring a blanket of snow and a frozen waterfall, is also a beautiful place to drive through in the winter.

Elsewhere in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in December, January, and February, Grotto Falls transforms into an icy wonderland, and Abrams Falls freezes into a column of ice. In the park, you can also go sledding, tubing, and ice skating. And if you’re lucky during the cold months, you might even see a winter wonderland scene with deer and other animals roaming through the snow.

2. Winterfest & Winter Magic

Christmas decorations lighting up a house in all shapes, colors, and sizes.

The Smoky Mountains are known for their festivals and events year-round, and winter is no exception. From holiday parades to Christmas markets, there’s always something going on in the area. One of the most popular winter events is Gatlinburg’s Winter Magic, featuring millions of twinkling lights and festive displays.

Pigeon Forge celebrates with its annual Winterfest event from November to February. This festive affair includes a range of fun activities and events for the whole family to enjoy, including the Winterfest Trolley Tour of Lights, ice skating at the outdoor rink, visiting Santa’s workshop, and so much more. One of Winterfest’s highlights is the Fantasy of Lights Parade on December 1st. This parade features marching bands, large balloons, and dancers, in addition to live music and entertainment. Winterfest is a delight for all ages and is one of the best ways to experience Pigeon Forge in the winter.

3. Skiing, Snowboarding, and Snow Tubing

Couple having fun sliding down on a couple of snow tubes.

If you’re wondering what our favorite things to do in Gatlinburg in winter are, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re interested in snowboarding or skiing, you’ll be happy to know that plenty of options exist. Ober Gatlinburg is the most popular choice thanks to its scenic Aerial Tramway, beginner-friendly ski trails, and family-friendly atmosphere. Not to mention, Ober Gatlinburg also has a snow tubing park called Tubing Hill, featuring a 350-foot-long slope and a convenient lift to take you back to the top. For those who want to have a true ski-in, ski-out experience, consider looking at Gatlinburg cabin rentals on Ober Mountain. The beauty of Gatlinburg in winter needs to be seen to be believed!

  • Need a more challenging winter activity? Cross-country skiing is a great option.
  • Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, offering stunning views of the surrounding mountains. The seven-mile round-trip hike is fairly strenuous — especially in the winter — but the stunning views make it worthwhile.
  • Cataloochee Ski Area is a great alternative for those after something a little less busy. It’s located in Maggie Valley, about an hour’s drive from Gatlinburg.

4. Museums

A woman standing beside some silhouetted jellyfish in an aquarium.

If you’re visiting the Smokies in winter, you don’t have to spend the whole time in the mountains. You can take a break from snow tubing and winter hikes to explore the area’s diverse selection of museums and kid-friendly activity centers. Smoky Mountains activities are endless, and these diverse offerings are just a taste of what’s in store!

  • Titanic Museum. The Titanic Museum is one of the most popular museums in Pigeon Forge, celebrating the doomed ship’s history with various interactive exhibits. The museum also hosts several yearly events, such as its ticketed Christmas celebration.
  • Alcatraz East Crime Museum. For true crime fans, the Alcatraz East Crime Museum in Pigeon Forge will be a big hit. It offers a unique look at the history of crime in America and regularly hosts exhibitions and a range of events like the upcoming “Side by Side: The Story of Bonnie and Clyde.”
  • WonderWorks. WonderWorks is an interactive museum that’s perfect for families with young children. The museum features a few hands-on exhibits like the Earthquake Cafe and the Hurricane Shack, as well as plenty of fun physical activities like the Laser Tag Arena and Indoor Ropes Course.
  • Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is another great choice for families with young children who are visiting the Smoky Mountains in winter. The aquarium boasts a wide variety of marine life, including sharks, stingrays, sea turtles, and eels. Ripley’s Aquarium also hosts a number of events throughout the year, including the popular “Sleep with the Sharks” program, where visitors can spend the night sleeping next to the aquarium’s sharp-toothed leviathans.
  • Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium. If you’re unabashedly curious, you need to stop by Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium. As you take a break from your Smoky Mountains winter activities, you can enjoy the museum’s wide range of unusual exhibits, alongside plenty of family-oriented features such as its haunted adventure, mirror maze, and fun-filled mini golf course.
  • Hollywood Wax Museum. To finish your trip on a light note, you can take a selfie with your favorite celebrity at the Hollywood Wax Museum. This museum features life-like wax figures of the biggest names in Hollywood, extending from legendary stars like Michael Jackson to modern celebrities. The Hollywood Wax Museum is also home to the Castle of Chaos — a thrilling 5D adventure that’s a must for adrenaline junkies.

5. Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge

A boy standing in front of Santa Claus during a holiday festival.

Christmas Place is open all year round, but it’s especially festive during the holiday season. This Christmas-themed store is packed with a wide range of holiday decorations, from trees and twinkling lights to ornaments and Santa suits. You can also pick up some holiday-themed gifts for your friends and family, or treat yourself to a new decoration for your own home. Children will particularly love Santa’s Haus, where they can meet Santa and take their photo with him. There’s no better place to celebrate the holidays than at Christmas Place!

6. Art Studio of the Smokies

Beautiful young Hispanic woman and a handsome man attending a painting workshop together and having fun.

The Art Studio of the Smokies is a great place to unwind and admire local art and handmade crafts after your Smoky Mountain winter activities. The studio hosts a range of classes and workshops, as well as exhibitions featuring the work of local artists. Paint parties are a popular activity at the Art Studio, and they’re perfect for a group of friends or a family outing.

Bridal parties can also book the studio for a private party, where they can enjoy wine and painting session. Digital artists will also find plenty to love at the Art Studio, thanks to the range of classes and workshops that are available in Photoshop, Illustrator, and other software. And if you’re into art collecting, the studio also offers a great selection of affordable artworks for sale. There couldn’t be a more perfect place for art lovers to relax and enjoy their winter in the Smokies.

Cozy Cabin Getaways

Big bay windows of a large family-sized cabin the Smoky Mountains.

Escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life with a cozy cabin getaway in the Smoky Mountains. Relax by the fire, soak in a hot tub, and enjoy the serene winter landscape. With plenty of Pigeon Forge cabin rentals to choose from that will put you near all of the action, or a more secluded retreat in Gatlinburg or beyond, you’re sure to find the perfect rental for your winter vacation.

Great Smoky Mountains FAQ

A wintery trail in the Great Smoky Mountains.

From skiing and snowboarding to cozy cabin retreats and scenic drives, the Smokies provide visitors with a great time no matter the season. Here is more information to plan your perfect Smoky Mountains winter getaway.

Is winter a good time to visit the Smoky Mountains?

Winter is a great time to visit the Smoky Mountains, as the snow-capped peaks are simply breathtaking. Peak season is during the summer months when the weather is warm and perfect for hiking and enjoying the great outdoors. This means it’s less likely to be packed during the winter months.

Does it snow in the Smoky Mountains?

Yes, at higher elevations, which allows for skiing in the Smoky Mountains in places like Ober Gatlinburg. In fact, some of the highest areas, such as the Newfound Gap, receive an average of 69 inches of snow during the winter months. Snowfall is usually the heaviest in January and February, so if you’re planning to enjoy a few winter hikes, be sure to pack your snow gear!

How cold does it get in the Smokies?

The temperatures in the Smokies can vary depending on the time of year and elevation. During the winter months, the lows can dip below freezing, especially at higher elevations. However, in the summer, the temperatures are usually pleasant with highs in the 80s. Between lower and higher elevations, temperatures can sometimes vary as much as 10 to 20°F.

Plan Your Winter Getaway to the Smokies

If you’re looking for a winter wonderland that’s both adventurous and cozy, the Smoky Mountains are the perfect destination. With stunning vistas, snow-covered peaks, and a variety of outdoor and indoor activities, the Smokies offer something for everyone. So start planning your winter getaway in the Smokies with VacationRenter today!