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The Perfect Weekend in the Great Smoky Mountains

The Smoky Mountains are, in our opinion, the crown jewel of Tennessee. With popular tourist towns like Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville all nestled within the scenic valleys, it’s no wonder that tens of millions of visitors flock to this area year-round. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park also plays a large role in drawing in visitors, boasting an impressive 14.1 million visitors in 2021 alone which makes it the most visited national park in the US! And if all of that wasn’t enough, there’s also Dollywood which was named the #1 theme park in the country by TripAdvisor in 2022! Needless to say, there are enough things to do to keep you busy for months in the Smoky Mountains, but what if you only have a weekend?? Well… That’s what we’re here for! We’ve put together what we think is the perfect weekend in the Smokies and are sharing our recommendations, tips, and tricks with you! And while this itinerary/guide is focused on the fall season, all of these activities are enjoyable year-round.

Be sure to check out our “Weekend in the Great Smoky Mountains” travel vlog for a closer look at our visit!

If you’re looking to purchase tickets for tours and activities for your Smoky Mountains visit, check out our favorite tour/ticket platform, GetYourGuide!

If you're in need of lodging for your visit, check out these deals below!


Day 1

8:30am: Drive the scenic Cades Cove Loop

Cades Cove Loop is an 11-mile, one-way loop road that offers magnificent views of the cove and opportunities to view wildlife. We recommend allowing at least three to four hours to explore Cades Cove, longer if you want to do any hiking along the area's beautiful trails. A few quick tips to make your visit as enjoyable as possible…

  • Download the GuideAlong app and purchase the “Great Smoky Mountains National Park” tour for a GPS-guided audio tour that gives you general info, navigation assistance, historical facts, wildlife information, and more as you make your way around the loop.

  • Cell service is VERY limited inside the National Park, so we recommend downloading "offline maps" on Google Maps on your phone.

  • Traffic can get heavy during the tourist seasons in summer and fall and on weekends year-round. We recommend starting as early in the day as possible if you want to avoid the bulk of the crowds.

  • During your drive, keep an eye out for whitetail deer, coyotes, elk, foxes, and black bears. Your best chance to see black bears is in the late afternoon/early evening.

  • Don’t block the roadway. The Cades Cove Loop can get extremely busy at times. That said, if you want to stop to take a photo, view wildlife, or simply take the drive a little slower than others… Pull over so that other cars can pass.

  • There are restrooms near Cable Mill and the Visitor Center as well as the Ranger Station and Campground.

Notable Stops:

  • John Oliver Historical Cabin

  • Primitive Baptist Church Historical Building

  • Methodist Church Historical Building

  • Carter Shields Cabin Historical Structure

  • Missionary Baptist Church Historical Structure

  • Elijah Oliver Place Historical Building

  • The Tipton Place Historical Structures

  • Cades Cove Visitor Center

  • Cades Cove Historical Grist Mill

  • Henry Whitehead Place Historical Structure

  • Dan Lawson Cabin & Historical Structures

  • Abrams Falls (5.2-mile hike)

  • Becky Cable House Historical Structure

2:00pm: Lunch in Gatlinburg

Being such a tourist destination, it can be a little difficult to find good, locally-owned restaurants, but we always prefer to support local anytime we travel, so here are some lunch options to do just that.

  • Tennessee Jed’s (631 Parkway Suite A8, Gatlinburg, TN)

  • Pizzeria of Gatlinburg (349 East Pkwy, Gatlinburg, TN)

  • Smoky Mountain Brewery (1004 Parkway #501, Gatlinburg, TN)

  • Tom and Earl’s Back Alley Grill (651 Parkway #110, Gatlinburg, TN)

  • The Park Grill (1110 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN)

3:00pm: Explore Downtown Gatlinburg

With a seemingly endless amount of entertainment, food, and drink, Downtown Gatlinburg is home to all things touristy! Airbrush tees, mini-golf, distilleries, breweries, wineries, arcades, candy shops, and SO much more, there’s enough to keep you busy for days, but just take a few hours to roam the street, people watch, and pick one or two activities to enjoy.

Notable Sites/Shops:

  • Gatlinburg Space Needle

  • Ole Smoky Moonshine

  • Sugarlands Distilling Company

  • Little Bear Winery

  • Elkmont Winery

  • Tennessee Cider Company

  • Ripley's Believe It or Not!

  • Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen

  • The Village Shops

  • The Donut Friar

  • Smoky Mountains Creperie, Coffee, Ice-Cream, Desserts

  • Maddi Mae's Café & Creamery

  • Maddog's Creamery & Donuts

5:00pm: Scenic Gondola/Chair Lift

There are three options when it comes to scenic gondola/chair lifts, in Downtown Gatlinburg. Which one is right for you depends on what you’re looking for. From our experience, Sky Lift Park is the most chill of the three. It’s perfect for sitting in a rocking chair and taking in the panoramic views, which is exactly what we did on our most recent visit. Anakeesta is the newest and most family-friendly from our understanding, and Ober offers the most rides/entertainment but doesn’t really have any scenic views once you’re at the top.

  • Sky Lift Park ($32.95 - Chair Lift, Observation Deck, Walking Trail, Sky Bridge)

  • Anakeesta ($34.99 - Chair Lift, AnaVista Tower, Treetop Skywalk)

  • Ober Mountain ($39 - Chair Lift, Alpine Slide, Alpine Coaster, & more)

5:30pm: Take in the views

Once you’ve made it to the top… Take some time to enjoy the views and scenery. And be sure to take advantage of the activities offered!

8:30pm: Dinner

Again, locally owned and operated establishments are a little difficult to find in the area, but here are some options depending on what area you’re staying in…


  • Big Daddy’s Pizzeria (714 River Rd., Gatlinburg, TN)

  • El Soñador Mexican Restaurant (458 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN)

  • J.O.E. and Pop's Sub Shoppe (1244 East Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN)

Pigeon Forge:

  • Big Daddy’s Pizzeria (3053 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN)

  • Local Goat (2167 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN)

  • Blue Moose Burgers & Wings (2430 Teaster Lane #108, Pigeon Forge, TN)


Day 2:

9:00am: Breakfast

No trip to the Smoky Mountains would be complete without a visit to a pancake house! Here are some of our top picks…

  • Flapjack’s Pancake Cabin (multiple locations in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge)

  • Reagan’s House of Pancakes (3516 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN)

  • Sawyer’s Farmhouse Breakfast (2831 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN)

10:45am: Alpine Coaster

Get your daily dose of adrenaline by taking a ride on one of the Smoky Mountains' famous Alpine Coasters!

  • Rocky Top Mountain Coaster (2940 Veterans Blvd, Pigeon Forge, TN)

  • Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster (867 Wears Valley Rd, Pigeon Forge, TN)

  • Coaster at Goats on the Roof (1341 Wears Valley Rd, Pigeon Forge, TN)

1:00pm: Lunch at The Old Mill Restaurant (164 Old Mill Ave, Pigeon Forge, TN)

Built in 1830, the Old Mill (originally the Pigeon Forge Mill) was initially used to grind grain for local farmers. After the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934, Pigeon Forge gradually evolved into a tourist destination, and the mill became what it is today… a restaurant and souvenir shop. And even though its primary use isn’t to grind grain anymore, the mill continues its tradition as a working grist mill making flour, cornmeal, and grits… All of which can be purchased in The Old Mill General Store. The Old Mill Restaurant serves up hearty Southern classics with beautiful views of the Little Pigeon River and they use the flour, cornmeal, and grits from the original grist mill!

2:45pm: Explore the Old Mill area

  • The Old Mill & General Store

  • Iron Mountain Metal Craft

  • Laying J Leather

  • Pigeon River Pottery

  • Old Mill Candy Kitchen

  • A Long Story Short Co.

  • Old Forge Moonshine

  • Old Mill Creamery

  • Mill Bridge Winery

  • Espresso Yourself

5:00pm-9:00pm: Dollywood

Named the #1 Theme Park in the U.S. by TripAdvisor in 2022, Dollywood’s 50 world-class rides, high-energy entertainment, and award-winning dining are not to be missed when visiting the Smoky Mountains! If you’re visiting in the fall as we did, you’ll be able to take advantage of the discounted tickets to enter the park after 5pm and enjoy the Great Pumpkin LumiNights… A special time when thousands of jack-o-lanterns create glowing experiences around every corner and larger-than-life pumpkin displays light up the night.

Pro-Tip: Be sure to pick up a loaf of cinnamon bread from the Grist Mill! You can thank me later!

We hope that this guide has helped you plan your visit to the Great Smoky Mountains, and if it has, we hope that you’ll consider following us on Instagram and subscribing to our YouTube Channel for more travel tips!

Disclosure: We only endorse things we've personally used or come highly recommended by trusted peers. If you purchase anything using our referral links, we may get a small commission. However, there's no extra cost to you.


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