Christmas in the Smokies: A Guide to Holiday Magic in the Great Smoky Mountains
Smoky Mountain Christmas Towns
With streets lit up in Christmas splendor, charming mountain towns in the Smokies invite you into their festive atmospheres during the holidays. From larger cities like Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge to small villages like Townsend, experience the joyous spirit of the season as these communities deck their halls and spread Christmas cheer.
As the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with the cutest downtown around, Gatlinburg transforms into a real winter wonderland every Christmas. Twinkling lights drip from every building, festive garlands and wreaths adorn street posts, and decorative touches make even ordinary shops merry and bright. The main roads close to traffic, making it easy to stroll and window shop. Special holiday events like craft shows and concerts add to the excitement. And due to its endless accommodation options, Gatlinburg allows you to wake up right in the middle of all this yuletide magic.
Not wanting to be outdone by its next-door neighbor, Pigeon Forge also goes all out for Christmas. Drive along the Pigeon Forge Parkway to see dazzling light displays glowing from every direction. Major attractions like Dollywood and Wonderworks create one-of-a-kind holiday experiences. Downtown, enjoy Music Road's dancing lights choreographed to tunes from the Great Smoky Mountains’ heritage while the adjacent Old Mill district captivates with its flickering lights reflecting on the water. With so much to see and do, Pigeon Forge brings the merriment.
On the more peaceful side of the Smokies lies the village of Townsend, known as the “quiet side of the Smokies.” Though small, Townsend charms during Christmas as the settlement gets decked out for the season. Shops display handmade mountain arts and crafts, perfect for unique gifts. Grab a peppermint hot chocolate and catch a horse-drawn carriage ride for leisurely sightseeing. Don’t miss gingerbread house and wreath-making workshops that get you hands-on for holiday creativity. With its slower pace and small town charm, Townsend offers Christmas spirit without the stress.
Can't-Miss Smoky Mountain Christmas Attractions
From dazzling light displays to Christmas-themed amusement park rides, attractions across the Smokies add extra magic during the holiday season. These festivities make it easy to bask in Yuletide enchantments across the area.
Smoky Mountain Winterfest
Want Christmas cheer and amusement park excitement rolled into one? Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Winterfest delivers with over five million glittering lights, fun holiday performances, delicious food, and exclusive holiday ride experiences like the Christmas light tunnel on Lightning Rod. Meet Santa in his workshop, watch the daily Parade of Lights wind through the park, or get cozy by the fire during this multi-week long Christmas festival.
Smoky Mountain Opry Christmas Show
No trip to Pigeon Forge is complete without taking in a show, and the Smoky Mountain Opry gets into the Christmas spirit with their annual holiday special. This musical variety show mixes classics like “O Holy Night” with unexpected funny tunes for a rollicking good time. Featuring flying sugar plum fairies, dazzling costumes and sets, and high energy dance numbers, the 90-minute production perfectly captures Christmas magic.
Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland
The Smokies love a good drive-thru light show and Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland features over a mile of intricate holiday light displays. Experience the magic of the Northern Lights, a larger-than-life waterfall, and an impressive tunnel of lights all from the comfort of your car. With over one million lights synchronized to cheerful Christmas music streamed over your radio, Shadrack’s makes spirits bright.
Scenic Smoky Mountain Christmas Drives
From snow-dusted mountain peaks to valleys filled with shimmering trees, the Smoky Mountains paint postcard-worthy scenes during the holidays. For jaw-dropping vistas and serious holiday cheer, take to the roads and let the Christmas spirit move you.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Closed to vehicles after November, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail transforms into a peaceful getaway for the winter season. Lace up your boots, strap on some snowshoes, or cross-country skis and take off down this secluded old roadbed for winter escapades in the forest. Without cars, enjoy the hush of snow-covered woods and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife along this 5.5 mile loop.
Traversing the outside border of the national park, the 16 miles of completed Foothills Parkway provides one of the most stunning drives in the Smokies any time of year thanks to its panoramic views. But during the Christmas season when snow drapes across the endless mountains and evergreen garlands adorn tunnel openings, this National Scenic Byway elicits its own sense of wonder. Stop at overlooks for epic holiday vistas.
History and natural beauty permeate Cades Cove, and winter transforms this broad valley encircled by mountains into a veritable Christmas card. Wake early and take the 11 mile loop around the Cove to watch the sunrise spill across frosted grass fields or bask in the golden afternoon light. Without the crowds, have the place almost to yourself to glimpse wildlife and explore log cabins, churches, and barns decked out for Christmas.
Holiday Happenings in the Smokies
From Christmas parades to festive concerts, seasonal celebrations unfold across Smoky Mountain towns. These annual happenings make spirits bright through beloved traditions, community cheer, and holiday tunes.
Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade
On the first Friday and Saturday of December, downtown Gatlinburg kicks off the holiday season by throwing one jolly parade. Marching bands, dance troupes, equestrian groups, and Santa himself wind through the streets as dazzling floats light up the night. Arrive early to snag a good spot for this quintessential Christmas event.
Nothing captures the Christmas mood like joyous tunes filling the crisp mountain air. Smoky Mountain Christmas concerts abound, from Townsend’s annual presentation of Handel’s Messiah to big band swing concerts at Ober Gatlinburg. Enjoy classics performed in churches, bluegrass renditions on small town stages, or carol sing-alongs fireside.
New Year's Eve Ball Raise
Watch Gatlinburg ring in the new year with a NYE tradition featuring a giant, sparkling red ball lowered at midnight for the crowd gathered in the downtown district. Before the big countdown, enjoy free live concerts, tasty eats fresh off the grill, and festive street entertainment during this lively, family-friendly celebration.
Where to Stay for Christmas in the Smokies
Accommodation options seem endless in the Smokies, but these festively decked out lodges, cabins, resorts, and inns make perfect homebases for Christmas stays.
Margaritaville Island Hotel Centrally located in Gatlinburg, Margaritaville turns up the holiday cheer with their 12 Days of Christmas promotion. Enjoy free perks like cookies and cocoa or holiday movies, plus discounted ticket packages to top attractions like Anakeesta and Ober Gatlinburg. Their heated pool stays open and Tully’s holiday dinner offers all your festive favorites.
Dancing Bear Lodge Tucked next to the national park, Dancing Bear’s privately owned cabins ooze Smoky Mountain charm with stacked stone gas fireplaces, outdoor hot tubs, and full kitchens. The onsite Apple Valley restaurant serves up delicious breakfasts with Santa during the holidays. Or grab ingredients for baking Christmas cookies back at your spacious cabin adorned with fresh garlands and trees.
Clabough’s Campground RVers camping in the Smokies for Christmas find a friendly home at Clabough’s Campground. They deck the halls around their heated bathhouse facility and visitors often organize potlucks or cookie exchanges. Kids can visit reindeer and camels who winter onsite while everyone enjoys holiday karaoke. Their proximity to Dollywood makes attending Winterfest a breeze.
Christmas Dining in the Smokies
From downhome country cookin’ to five star fine dining, Smoky Mountain restaurants serve up delicious holiday fare. These places offer memorable meals alongside that trademark southern hospitality.
Auntie Belham's At this beloved Gatlinburg breakfast and lunch joint, Christmas explodes inside with twinkling lights, stuffed Santas, vintage blowmolds, and porcelain nativities displayed on every surface. While away an afternoon snacking on Christmas tree-shaped pancakes drenched in hot maple syrup with a steaming mug of spiced cider.
Ole Smoky Moonshine Holler The world’s most visited distillery creates magical Christmas cocktails perfect for sipping while shopping downtown Gatlinburg. Try their signature peppermint-infused ‘shine in festive drinks like Ole Saint Nick with creamy hot chocolate or the Gingerbread Mule with ginger beer and lime. Of course, their extensive whiskey list makes a fine nightcap by the fire back at your cabin too.
Bistro 109 Food Network featured chef Michael Adams started a new fine dining tradition when he opened Bistro 109 atop Anakeesta in Gatlinburg. During their 6-course Christmas tasting menu event, delight in dishes like butternut squash bisque, braised short ribs, and peppermint bark cheesecake while taking in 360° views from the mountain summit.
Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant In quaint Sevierville, Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant occupies a historic log homestead serving elevated southern cuisine. Five-courses of their Christmas Eve and Christmas Day feasts span everything from roasted duck and rack of lamb to molten lava cake all perfectly paired with fine wines. Exposed wood beams, candlelight, and country charm set the mood.