Home to the most visited national park in the United States and an entire theme park dedicated to one of the world's most beloved country music artists, it's not like the Smoky Mountains, which keep North Carolina and Tennessee at a respectful distance from one another, need much more to draw our attention—at any time of year, it's one of the most special places around.
During the holiday season, however, The Smokies take on a particularly appealing glow, and we're not just talking about all the decorations—from quiet, snowy mornings in the wilds of Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the embarrassment of stage shows included in your (very reasonable) ticket price at Dollywood, there's so much to see and do at this time of year, it's almost like the holidays should be extended by another month, maybe two.
Curious to experience one of America's most unique (and most memorable) destinations for yourself, this Christmas? Here are just a few reasons why that's the best idea you'll have all year.
It's always a good time to visit the national park, but winter's when it gets really exciting
If you've ever lost the better part of a day on the drive to some of the park's most special locales—Cades Cove, for example—you'll absolutely love being here at the beginning of winter, when a light dusting of snow turns every hollow, trail and one-way back road into a semi-private wonderland.
Dollywood gets all dolled up for the holidays
The park's Smoky Mountain Christmas celebration, running through Jan. 3, yields an embarrassment of additional live entertainment—a stage production of It's a Wonderful Life, the nightly Parade of Many Colors, tons of music—along with more than four million twinkling lights, all around the 150-acre park. With world-class roller coasters, award-winning food and all kinds of Americana on display, Dollywood is a park like no other.
Suddenly, visiting to The South's largest Christmas store doesn't feel weird
Located at the heart of Pigeon Forge, aka the Niagara Falls of the South (not because there are waterfalls, but because of all the insane and rather delightful kitsch they've managed to pack in along one main street), Christmas Place is one of the world's most talked-about year-round Christmas shops, so vast and so immersive they even built a hotel (The Inn at Christmas Place) for people who want to spend the night.
No need to drive around to see the lights—they'll drive you
Christmas time in Gatlinburg, the town located directly at the main entrance to the national park, means another year of the Magic Trolley Ride of Lights. All the way into January, for $5, you'll get the grand tour of the city's annual light display, recently converted to quarter-watt LED bulbs, allowing the city to extend the show for a whopping 120 days for the cost of what they used to spend in three. (We can report—it's no less impressive, for all that efficiency.)
Take your Christmas shopping outside of the mall
From the talented Appalachian artisans demonstrating their skills in Dollywood's Craftsman's Valley to the 8-mile, Great Smoky Arts & Crafts loop connecting what's said to be the largest group of independent makers in the country, the region is a terrific place for those looking to think outside the big box stores this holiday season—you'll find potters, jewelers, doll makers, whittlers, and every other kind of maker you can think of, turning out gifts that will stand head and shoulders above the usual.
Ready to make the trip? Fares to nearby Knoxville are fairly inexpensive throughout the year, thanks in part to carriers like Frontier, Southwest, and Allegiant. Have a look at our current finds to Knoxville from all over the US and Canada.