It’s now the second week of the New Year – you need to eat that Christmas cake already, Bing Crosby needs to go back to the CD shelf for a little while and you’ve only got 2 months left to keep the Christmas tree up. With the big parties done for this part of the season, we enter the second phase of Winterfest in the Smokies which is a major 180-degree shift in feel and atmosphere – now we get to the “quiet” season of the Smokies for a while to enjoy the dignity, romance and peace of the Smokies.
But don’t think the quiet season of the Smokies means there’s nothing going on – in fact, in a nice kind of balance between the two very different halves of the season, this is the part of the year where we can more reliably count on one of the best parts of Winter: snow. We do sometimes see snow before New Years (even as early as Halloween!), but it’s only January, February and March that we can expect the types of snow fall where school may be called off for a full week. The “valley” as we refer to in the context of weather for most of the main traffic and downtown areas in the Smokies may only get a handful of snow showers per year, but the distant, gorgeous peaks of the mountains are much more often visibly white and contribute to the atmosphere all the same.
From there, our guests ask us where they can see, experience and play with the snow when it is available in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Our recommendations for that can be found here:
Ober Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge Snow
The first recommendations are sort of a cheat, but if you want to be as close to guaranteed snow-styled fun in the Smokies, Ober Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge Snow are the best places for them. The reason for this is they CREATE their own snow at their attraction establishments daily – Ober Gatlinburg from early-mid December to around the start of the March (give or take a week) and Pigeon Forge Snow all-year-round. Ober Gatlinburg creates snow so winter sports enthusiasts can get their snowboarding, skiing, snow tubing, ice skating and fill of more while Pigeon Forge Snow offers indoor snow tubing and a snow play area for the little’uns. And don’t forget the views you can see from the Ober Gatlinburg attraction and its gondola cars.
Newfound Gap is also somewhat tricky as it comes with the caveat that, often, when there is snow, the National Park Service will close sections of the road for safety. That being said, because Newfound Gap is the road that goes straight into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, connecting Gatlinburg to Cherokee, even if the road is closed at the Sugarlands Visitors Center, you will still get quite a lot of gorgeous views of the snow covering the dense and lush surrounding forest – and the Visitors Center itself and the outdoor trails to it are usually open during snowfall as well. This author himself has hiked the nearby trail when 2 or more inches of snow had fallen and shut down much of the rest of the town. It was an extremely memorable experience.
See the Sugarlands Visitors Center.
Gatlinburg SkyLift and SkyBridge
The Gatlinburg SkyLift is one of the oldest attractions in town and has consistently provided decades of views and atmospheric wonder for Gatlinburg visitors. They have a much newer attraction and one that got national attention with the SkyBridge that was completed in 2019. The SkyBridge is the longest pedestrian suspension bridge on the continent and both the Lift and the Bridge will give you incredible views of snow-covered Smoky Mountains – some that were previously unable to obtain without a drone.
See more on the Gatlinburg SkyLift and SkyBridge.
Short of turning yourself into a bird, there is no better way to see the sights of Gatlinburg from the center of the city than the impossible-to-miss Space Needle. The Space Needle takes visitors over 400 feet above the ground of the downtown strip and allows for full 360 degree views of the city, the woods, the mountains and the peaks of the mountains as well as coin-operated super binocular stations that let you see incredibly close up on the city and those distant, white-covered peaks. Practically no visit to Gatlinburg is complete without going to the Gatlinburg Space Needle.
See more on the Gatlinburg Space Needle.