Planning a vacation to Gatlinburg and want to get an idea of when most people plan vacations to the Smoky Mountains? Use this guide to learn about when Gatlinburg is least crowded and when you can enjoy the low season in the Smokies!
When Is Gatlinburg's Off Season?
Though Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains are truly a year-round destination, the off-season in Gatlinburg is during January, February, and March. However, these months still see lots of visitors, this "off-season" is simply less busy than other times of the year.
By the time the winter holiday season has ended, cold and occasionally snowy weather descends upon the Smoky Mountains. Even though many vacationers choose to visit the Smokies during summer and fall, many others come specifically to see beautiful winter weather in the mountains or to see gorgeous wildflowers in the spring.
Additionally, the slowest season in the Smokies still has busy times like Valentine's Day and weekends when students go on spring break trips to the mountains. All in all, there's hardly a lull Gatlinburg's visitation.
To get an idea of when most people come to the Smoky Mountains, we can look at visitation to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from park service statistics.
From this graph, the warm months between April and October see the most visitors to the national park. The months of November and December look deceptively quiet, but weekends during these months can be quite busy since many visitors come to the Smokies to celebrate the holidays.
What Happens During the Off Season in Gatlinburg?
During the off-season in Gatlinburg, there is definitely a slight dip in visitation since the weather is cooler. Gatlinburg is also a popular destination for families; so many visitors plan their vacations during summer break. Here are the things to know about visiting Gatlinburg during the slow season.
Most Attractions Are Open - Though things slow down in Gatlinburg, most attractions stay open during the low season in the Smokies. Notably, Dollywood Theme Park is typically closed during January and February. Some dinner theaters and theater shows do take a 1-month break during the same period, but many others, like The Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Show, continue operation. Other major destinations like Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies and Ober Gatlinburg Ski Mountain are popular wintertime attractions.
Shorter Hours and Fewer Show Times - Some restaurants and attractions may have shorter hours during the low season, but there's plenty to do and see. Many theaters and dinner shows are open during the slowest season, but they may have fewer show times.
Stunning Christmas Lights Displays - During the winter season, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are fully decorated with millions of Christmas lights until late February, so you can truly enjoy the charm of winter in the Smokies.
Most of the National Park is Open - A majority of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also open in the low season. Although some roads in the national park like Clingman's Dome Road and The Roaring Fork Motor Trail are closed during winter, other destinations like Cades Cove and Newfound Gap remain open year-round! After winter weather events, some high peaks like Mt. LeConte become snowy and icy, so many hikers choose to visit low-elevation parts of the park like Elkmont and Greenbrier.
When Does the Off-Season End?
By the time March arrives, many outdoor attractions like zip lines and horseback riding stables are operating again. By Memorial Day, the busy summer season has arrived in the mountains and there are even more fun adventures to enjoy like whitewater rafting on the Little Pigeon River. The period from May to New Years is considered to be peak season in the Smokies.
Why Visit During the Off-Season?
Though the off-season in Gatlinburg draws fewer crowds, there are several good reasons to plan your vacation during this time of year. After all, most attractions are open and Downtown Gatlinburg is decorated with beautiful holiday lights for much of the slow season in the Smokies!
Fewer Crowds – Late winter and early spring is definitely the least crowded time to visit Gatlinburg. If you're in town this time of year, you'll get to enjoy shorter waits at attractions and restaurants like the popular Pancake Pantry. Additionally, you'll enjoy more peace and seclusion when exploring the beautiful sights and hiking trails of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
Better Rates on Cabins – Since visitation is lower during the off-season, vacationers typically find better rates on cabin rentals during January, February, March, and April! Better yet, occupancy is typically lower during this time, so you can find the perfect cabin for your stay for a great price!
A Unique Time To See The Smokies – Many visitors come to see the beautiful summer and fall season in the Smoky Mountains, but not as many vacationers get to see the sights of winter and spring in the mountains of Tennessee. Snow-capped mountain peaks, stunning ice formations, and frozen waterfalls are some of the biggest highlights of winter while spring brings lovely hiking weather and wildflowers. Check out this video that showcases the beauty of these seasons in the Smokies:
Of course, each season in Gatlinburg offers unique charms, so check out this guide on the best time to visit Gatlinburg.
If you've never been to Gatlinburg, TN during the off-season, you're in for a real treat! Not only is it nice to explore the best sights in the Smokies without the crowds, but you'll also get to see the beauty of the mountains in the winter or spring!
Better yet, off-season cabins in Gatlinburg have a great deal on nightly rates. Simply check our cabin's availability to see how much you can save when you visit during the slow season in the Smokies!
Written by Hayden Brown