Ober Gatlinburg has been welcoming guests since 1962. Back then, there was not much more there than a couple of ski slopes. A lot has changed in the last 50 years. From the addition of the Arial Tramway to the Alpine Slides to the Ice Rink, there seems to always be something new at this huge resort area.
They say that getting there is half the fun. Well, you’ve basically got two options for getting to this place nestled high up in the mountains. The first is likely the easiest way, and that is using the arial tramway from the edge of Gatlinburg on the parkway to take you by the huge car on a cable to the top. If heights bother you or are claustrophobic in any way, this may not be the best option for you. During peak times, the passenger car can get fairly crowded and can make you want to get out in a major way, which of course you can’t because you are so far up in the air. It can also be expensive. Tram rides cost 12 dollars round-trip for adults and 9.50 for kids, so you could be out more than 50 bucks for a family of four before you even do an attraction.
The other option is to drive to the top. You can take Ski Mountain Road all the way to the top. This road is also home to many condos and cabins, so it might be a good option for you if you are staying here. The road is located toward the end of Gatlinburg near the national park side. The road is very windy and steep, so be aware of that before you go. Even with a good 4×4, it can be tricky during rain and snow. It is definitely a road you will be forced to take slowly, and going down can put some fatigue on your brakes. Definitely use lower gears descending if you go this route. Once you get to the top, there is a large parking area. The parking charge is currently $5.00 which is far better than the cost of the tramway, but the added stress on your car and your mind might make the tramway a better option for you. I usually take the tramway, and have never driven in poor weather. The windy road to the top in slick conditions is not something I recommend.
Once you get parked, you can decide what you want to do, and you have plenty of options which change depending on the season. The place is open year round, weather permitting, but certain activities happen only in certain seasons. For example, skiing is obviously not available in the summer and the wildlife encounters are not available during winter. Check their website for a current list of open attractions. But, to give you an idea of what you can do there, here is a list. There is: skiing, snowboarding, tubing, ice skating (indoors), alpine slides, a carrousel, scenic char lift, a maze, water slide, kiddie land with rides, mini golf, wildlife encounters, arcade, and a raft ride. That is a lot stuff that could keep you occupied for the day.
Like carnivals and fairs, you can get a wristband that allows you to do certain activities over and over, or you can buy them a la carte. Be aware that the wristbands do not offer you complete access to everything all day. There are always a couple of exclusions. So my best advise is to take a close look at what you want to do most before you go, and budget for that so you don’t get done with the day and wonder how you spent the entire budget for your trip. You can easily spend in a day what you would spend at Six Flags or Disneyland, so take a look beforehand so you don’t end up with sticker shock.
Not to say that the stuff at this place is not fun. It certainly is. The price can just creep up on you with all the options. Speaking of options, there are also several places to eat and shop. The souvenirs are alright, but generally nothing spectacular. They have standard t-shirts, postcards, and other types of things that you will find around town in gatlinburg. Some of it is specific to Ober Gatlinburg, but generally, I would rather spend the money on activities than the cheap-ish souvenirs. They do know that they have you as a captive audience once you reach the top, so the food that they have tends to pricey. To be fair, food in gatlinburg in general tends to be a little pricey, but there is definitely an increase here. My advice, if you don’t want to overpay for typical theme park food, eat before you come and maybe have a small snack while you are there. You are not allowed to bring outside food or drinks inside, so that is also something to consider.
Skiing and Snowboarding are offered here in abundance. There are other skiing options to the east in the Carolinas that I am told are maybe a bit better, but Ober Gatlinburg is a good option. Just like anywhere else, the conditions on the slopes are dependent on the kind of winter they have. In warmer winters, the slopes are not always the best, and sometimes some of the slopes are not always open, but in a good winter, you can bet there is some good skiing. So I would say it is worth a try. It’s a bit pricey, but not much worse than you find other places.
The alpine slides are fun. They are basically a concrete half-tube that you go down on a sled with wheels. You can get going pretty fast, so you have a handle bar that helps you control your speed so you don’t leave banged up. This is not open in the winter.
The ice skating rink is pretty nice. It is indoors with the shopping and dining and is open year-round. There is nothing different than any other rink you have been to back home, but it is a fun place to skate. At 9 bucks a pop it is pretty pricey, but its something you can do for awhile, go eat, and come back, so it’s worth it at least once.
There are several things for the kids that aren’t quite ready for the slopes or alpine slides. There is a carousel and kiddie rides similar to what you find at a carnival. Mini golf? It is everywhere around the Smokies. Enough said.
The wildlife encounters are a neat way to see some animals up close in a safe way. Bears, birds, snakes, and a whole lot more can be found here. I’m not a big fan of animals in captivity, but this is an easy way to see them all in one place. The bear habitat is a bit depressing. The concrete everywhere and little greenery doesn’t really mimic any natural habitat. The bears look defeated, but then again my own views on the subject might cloud my thinking there. Some people seem to enjoy it.
There is also a large water slide, but in my experience, it is a bit cooler up top, and even during sometimes, being wet up there can be a bit chilly. If you are expecting a large water park like at Splash Country, you won’t find that, but that is another thing you can do…..for some extra cash.
There are several smaller things to do including a maze, arcade, and more, but they are small enough not to go into a lot of detail about. If you decide to go, I would advise planning on about a day’s worth of activities. And plan ahead financially. If you take the tram, do one activity, and have a small lunch, you can bet on at least 50 bucks for two people. A family of four using a wristband for activities and lunch will end up costing a minimum of $200. If you are prepared for the cost, it really is different than anything else available in town. If you want a full theme park experience, go to Dollywood instead. But if you are looking for a neat selection of activities nestled in a great mountain atmosphere, give this place a try.