Gatlinburg tourism has its own unique origins. The city has a rich history that dates all the way back to before the Civil War. However, it is truly tourism that put this city in the Smokies on the map. In fact, people have been vacationing in Gatlinburg for generations.

Gatlinburg Tourism

It’s easy to see why folks love Gatlinburg. With so much to do and see and explore, it's the perfect destination for a mountain respite. There’s no denying that Gatlinburg is a great place to vacation. However, Gatlinburg’s attractions are a huge part of what gives the city its unique Smoky Mountain charm. Let’s do a deep dive into what made Gatlinburg famous and look at a few historic attractions that have been lost to time.

Gatlinburg, TN

What Made Gatlinburg Famous?

Gatlinburg tourism really took off when the Great Smoky Mountains National Park opened in 1940. However, as tourism boomed through the 1950s, ‘60s, and 70s, the focus shifted off the mountains and toward attractions. Gatlinburg became a tourist attraction because it's easy to get to, offers endless opportunities for recreation, and its own unique Appalachian culture. Gatlinburg is home to a wide variety of unique things to do.

All sorts of creative entrepreneurs brought business and attractions to Gatlinburg in attempts to cash in on the early tourism goldmine. Some of these businesses still stand today. For example, The Historic Gatlinburg Inn was established in 1937 and still offers great amenities to guests today.

But what truly made Gatlinburg famous? The attractions. Many attractions have come and gone from Gatlinburg over the years. Some of the best, and maybe even most outlandish, Gatlinburg attractions have been lost to time. Let’s take a nostalgic look back at some of the original attractions that gave Gatlinburg tourism a head start.

Gatlinburg Tourist Attractions Lost to Time

Gatlinburg’s tourist attractions have delighted visitors from all walks of life for generations. Today’s most popular Gatlinburg attractions include mountain coasters and adventures, cider and moonshine, great eats, and more. Gatlinburg attractions lost to time, though, entertained in different ways.

Let’s take a look back and explore some old Gatlinburg attractions that have been lost to time. The attractions on our list below now only exist as memories to those who might have visited as children or younger adults.


Jolly Golf

Jolly Golf was right on the Parkway between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and was one of the first miniature golf courses in the country to feature large statues at each hole. It was built in 1958 and featured a large bear statue that waved to cars that passed on the Parkway.


How Did Gatlinburg Become a Tourist Attraction?: Click to visit page.

Mystery Hill

Have you ever seen water flow uphill? You could at Mystery Hill. Mystery Hill was an old Gatlinburg attraction full of marvels and optical illusions to trick the mind and inspire curiosity. Admission to Mystery Hill was just 50 cents in the 1950s.


Gatlinburg Xanadu House

Everyone was obsessed with “the future” back in the 1970s. Xanadu houses embodied that obsession with their experimental architecture and ergonomic indoors. Xanadu houses were placed as tourist attractions in Gatlinburg, Kissimmee, and Wisconsin Dells. The Gatlinburg Xanadu house closed and was demolished in the early 1990s.

The Xanadu house of the future is pictured June 13, 1982, in Gatlinburg. The 7,600-square foot tourist attraction, built of polyurethane foam, cost $350,000 to construct and is being called by critics "that thing on the Parkway."
- Knoxville News Sentinel Archive

Cliff Dwellers

One thing that makes Gatlinburg unique is its unique Appalachian heritage. Cliff Dwellers was an art studio once located on the downtown strip that featured the work of local artisans. You can find the modern version of Cliff Dwellers in The Glades now.


How Did Gatlinburg Become a Tourist Attraction?: Click to visit page.

Steak Chalet Restaurant

Sometimes a memorable meal is the best part of a vacation. The Steak Chalet, once located near the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, was a favorite of many locals and visitors alike.


Mountain View Hotel

Mountain View Hotel opened in 1916 and was one of the first places to stay in the Great Smoky Mountains. It was originally intended to serve as a lodge for businessmen buying timber but was soon adapted to accommodate tourists.


Fairy Land

Children have loved fairy tales for as long as these folk stories have existed. Fairy Land was a fairy-tale-themed attraction for children that was popular in the 1950s and 60s. Located between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, it featured puppet shows, a carousel, and other attractions based on folktales and Mother Goose rhymes.


How Did Gatlinburg Become a Tourist Attraction?: Click to visit page.
Scanned postcard

Museum of Witchcraft and Magic

Folks have long been attracted to the unexplained. This was especially true in Gatlinburg in the 1960s and 70s when The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic was a popular spot on the Parkway; its name was later changed to World of the Unexplained. Visitors could view a crystal ball with a talking head, be tricked by a resident magician, and experience the unexplained.

The World of the Unexplained were two museums, opened in 1972 by Ripley's Believe It or Not!, one at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco and one in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, originally called "Museum of Witchcraft and Magic". In 1975, due to pressure from the local churches and religious groups in the area, Ripley's changed their names to "World of the Unexplained" and re-outfitted them with new attractions.
- Wikipedia

How Did Gatlinburg Become a Tourist Attraction?: Click to visit page.

Fun Mountain

Fun Mountain was a short-lived theme park in Gatlinburg. It opened in 1993 - in the former location of Mountain view hotel - and closed in 2000. It was a great place to spend the afternoon in its heyday, thanks to fun attractions like chair lifts, bumper cars, go-karts, a carousel, and other amusements.


These are just a handful of old Gatlinburg attractions that made the city famous. Today’s attractions cater to a more modern crowd. Foodies will be delighted by the eclectic eats. Art aficionados will love Arrowmont. Outdoor enthusiasts will get a rush enjoying the mountain air. There is truly something for everyone in Gatlinburg today.

Make Your Own Modern Memories in Gatlinburg

Nostalgia and a rich tourism history are part of what makes the Smoky Mountains great. Walk in the footsteps of generations of visitors and understand how did Gatlinburg become a tourist attraction and make your own modern memories here in the Smokies.