Get into the holiday spirit this year with the annual Smoky Mountain Winterfest, which started in the late 80s as a means to expand tourism beyond the Smokies themselves. Now, the event is celebrated across Sevier County, focused on Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville events. The 120-day festival brings light to these cities every year—literally.
Intricate light displays cover buildings, street lights and attractions throughout the colorful cities from the beginning of November all the way to the end of February, with themes changing according to the month. About fourteen million lights illuminate a 25-mile drive that leads up to Gatlinburg, intriguing visitors from all over. Some dedicated visitors make the seasonal trek to the area just for the cheery atmosphere and 12-days-of-Christmas light display that ignites the city. The entire display is environmentally friendly, now using only LED lights, which cuts energy costs down dramatically.
Sevierville kicks off their light display first on November 7th. Following right behind is Pigeon Forge on November 8th, then Gatlinburg on November 9th. No kick off celebration is the same during Winterfest; the three cities put together something completely different for each day. Animated light displays—with patriotic, holiday, and Smokies themes—attract guests to the festival. A simple way to start your Winterfest experience is to grab a seat on one of the light tours featured throughout November, December, and January. Tickets are only five dollars—make a reservation in advance and enjoy a hot cocoa while you take in the lights and listen to a guide explain each display.
If a heated vehicle and guide don’t appeal to you, you can embark on your own light tour. There’s no need to stop and ask for directions if you use one of the free lights maps provided at the Welcome Center. You can have the map at your fingertips with the free Winterfest lights app available for iPhone and Android. The high-tech enhancements don’t stop there; stop by the Visitors Center and purchase your very own 3-D glasses to make the light tour truly pop as each display becomes an intense burst of light and color right in front of you!
Most come for the light tours and holiday filled atmosphere, but that’s not all Winterfest offers. Each of the cities features a variety of holiday-themed events, some of which are detailed below. (For a complete listing, visit smokymountainwinterfest.com.) If you’re looking for some fun, family-friendly activities this holiday season, plan to visit the Smokies for Winterfest!
The Winterfest Kickoff starts the season at 3 pm on November 6th at the Sevierville municipal parking lot. Enjoy free admission, food, fireworks, entertainment, and the famous light show.
After the kickoff, consider driving the 1.5-mile light celebration known as the Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland. This light show uses some of the most advanced lighting equipment to bring out what Christmas is truly about. The kids can enjoy Santa’s workshop, which boasts a petting zoo, pony rides, Christmas movies, a craft station, and photos with Santa. Adults can enjoy the labors of food vendors, who offer hot chocolate, coffee, and fresh kettle corn.
If you need to run off that Thanksgiving meal, lace up your sneakers for The Santa Hustle 5K & Half Marathon on December 10th. Participants will be in their best Santa attire as they race with family
The festival doesn’t stop there. Join the 7th Annual Rose Glen Literary Festival, starting at 9 am on February 25th at the Sevierville Convention Center. This year’s Literary Festival will feature speakers such as June Hall McCash, Ben Montgomery, Jim Stokely, and New York Times best-selling author Jefferson Bass.
Pigeon Forge holds their 28th annual Winterfest Kickoff on November 7th. You can start your festival experience at Dollywood, where the family will enjoy “It’s a Wonderful Life” or celebrate a simpler time at the Back Porch Theater with the acoustic band, Appalachian Christmas. Children will get the chance to meet Rudolph himself this year with Rudolph and His Friends. The show Christmas in the Smokies is one of Dollywood’s greatest traditions. Fourteen singers and dancers perform hometown holiday favorites alongside a band of eight musicians.
From November 1-January 6, the Smoky Mountain Opry puts on a larger-than-life Christmas show. A traditional section of classic Christmas music opens the show; the stage will be filled with huge toys during a visit to Santa’s workshop; a big finale ends the show, with a focus on the true meaning of Christmas.
If you think your family squabbles during the holidays, you are in for a surprise. The Hatfield & McCoy Christmas Disaster Dinner Show presents your favorite feuding families coping with holiday conflict. The fuedin’ feast features Fried Chicken, BBQ, and all the fixin’s.
The Comedy Barn’s Christmas Show is the best place to go for a good laugh. The show includes Christmas music, costumes, the Comedy Barn Canines, the Comedy Barn Cloggers, and a range of family-friendly comedians—combined to create the funniest Christmas show in the Smokies.
Start things off with a big bowl of hot chili at the Gatlinburg Winter Magic Kickoff & Chili Cookoff on November 8th. Homemade chili recipes ranging from mild to spicy will have your mouth watering. Participants will compete for the People’s Choice Award and Best Booth Presentation. Feast your eyes on the ceremonial lighting of three million lights while enjoying your favorite recipe.
Enjoy the Festival of Trees this Christmas and pick up some handmade centerpieces and craft items. Walking through the decorated trees while taking in the holiday sights and sounds makes for a breathtaking evening. The festival is held November 22-27 at the W.L. Mills Conference Center. All proceeds will benefit the Boys & Girls Club of the Smoky Mountains.
The Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre will be showing their “Bah Humbug!” performance this holiday, featuring the Great Victorian Amusement Company. Have a laugh and sing along to one of the shortest versions of “A Christmas Carol” in production.