Editor’s Note: During this period of social distancing, Student Group Tour magazine will continue to provide ideas for planning educational travel. Many attractions and destinations are closed at this time; please contact them directly for updated information. 

Nestled at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg attracts over 11 million visitors a year. This little mountain town in Tennessee welcomes all of its guests with plenty of Southern charm and Appalachian hospitality.

Gatlinburg is known for its outdoor adventures, mountain heritage, and traditional arts and crafts scene — students will never run out of things to do. Students can explore museums, dive into aquatic life at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and soar high on the Gatlinburg SkyLift, all in one afternoon.

While strolling through downtown, students can explore the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community — an 8-mile stretch of over 100 shops featuring craftspeople and artists. The community is the largest gathering of independent artisans in North America.

“Welcome to Gatlinburg, gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” said Mark Adams, CEO/President of the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Exciting adventures and learning opportunities await visitors to Gatlinburg. The variety of museums and attractions, a world-class aquarium and the beauty and endless diversity of the Great Smoky Mountains will captivate student groups.”

Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

Credit: Gatlinburg CVB

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is home to 10,000 exotic sea creatures and 10 galleries showcasing the underwater world across the seven seas. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies offers classroom experiences to students of all ages designed to impart the importance to protect and conserve ocean environments. Most classroom programs include one or more hands-on activities — all with a conservation message — and a self-guided tour can be added to any classroom program.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

Credit: Gatlinburg CVB

“Believe It or Not” is a phrase coined by Robert Ripley to challenge people to believe his stories about his odd and uncommon adventures while traveling to more than 200 countries over 35 years. One hundred years later, visitors to Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium in Gatlinburg can experience firsthand the fantastic collection of artifacts collected by Ripley over the years. An educational scavenger hunt also can be added to every student visit.

Sugarlands Visitor Center

Credit: Gatlinburg CVB

The Sugarlands Visitor Center in Gatlinburg is the perfect spot to begin any Smoky Mountain visit. The visitor center features knowledgeable rangers, a gift shop, maps, restrooms, animal exhibits, an informative museum and a free movie. Student groups can stop there to stretch their legs, get their bearings and speak with experts about their itineraries. Aside from the interior exhibits, there are also three hikes groups can take at the visitor center.

Gatlinburg SkyLift Park

Credit: Gatlinburg CVB

Founded in 1954, Gatlinburg SkyLift Park offers stunning views and unforgettable experiences in the Smokies. The Gatlinburg SkyLift carries guests from the heart of town up 500 vertical feet to the top of Crockett Mountain. Renovated in 2019, Gatlinburg SkyLift Park now offers a SkyDeck observation area and SkyBridge — the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America — to the millions of people who visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park each year.


Credit: Anakeesta

At Anakeesta, students are immersed in the beauty and adventure of the great outdoors. The theme park includes a scenic ride via chondolas or adventure trucks to the summit of Anakeesata Mountain, where groups will enter Firefly Village. There, visitors can enjoy views of downtown Gatlinburg, shop and dine. As for thrills, students can tackle the dueling zip line, stroll along the treetop skywalk or take on the single-rail mountain coaster — the first of its kind in the United States.