Gatlinburg is a small mountain resort community located on the northern border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in eastern Tennessee.
The town has a year-round population of just over 4000; Gatlinburg’s population swells during the warmer months as people flock here to take in the area’s natural wonders.
As a gateway to the Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg is an important tourist destination in Tennessee. It has many additional features that are exciting to explore and make excellent use of the area’s natural resources.
There’s Ober Gatlinburg, a ski area (the only one in the state) and an amusement park, and Gatlinburg Skylift Park, which takes guests up 1,800 feet to the top of Crockett Mountain.
Once you are on top of the mountain, you have access to the Skybridge Gateway, the longest footbridge (complete with a glass section) in the US, spanning two mountaintops.
And believe it or not, Gatlinburg is also home to the Space Needle; reaching 407 feet up in the air, the observation deck offers a spectacular bird’s eye view of the Smoky Mountains.
With so many fun family orientated activities and surrounded by such natural beauty, Gatlinburg is a tremendously popular destination spot in Tennessee.
Besides the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the other local attractions, there are state parks nearby that are just as exciting.
Come along with us as we explore more of Tennessee’s natural beauty showcased in state parks.
Map of State Parks Near Gatlinburg TN
Here is a map of the Tennessee state parks covered in this post:
List of State Parks Near Gatlinburg
Below you’ll find each of those state parks with their distance from Gatlinburg and what makes each worth a trip.
1. Seven Islands State Birding Park
Location: 2809 Kelly Ln, Kodak, TN 37764
About an hour northwest of Gatlinburg, the Seven Islands State Birding Park is on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the French Broad River.
The park (day use only) is a beautifully designed wildlife refuge within a diverse landscape featuring grasslands, rolling hills, and meadows. There are trails for hiking and biking and a small launch for paddlers and anglers who want to enjoy the river.
Wildlife observation, especially birding, is why people come to Seven Islands. There have been over 200 bird species recorded here, and Seven Islands is involved in bird education and research.
As a Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) member, the park helps keep track of bird populations.
Helpful tip: There are several old barns in the park that you can explore, be sure to look inside for the elusive nocturnal barn owl.
2. Fort Loudoun State Park
Location: 338 Fort Loudoun Rd, Vonore, TN 37885
Located an hour and a half to the southwest of Gatlinburg, Fort Loudoun State Park is one of the oldest (1756) British fortifications on the eastern front built during the French and Indian War. The reconstructed fort is on an island on Tellico Lake.
The park (day use only) is a popular site for fishing, paddling, hiking, picnicking, and birding. And, there’s plenty of history to take in, from touring the fort, seeing a reenactment, visiting the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, or the Visitors Center.
Helpful tip: If you are here with youngsters, visit the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum first. The information presented here requires more focus than other activities at Fort Loudoun.
3. Big Ridge State Park
Location: 1015 Big Ridge Park Rd, Maynardville, TN 37807
Big Ridge State Park is about an hour and a half northwest of Gatlinburg and is a 3,687-acre park with three beautiful mountain ridges separated by adjacent streams.
Big Ridge also shares a shorefront with Norris Lake. The recreational activities here are endless, from camping to hiking, fishing, and swimming.
Hiking in the area takes you past old cemeteries, even older roads, and remnants of early pioneer settlements. The park is also home to ancient structures determined to be (most likely) from the Mississippian period (c. 1000-1500 AD).
Helpful tip: Big Ridge State Park holds special events, painting and soap-making classes, ghost tours along Ghost House Loop Trail, and an annual Bluegrass Festival. Visit the Big Ridge State Park FB page for more details.
4. Panther Creek State Park
Location: 2010 Panther Creek Park Rd, Morristown, TN 37814
Panther Creek State Park on the Cherokee Reservoir in the Holston River Valley is just about an hour north of the mountain resort community.
Panther Creek and its springs are a landmark for one of the earliest settlements in the region; before the pioneers’ arrival in 1785, Native Americans were drawn to the springs and the area’s other natural resources.
Activities at the park include camping, hiking, biking, and birding. You can enjoy fishing, swimming, and boating on Cherokee Lake.
There’s also an 18 hole disc golf course. Point Look-Out Loop Trail is a moderate hike with trails to a scenic view of the lake and its islands and a sandy, secluded beach.
Interesting fact: Early settlers named it Panther Creek after a panther was (allegedly) killed here. Were there panthers in Tennessee? That question is still up for debate. One possible answer—since cougars were once predators in this region and cougars go by other names (puma, painter, mountain lion, and panther), it’s entirely possible the captured cat was a cougar and called a panther.
5. Warrior’s Path State Park
Location: 490 Hemlock Rd, Kingsport, TN 37663
About two hours northeast of Gatlinburg is Warrior’s Path State Park, named for the Great Cherokee War and Trading Path.
The park is the only Tennessee state park with a Boundless Playground; children of all abilities can play in this interactive, inclusive playground. And there’s a stellar “internationally-renowned mountain bike trail system.”
Warrior’s Path is on the Patrick Henry Reservoir located along the Holston River, with all sorts of water sports from boating to angling. An 18-hole golf course and a 22-hole disc golf course round out the activities.
Helpful tip: A really exciting activity for the youngsters at Warrior’s Path is to become a citizen scientist and discover all the different dragonflies and damselflies in the park. Document all dragonflies and damsels that you see for the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI), an ongoing project to document all the species in state parks. Here’s information and a checklist.