Ober Gatlinburg: What to Expect & What to Avoid

The Ober Gatlinburg Tram, which leaves from the Parkway in Gatlinburg.

The Ober Gatlinburg Tram, which leaves from the Parkway in Gatlinburg.

Are you looking for a skiing opportunity in Tennessee? Did you know that there’s a well-known ski resort right in Gatlinburg? I’ll tell you all about that, and the other activities Ober Gatlinburg has to offer, in this post.

First of all, let me explain Ober Gatlinburg to you. Basically, you can ride a tram or drive up to Ober Gatlinburg. At the top, there’s a ski resort, but there are lots of other fun activities, too. Here they are, by season:

All Seasons:

  • Ober Gatlinburg Tram. Trams depart regularly from downtown Gatlinburg, and take visitors on a 2.1 mile ride up Mount Harrison. It’s a beautiful trip. Fine for all ages. Strollers must be folded before boarding the tram. Located at Parkway and LeConte Streets in downtown Gatlinburg. Cost: $11 for adults, $8.50 for kids ages 5-11; 4 and under are free (roundtrip)
  • Ice Skating. Ober Gatlinburg has a huge indoor ice arena that is the centerpiece of Ober Gatlinburg’s enclosed mall. Ages 4 and under are free. Cost: $9 for a 3-hour session (includes skate rental)
  • Wildlife Encounter. The Wildlife Encounter is just fancy talk for a small zoo. There are two black bears, raccoons, skunks, flying squirrels, turtles, birds, owls, river otters, and snakes. Some animals hibernate and are not available for viewing in the winter. Cost: $6 for adults; $4 for kids ages 5-11; 4 and under are free. Tickets are valid for unlimited visits during the day of purchase.
  • Scenic Chairlift. Once you finish your scenic tram ride, you can hop on the scenic chairlift for more amazing views. This is the South’s longest chairlift. Photos are available for purchase on top. Occasionally, bands play during the ride. Ages 6 and under must be with an adult. Cost: $7 per person.
  • Carousel. The old-fashioned carousel ride is right in the middle of the mall at Ober Gatlinburg. Purchase of ticket is valid for unlimited rides on the day of purchase. Children must be 36″ or taller to ride alone. Cost: $3.50 per person
  • Arcade: Lots of indoor video and skill games. Redeem tickets for toys and small gifts. Cost: Arcade games vary in prices
  • Ober Gatlinburg Restaurant and Lounge. Restaurant with views of the Smokies, near a wood-burning fireplace. Kids menus available. The restaurant is fine, but not plush. I’d put it on level with Bob Evans.
  • LeConte Deli. This new restaurant offers sub sandwiches with chips, cookies, and drinks. Located in the Tramway mall.

Winter:

  • Tubing. Snow tubing is available for adults and kids ages 3 and over. The best thing about this tubing hill? No need to walk back up. There’s a conveyor belt to get you back to the top. Tubers must be at least 6 years old and 42″ tall to ride solo. Sessions last for an hour and a half.
  • Skiing & Snowboarding. Nine trails are serviced by four lifts. Ober Gatlinburg offers terrain for all abilities, from beginner to experienced. The ski resort portion of Ober Gatlinburg has been open since 1962. Also includes a freestyle terrain park. Cost: Varies. Here are all your options.

Spring, Summer, Fall:

  • Alpine Slide. Your ride on the alpine slide combines a scenic chairlift ride up the mountain with a 1,800-foot descent on one of two tracks through woods and ski trails. You control your own speed with a braking device on each sled. Ages six and under must ride with a paid adult. All riders must be able to walk to ride the ride. Alpine slide is not usually open during ski season, but does open occasionally. Cost: $7 per person
  • Amaze’n Maze. This giant outdoor maze includes passports that guests may stamp at checkpoints as they work their way to the exit. The passports also clock their time for prizes.
  • Chair Swing. The chair swing is one of those swing carnival-type rides. Riders must be at least 42″ to ride. Cost: $3.50 per person
  • Blue Cyclone Rapids. This is a 600-foot water slide. Riders climb 60 feet high, then ride on a tube down the slide. Ages 4 and under free with paid adult. Children must be 7 or older to ride alone.
  • Kiddie Land. This is a place for young visitors to enjoy with tunnels to explore, swinging bridges to cross, a web to scramble through, ladders to scale, and chutes to slide down. Includes a train ride and a car ride. Cost: FREE!
  • Mini Golf. This 18-hole mini golf course is outdoors and features a train theme.
  • Lightnin’ Raft Ride: Believe it or not, this water raft ride doesn’t require swimsuits. This is a dry ride with a 40-foot vertical drop. Children must be 7 or older to ride alone.

The Good Things About Ober Gatlinburg

Ober Gatlinburg can be a lot of fun. Here are some things that are really good about it:

  • Cost. Don’t get me wrong — you can end up paying a ton here. But if you have small kids, a lot of things are free. And if you have restraint, it can be a pretty fun day. Ride the tram up the mountain, do one or two other things, enjoy the views and watching people ski or ice skate. Then come back down. This can be a fun afternoon for a relatively low cost, compared to other area attractions.
  • Variety. If you have a span of ages, this is a great stop. Older kids can enjoy the alpine slide and water slides, while the younger ones will be happy playing at the (FREE!) kiddie land for quite awhile. They can also see animals or ride along with big brother on the alpine slide. And remember, little ones are free for a lot of the attractions. Ober is also fun for older visitors who just want to watch the kids. Once, my grandparents rode up the scenic chairlift with me, then rode back down, while my son and I raced on the alpine slide. They had fun trying to keep track of us.
  • Skiing. From personal experience and the number of awards won, I can tell you that Ober Gatlinburg isn’t bad skiing for the Midwest. No, you aren’t going to think you’re in Colorado, but there are some decent slopes here. Take my advice — don’t come to Gatlinburg on a ski trip. You may be disappointed. You’d be better off heading to Boyne Mountain in Michigan. But if you’re in town for hiking or other activities, take some time to ski, and you won’t be disappointed. Personally, I recommend the night session from 6-10 p.m. for $20.

The Bad Things About Ober Galinburg

Here are the not-so-great things:

  • Cost. I know this is kind-of cheating. I can’t say that the cost is good AND bad. But it is. In a way. You can do a few things at Ober pretty cheaply. But this place also has a major potential to nickel and dime you to death. EVERYTHING COSTS! Beware. But you can save certain ways. Plan to drive up to Ober instead of taking the tram. Then plan to just do the scenic chairlift and alpine slide (still the best attractions, in my opinion…). But if you have the kind of kids who HAVE to do everything, you will pay for it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…
  • Junkiness Factor. Don’t get me wrong — I think Ober Gatlinburg is cute. But sometimes things aren’t in tip-top paintedness condition. Especially if you visit in winter, when there are all these out-of-season attraction skeletons laying around. I suppose that’s why places like Cedar Point (in Sandusky, OH) are closed in the winter. So we can’t see the junk. Ober, on the other hand, thrives in the winter, so it might look a bit junky to certain (snobby?) eyes. Look past it, and have a great time.

Whatever you decide about Ober Gatlinburg, remember that skiing season is almost over! Sunday, March 17 will be the last day for skiing, though tubing goes through March 31.

Here’s my final analysis: Ober Gatlinburg is a fun, family-friendly attraction that can really be a fun way to spend a day. But decide beforehand on which attractions you’ll do and which you’ll skip, so you can save money.

What do you think? Do you love Ober Gatlinburg, or is it a money hole?

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