Is Gatlinburg Trashy?

Whether or not Gatlinburg is considered trashy is an opinion. Some people may think it is partly because of the way the town mushroomed, and partly because of the many, many tourist attractions and traps in the town. The reviews of Gatlinburg mention how it has changed from being a relatively small town with lots of character into an overcrowded, anonymous, sometimes seedy place.

The changes have a lot to do with the tourist boom that hit in the 1980s. With it came millions of tourists every year and thousands of other people looking for employment.

The town must have literally swelled so quickly that it could not cope with the numbers. The traffic has become nearly unmanageable, the number of people has led to overcrowding and the level of individuality has begun to disappear. The town has become somewhat trashy.

Some things that might make Gatlinburg seem trashy

1. Traffic

Gatlinburg Pedestrian
Gatlinburg Pedestrian by Sean Foster on Unsplash

The reviews of Gatlinburg mention the amount of traffic, especially during the busiest times of the year.  If the cars are not gridlocked downtown, then the streets are at least congested.

The road system simply cannot cope with the number of vehicles that bring the tourists to the town. In fact, visitors find this problematic enough to make suggestions about introducing ‘no drive’ areas, where electric scooters can operate.

Traffic itself cannot make a town trashy, but with the regular crushes and the number of people around, it happens that people will congregate. With the traffic blockages, any public transport system won’t operate efficiently, so bunches of people gather. This leads to the number of loiterers that visitors to Gatlinburg talk about.

2. Loiterers

Visitors to Gatlinburg comment on the number of people who seem to spend time hanging around on the streets downtown. They are reported as being attracted to specialty stores like tattoo parlors, and the more dingy stores, all of which seem to sell kitsch and rather tacky items designed to lure in tourists. This is another symptom of a town that is regarded as trashy, because of the number of people it is expected to hold.

The immense and quick growth of the tourism industry would also have drawn thousands of people looking for jobs to the town. In fact, it will continue to do so as tourism continues to flourish.

Weekend, numbers of employed people will find themselves downtown on the weekend, enjoying a drink with their friends, or even hanging around the shops. Then, of course, there are always those people who are undirected, probably unemployed, and who will hang around street corners. This makes the town feel trashy for visitors.

3. Stores

Gatlinburg donut shop
Gatlinburg donut shop by Sean Foster on Unsplash

People talk about how there was a time when Gatlinburg was a cute town that was the gateway to the Smokey Mountains. The buildings had character and there was a welcoming small-town feel about them.

Visitors comment on how the shops that reflect that type of character and sold quality crafts have disappeared from the town, especially downtown. They have been replaced with garish stores and shops with no individuality. From specialty stores selling interesting and varied items, they have mutated into a bunch of faceless and dingy shops, with no identity.

Reviews mention numbers of tattoo parlors that are basically indistinguishable from each other; many, many similar stalls selling the same tacky tourist merchandise; and others selling weapons, like air guns and machetes. The shopkeepers are disinterested and unfriendly and practically discourage any trade.

This is also how the restaurants have changed. Chain outfits abound, which are inevitably crowded. In fact, the restaurants that have any character and individuality are usually empty. According to comments about the town, this indicates the nature of the inhabitants of and visitors to Gatlinburg: that they don’t like individuality, only chains and uniformity. And it feels trashy.

4. Crowds

Tourists in Gatlinburg
Tourists in Gatlinburg Sean Foster on Unsplash

Gatlinburg has so many tourist attractions that it gathers upward of a million visitors a year. This means that the town is pretty much filled beyond its capacity a lot of the time. In fact, the tourist boom in Gatlinburg goes all the way back to the 1930s, when the Great Smokey Mountain park was first opened.

More and more tourist attractions were built in Gatlinburg from the 1980s onwards. Visitors comment on the nearly overwhelming number of mini-golf courses all over the town.

Then there are the major landmarks like Dollywood, and Ripley’s chain of exhibitions and tourist locations. All of these brought hundreds of thousands of visitors to the town, which became swollen beyond its capacity. This creates overcrowding that many visitors comment on.


The reason that Gatlinburg is considered trashy by some is not because of tourism, but must be because of everything that it brought to the town. In the 1980s, when the tourism boom descended, the town had to change quickly, but could not do so fast enough. The character of the town was lost as it became crowded, shops popped up everywhere and people literally gathered in the streets.

In the end, I love Gatlinburg and still continue to visit every year. There are things that aren’t ideal about almost every vacation destination, and Gatlinburg is no exception. Just be aware of the tourist traps and spend time visiting the National Park, the main reason to even visit this area of the country.