It’s time to celebrate America’s Declaration of Independence, our birthday! And what better place to celebrate America the Beautiful than in the majestic Smoky Mountains.
Whether you are a local or in town for a summer visit, there are plenty of ways and places to celebrate on Thursday, July 4, and all weekend. Here are four ideas we think you’ll love in the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area.
Gatlinburg July 4 Parade
Gatlinburg starts celebrating early – or late depending on how you look at it. The Independence Day parade in Gatlinburg starts just after midnight – at 12:01 a.m. – on July 4th. There’s live music, colorful floats and all the patriot spirit you can handle.
For 44 years, Gatlinburg’s parade has been held late-night to start the July 4th off with a bang. This year, Current head coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers, Kellie Jolly Harper, will serve as grand marshal of Gatlinburg’s 44th Annual 4th of July Midnight Parade. She’s only the third Lady Vol head coach in the NCAA era of women’s basketball.
The parade route stretches for more than a mile, starting at Baskins Creek Bypass on East Parkway. The parade turns south onto Parkway at traffic light #3 and travels the length of downtown to traffic light #10 at Ski Mountain Road. See road closure and traffic information.
Parade goers should arrive early on Wednesday, July 3 in order to secure the perfect viewing area along the parade route. More than 80,000 people are expected at the parade. There is a city-owned parking garage next to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and another garage at traffic light #3. There also are privately owned parking lots downtown.
Gatlinburg’s parade has been named by National Geographic Traveler Magazine as among Ten of the Most Fun Parades to Watch. So don’t miss it!
One TripAdvisor reviewer wrote about last year’s events:
“We did go to the Midnight Parade in GB. That was a neat experience. I never saw the tradition of throwing coins into the street prior to a parade…for the kids to collect. That was really cute. A lot of the floats were really beautiful. we had a good time. It is unique. We even got a FREE cup of coffee from the Land O Lakes tent by the convention center!”
“The parade is pretty fun especially for kids. There are always lots of people and the parade lasted just about 1 1/2 hours as I recall,” wrote one TripAdvisor reviewer. “Go early and park in one of the garages or even better take the trolley over from Pigeon Forge to avoid the traffic.”
Gatlinburg River Raft Regatta
The River Raft Regatta is a unique river competition and brings hundreds of people to the Little Pigeon River in downtown Gatlinburg. It’s an unmanned raft race that is open to anyone who wants to buy or make their own raft.
And if you make your own, be sure to dress it up! Patriotically, something that expresses you uniquely, maybe make a floating fairy house or put pictures of your whole family on it. One year, someone put Dolly Parton’s face on a float.
The starting line is at Christ in the Smokies Bridge. Floatable registration starts at 10 a.m. and the race kicks off at noon. The race ends when all the floatables pass the finish line at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.
This year, attendees also can choose to enter a rented rubber duck into the competition for only $2, $3, or $5. Or – bring your own rubber duck to enter for no cost!
All proceeds go to the Gatlinburg Chamber Foundation. Those who finish in first, second and third place in the Treasure, Duck and Most Creative Float categories will be awarded trophies.
Christ in the Smokies is located at 510 River Road and Ripley’s Aquarium is located at 88 River Road.
After a day of fun in the Smokies or perhaps napping in your Smoky Mountain cabin after the parade early that morning, make sure to get back into Gatlinburg for the July 4th fireworks. Designated as a Top 20 event in July by Southeast Tourism Society, the fireworks are pretty special.
This year’s display will begin at 10 p.m. The fireworks will be centered around traffic lights #3 and #5, but they will be clearly visible throughout the downtown area. A finale that is spectacular is worth sticking around to the end.
The 129th Army Band will perform at Ripley’s Aquarium Plaza beginning at 9 p.m. and leading up to the fireworks finale.
The TripAdvisor reviewer who went to the midnight Gatlinburg parade wrote: For July 4th, we decided to go to Patriot Park in Pigeon Forge during the day to check out the food tents and etc. Then we went back to GB for the evening. Ended up listening to some bands playing street side and in front of the Ripley’s aquarium. Got a FREE patriotic face painting there too. Saw the fireworks in GB. They started a little late but ended up being a really great show. What a finale!!
Pigeon Forge Patriot Festival
In its 29th year, the Pigeon Forge Patriot Festival at Patriot Park starts with games, family-friendly activities and food vendors during the day and ends with live music and an amazing fireworks display after dark.
Grammy award-winner Marty Stuart will be headlining at this year’s Patriot Festival. Stuart is a five-time Grammy award-winning country singer with 15 nomination. He is famous for his hit songs “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’” and “Tempted.”
Starting at 2 p.m., food vendors start serving delicious and fun July 4 fare and children can play in the special Kid’s Carnival area at Patriot Park at 186 Old Mill Avenue at traffic light #7. Musical entertainment begins around 4 p.m.
Free entertainment featuring a Veterans Tribute and the Pigeon Forge Community Chorus will take place before Free Fallin and headliner Marty Stuart, who takes the stage at 8:30 p.m.
The renowned fireworks display begins around 9:45 p.m. to end the festival.
“The fireworks in Pigeon Forge are always really pretty,” a TripAdvisor reviewer wrote. “Lots of very large bursts that can be seen from anywhere in town.”
Leave your car at the LeConte Center Municipal Parking Lot and take a free trolley ride to Patriot Park. The city-owned parking lot is located at 2936 Teaster Lane.
Some reminders from the Pigeon Forge Patriot Festival web site: Bring a seat and stay a while. Blankets and lawn chairs are welcome. Umbrellas and coolers are not permitted, so please leave those behind. Delicious food vendors with burgers, franks, and more will also be in attendance. You can also enjoy your festival food guilt free since a portion of the proceeds from the festival help support local charities.
Check out our Smoky Mountain Travel Guide for things to do the rest of the weekend including Dollywood and its Theme Park (open 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.) and Water Park (open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.) to keep you cool. We have discount tickets to many more attractions in the area.
Ready to book your adventure in the Smoky Mountains? Give American Patriot Getaways a call at 800-204-5169. Let our experts help you find the right cabin and all the right fun, food and entertainment for your July 4 celebration or anytime of the year.
You can also contact us online by searching our cabins in Gatlinburg and in Pigeon Forge. Check out our Pinterest boards if you want a cabin close to the fun and the food! See our boards where to eat in Gatlinburg and where to eat in Pigeon Forge.