What is more patriotic than being the first in the country to celebrate the Fourth of July? Not much!

Each year, Gatlinburg, Tennessee is the site of the first Fourth of July parade in the nation when they start the marching at 12:00 a.m. This massive festival routinely attracts between 80,000 and 100,000 spectators. As the huge collection of floats, helium balloons, marching bands, equestrian entries and groups of men and women representing the armed services parade through the downtown, the Fourth of July is kicked off to a truly epic start.

Over 100 units make up this parade that stretches over a mile in length. It is the 35th year Gatlinburg has put on this parade, so they definitely have it down to a science. Each year, the parade is dedicated to our men and women in the armed services, so military personnel always serve as the parade’s Grand Marshall. This year, the 129th Army Band from Nashville, Tennessee will lead the parade and offer their powerful contribution. Additional spectacles featured this year include vintage military vehicles, a parade-scale replica of the U.S.S. Enterprise starship from Riverside, Iowa and the Boyertown Alumni Marching Unit from Boyertown, Pennsylvania. The Nashville Suzuki Strings and the Knoxville Pipe and Drum bands will also play. Though the parade is on the evening of July third, the entire festival will last for four full days, with free admission concerts by the 129th Army Band, the Boyertown Alumni Marching Unit, and the Nashville Suzuki Strings, the Gatlinburg River Raft Regatta unmanned floatable race and a spectacular fireworks display.

Best of all, all of these exciting events are free and open to the public! If you are worried about having a good place to see the parade, don’t—it goes through the entire city, so if you can’t get right downtown you will still see it in its entirety on the main strip. The fireworks show should be visible from most of the parkway, from the skylift to the Applebee’s, and it will last a full 20 minutes. Even nearby Pigeon Forge will be having their own celebrations with fireworks and free concerts sponsored by a regional radio station. No matter where you plan to hang out for the holiday, you and your family are sure to have a great time.

The streets will be shut down by 11 p.m. on July third, so be sure to get in to town earlier rather than later. Traffic could be intense, even taking up to an hour to get out of town, so keep this in mind. And, great street performances and acts start as soon as the street is clear of cars, so to catch it all you will want to get there early.

Plan on spending the whole weekend in eastern Tennessee—rent one of the many beautiful Gatlinburg cabins for your whole family, and have your own barbeque before you make your way into town for the festivities. When the parade is over, you can just go home and crash, avoiding the heavy traffic and staying nearby for the great stuff Gatlinburg promises for the day of the Fourth!

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