July is one of the best months to visit the Smoky Mountains and it’s high season in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, as well as Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the surrounding scenic area. Conventions, Fairs, music and the big July 4th Parade are among the events to watch for here in this hot summertime month.
Temperatures are generally in the high eighties to low nineties with cool nights in the sixties – perfect for every kind of mountain adventure except for snow and downhill tubing – and even in midsummer, we have that covered too!
While the towns and attractions are bustling with visitors and special events, it’s a good time to hit the higher elevations or some swimming holes to cool down, as well as knowing the back roads to avoid some of that bustle.
But read on to see just what kind of bustle is happening in July.
This year on July 1, the Rocky Top Wine Trail offers a different kind of sampling in a month-long Kombucha Fest. A great non-alcoholic way for all the family to cool down and taste this magical tea drink from several of the area wineries. And keep those kids hydrated to show off their dance skills on July 3-7 at the LeConte Center in Pigeon Forge in the annual Rainbow Dance competition that many young dancers have been training for all year.
Speaking of physical prowess, the legendary Harlem Globetrotters are in Gatlinburg on July 3 with a chance for the public to meet and greet these basketball champions at the Convention Center, 2-4 pm. And why are they in town just now? Why, to lead the Parade, of course – the Harlem Globetrotters will be the Grand Marshals of the 2023, 48th Annual Gatlinburg Fourth of July Midnight Parade.
Fourth of July Parade
As always, Gatlinburg stages its annual Fourth of July Parade as the first in the nation, starting at one minute after midnight of the 3rd (yes, that’s 12:01 am on the 4th). People will be setting out their chairs and claiming viewing spaces along Parkway during the day, camping out for the midnight hour to roll around – this event draws a massive crowd. Here’s a taste of last year’s parade.
The parade starts at the Baskins Creek Bypass on East Parkway and marches down Parkway from north to south, taking about an hour and a half. Go home and grab a bit of sleep, because the day is filled with activities all the way into the fireworks spectacular at night. But before that there’s some serious boating to do at lunchtime.
The annual River Raft Regatta launches at 1 pm, with registration starting at 11 am. This fun river race involves every kind of unmanned floatable, and you can rent a rubber ducky or bring your own. It starts at the Maples Lane bridge on River Road at the site of the old Christ in the Smokies museum, and floats its way downstream along the Cliff Branch to Ripley’s Aquarium.
The Fireworks Spectacular at night will begin at 11 pm. launched as always from the top of the Gatlinburg Space Needle. While everything on the ground is free to the public, mountaintop attractions such as SkyLift Park offer special viewing festivities.
Pigeon Forge Festivities on the Fourth
What about the Forge on the Fourth? After the thrill-packed river race in Gatlinburg, you may want to cruise over to Patriot Park in Pigeon Forge for the afternoon festival and the evening Fireworks Spectacular. The 2023 Patriot Festival offers lots of tasty food, free live music with this year’s headliner, country performer Sara Evans, as well as fun games and attractions for kids, and free parking in the massive parking lot.
Patriot Park is a lovely spot in town and a great staging place for your Pigeon Forge explorations. The Shuttle is based here, and the marvelous Old Mill District is next door. Parkway is just a street over, while the Riverwalk Greenway offers a beautiful place to stroll along the river, through the heart of town and nicely hidden, walking all the way up to The Island if you want (it actually goes all the way to the superb city community center).
You can bring blankets and lawn chairs to this super-friendly festival (but not coolers or umbrellas). And the Fireworks that cap the festivities should start at 9:50 pm.
More July Events
Get some rest after the Fourth, because soon it’s time to go shopping, or window shopping, as the annual summer Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair takes the floor at the Convention Center with its huge display of quality wares from the nation’s largest community of independent artisans.
The 2023 fair is July 7-16, 10 am-5 pm, cash-only admission $10 (multi-day) except age 17 and under, accompanied. Live music, great food, and 200 booths of world-class, unique handmade items of gift and heirloom quality. Meet the artisans, watch live works in progress, commission custom work. This is everybody’s favorite, no matter how many times we’ve been before.
Moving on in the month, July brings more dance, with the national finals of the Applause Talent regional dance tour for 2023, in Pigeon Forge July 9-14 at the LeConte Center. An exciting annual event for many young dancers, with awards and cash prizes on the line, these competitors offer fabulous moves for spectators who love dance.
Another youth gathering occurs on July 17-20 with the Arise Youth Conference in Pigeon Forge at the LeConte Center. Thousands of teens and young adults join for a week of stirring music, fellowship and Bible study – a celebration of faith and devotion.
Many of the local attractions in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge offer special events through the month of July, many of them already started and continuing the season through all of summer. One place to watch is Ripley’s Aquarium, which offers kids and adult opportunities to explore that watery world. In a different vein, Country Tonite begins its Celebrity Concert Series in July, augmenting its regular lavish productions with star performers headlining country music shows.
And with all the celebration, let’s not forget the great Shopping in the area – especially as the state of Tennessee holds its Tax-Free Weekend around the end of the month. Happening in 2023 during July 28-30, tax exemption applies to a variety of items including school and art supplies and computers. You know what this means: back to school for the kids is coming soon – but that’s in August, another story for next time.
Meanwhile, enjoy your July in the Smoky Mountains!