From Ashes to Icon: Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort Soars in Gatlinburg

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Photo from Anne Braly

By: Anne Braly

Like a Phoenix, Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort and Water Park has risen from the ashes of Gatlinburg‘s fires in 2016 to become one of the town’s premiere resorts.

With more than 1,200 units, ranging from typical hotel rooms and one-bedroom suites with complete kitchens to four-bedroom apartment-style accommodations, the resort is among the largest in the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge area.

It all started with five cabins in 2000, with plans to expand on the 700-acre property until the fires destroyed more than 80% of the resort. The rebuild started immediately and was completed in 2020. But work hasn’t stopped. Another building will open with more suites by summer with another in the works, along with a new pool, greenspace and an amphitheater for outdoor entertaining.

At its highest point, the suites are at an elevation of 1,750 feet with commanding views of the Smoky Mountains. Enjoy a glass of wine in the afternoon or sip your morning coffee on your rocking chair balcony. The higher your unit, the better your view, and the resort shuttle will transport you to and fro, from the lowest points to the highest at the resort.

There are a few things about this property that distinguish it from other resorts in the South. 

For starters, the water park is the largest indoor water feature of its kind in the South. Next, it’s the only resort in the boundaries of Smoky Mountains National Park. And finally, its primary restaurant, Southern Comfort, is the only one in America to have a partnership with the Southern Comfort whiskey brand.

Unlike other resorts in the area, Westgate offers off-property excursions, kind of like a cruise ship on land, from river rafting to moonshine tastings at Ole Smoky Moonshine, haunted ghost tours and guided trips into the Smokies. 

On property, an activities director will keep you busy with arts and crafts activities, such as candle-making, lip balm making, canvas painting and archery. New this year are ax throwing and mining for semi-precious gems.

“And not all resorts have a zipline and mini-golf, plus an arcade/redemption center,” says Dale McFarland, area general manager. “We are always looking to elevate our guest experiences.”

Dining at Westgate and Beyond 

Southern Comfort is the perfect name for Westgate’s primary restaurant. First of all, it’s a southern restaurant. Secondly, and most importantly, the menu is all about comfort from biscuits and gravy at breakfast to shrimp and creamy grits at dinner.

The restaurant is located directly off the lobby, and on a cool mountain morning or evening, twin fireplaces in the dining area are surrounded by upholstered chairs, and sofas, adding to the comfort level. The decor brings on a wonderful mountain atmosphere with a natural wood ceiling and rafters along with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Mother Nature’s handiwork.

The resort also has a mini market where you can pick up easy foods to go or take back to your suite to have a quick meal if you don’t feel like going out. 

But if you do go out and want to go beyond the Westgate campus, Gatlinburg has too many restaurants to count.

Three of note are:

  • The Greenbrier, where you can get some of the best steaks to be had in the area. They are aged in-house and come in the form of filets, ribeyes, strips and a mouthwatering beef Wellington.
  • The resort is located just a stone’s throw from Pigeon Forge, and if you like German food, you’re in luck at Wild Bear Tavern where you’ll find schnitzel, bratwurst and Apfelstrudel on the menu alongside chicken and waffles and Black Forest pancakes. And that’s just for breakfast. Expect the same level of excellent German and comfort foods along with a nice selection of beers and cocktails for lunch and dinner.
  • You’ll need to buy a lift ticket to get to Clifftops high up on the mountain at Anakeesta. If you’ve never been to this microcosm of food and fun, you’re in for a treat. With its incredible 360-degree views of the Smokies, Clifftop is the place for seafood, steaks and all kinds of comfort foods. You’ll build up a hunger on the mountain coaster and zip line, and after the sun goes down the new Astra Lumina lights up the mountainside with a spectacular display of music and lights on a trail that takes you on a wander of wonder.

Relax and Rejuvenate

Full-service resorts have full-service salons, and at Westgate make a reservation at Serenity Spa.

There’s no need to be a guest at the resort. Spa services are open to all and include facials, manicures, pedicures, massages and other body treatments. The kids have had their fun at the waterpark and all that Gatlinburg has to offer. Now it’s your turn to treat yourself.

Water Worlds

Jump, twist, slip and splash around a menagerie of slides, tubes and waterfalls at Westgate’s Wild Bear Falls Water Park. It’s 300,000 square feet of fun and totally enclosed, making it possible to enjoy the park even when the weather outside is not so pleasant. Admission is included for resort guests; those staying off-property may purchase one-day admission tickets for $35.

When the kids get hungry, there’s a restaurant upstairs, the Roaring Fork Snack Bar, serving nachos, pizza, sandwiches, burgers and salads.

The resort has two outdoor pools – heated during the colder months. The Mountain View Pool is on the lower level near the mini mart and restaurants. The Mountain Top Pool offers a pool bar with snacks and drinks during the warmer months, late-May through early October, or order a pizza and have it delivered poolside. The Smoke House Express is set to open in mid-May, as well. Plus, there’s a large hot tub with mountain views where you can get a good soak after a day on the trail or a round of mini golf with the kids.

You don’t have to go far to find a waterfall in the mountains surrounding Gatlinburg. Some are easy while other trails are a little more difficult. 

Wear sturdy shoes and experience the jaw-dropping beauty of nature of trails that snake through this area of Tennessee.

Go online to gatlinburg.com to find the perfect waterfall for you, depending on your level of endurance. Some have easier access than others. Pay in advance online for parking because on busy weekends, the falls get busy,  and parking places may be hard to find. 

For more information about Westgate’s Gatlinburg property, go to www.westgateresorts.com and follow the links to resort locations.

Contact Anne Braly at [email protected] or annebraly.com

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