Pop Quiz: Where is the first Independence Day parade in the USA?
If you said Gatlinburg, Tennessee, you probably knew it was a trick question. But the answer is honest – every year at the stroke of midnight on the Fourth of July, the nation’s first Independence Day parade kicks off with close to 100,000 spectators lining East Parkway through downtown. It’s a right proper parade with floats and balloons, marching bands, classic horsepower (automotive and equine), even bagpipes! With a theme of honoring our military, members from every military branch take part – U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard – along with the 100th Army Military Band.
If you plan on going, you’ll have to get started early. Locals and visitors alike begin lining up lawn chairs as early as 7am on July 3rd. Our recommendation is to stake out your turf downtown – for “dietary” reasons, we’d choose a spot close to Pancake Pantry – then spend the day strolling through the shops and sites around town. The free Parkway Trolley runs every day all summer, so it’s easy to get around town and see attractions like Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and the Gatlinburg Sky Lift. Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales will help pass the time during the evening. Various performers – musicians, storytellers and artisans – take to the sidewalks and plazas along Parkway and deliver an enjoyable dose of Appalachian culture. (If you’re not careful, you may find yourself the newest member of a jug band!) You can learn more about Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales on their Facebook page.
After the late night parade, things get a little later start on the 4th of July. The annual River Raft Regatta starts around noon. You’ll have plenty of time for more shopping and exploring before the 100th Army Band’s free concert at the Ripley’s Aquarium Plaza, starting at six and leading up to the annual fireworks display at ten.
Even though the 4th of July is right around the corner – and we didn’t make plans ahead of time – there were still hotel rooms available in Gatlingburg when we checked availability in mid-June. Nearby Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, which have many attractions of their own, had many more lodging options still available. Since you’d likely want to visit all three towns and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park while you’re there, any of them are good options.
Fourth of July in the Smoky Mountains? Not a terrible way to enjoy a long summer weekend!
Video from Gatlinburg.com