Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

This is a guest post by Nikki of Reef’d Up Aquatics.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee in the U.S. offers a bit of something for everyone:  hiking, live shows, and most importantly for an aquarist, visiting Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. recently rated it the #1 U.S. Aquarium through traveler popularity and editor reviews.  A glide-path shark exhibit, interactive penguin play area, and a beautiful coral reef make this aquarium a must-see.

Ripley's Reef

The self-paced tour (wheelchair accessible) starts with schooling reef fish followed by the “Amazon Rainforest”.  The rainforest area is full of piranhas, poison dart frogs, and even four-eyed fish!  The next exhibit encountered is the “Ocean Realm,” where fish school, garden eels peek out of their holes, and flounder camouflage themselves to avoid detection.


Next is the impressive “Systems Control” room occupied by an imposing two-story skimmer.  The aquarium maintains a total of 1.4 million gallons of water and must circulate 11,664,000 gallons of water every day in the shark lagoon alone.


Speaking of the “Shark Lagoon,” a 340 foot glide-path moves visitors through a tunnel under a 750,000 gallon acrylic aquarium.  Large moray eels peek out of the rocks while sawtooth sharks and sea turtles glide about.

A slight detour leads to the “Coral Reef” which houses hundreds of tangs, clownfish, and other colorful fish.  In order to withstand the water pressure of this immense aquarium, the acrylic is 4.5 inches thick!  A smaller, but no less impressive true “coral reef” is crammed to the brim (literally!) with beautiful corals, reef fish, and clams.

Ripley's Coral Reef

Next up is the “Discovery Center” – a fun place for children and adults alike.  A touch-pool is full of neat critters, including horseshoe crabs, for experiencing ocean life first hand.  A small child-sized hole in the wall leads through a dark tunnel to glowfish.   Species-specific aquariums dot the Discovery Center with Leafy Sea Dragons, Pipe Fish, and Sea Horses.


The “Gallery of the Seas” hosts the weird and unusual:  cuttlefish, giant crabs, and jellyfish to name a few.  The next two exhibits are a huge hit, especially with children.  The “Stingray Bay” has seating room for watching the stingrays interact with scuba divers, and the “Penguin Playhouse” also houses a tunnel for face-to-face interaction.

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is a great activity for the whole family, and it is one of the less “tourist-trap” places in Gatlinburg.

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