Exactly why you need an aquarium at the doorstep of one of the country’s most biologically diverse mountain parks is hard to understand, but too much thought will ruin any trip to Gatlinburg . So if you’ve grown tired of the environment of the Smoky Mountains , trade it in for exotic ocean seascapes at the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies (888/240-1358, www.ripleysaquariumofthesmokies.com , adults $23, children 6–11 $12.25, children 2–5 $6).
Here you will see sharks, sting rays, crabs, and lots of colorful tropical fish. There are touch tanks, and daily feeding demonstrations. A highlight is walking through an underwater tunnel, where you are surrounded on three sides by aquarium tanks. In 2007, the aquarium unveiled its newest exhibit, “Mars: The Search for Life,” which invites you to follow the water in the search for alien life.