The Gatlinburg July 4th parade is one of the most highly anticipated events of the summer. To help you prepare for Independence Day, we’ve put together a list of 7 things you need to know about this beloved Smoky Mountain tradition.

(See Related: 4 Ways to Hear Free Music in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge This Summer)

1. The parade begins at 12:00 A.M. on Friday July 4th.

Beginning at the stroke of midnight, Gatlinburg’s July 4th parade is the first Independence Day celebration in the nation! Now in its 39th year, the parade will feature patriotic floats, the 100th Army Military Band, and members of every branch of the armed forces.

2. The 2014 Gatlinburg July 4th parade route starts on East Parkway.

This year’s parade route begins at traffic light #1 A on East Parkway. The parade will turn south onto Parkway at traffic light #3 and will continue until reaching traffic light #10 at Ski Mountain Road.

3. Come early for prime seats.

Over 100,000 people are expected to watch the parade this year, so we recommend showing up early to get the best viewing spots. How early? Well, that depends on what type of seats you are looking for.

Some people start setting up lawn chairs along the Parkway at 7:00 a.m on July 3rd! Leaving chairs behind the morning of the parade is definitely an option, but there is always a chance that someone could move (or even steal) your seats.

If you are OK with standing during the parade, you should probably come at least an hour early in order to get a decent spot. Be sure to leave time to find parking! To give you an idea of how crowded it gets, check out this video of the parade from a few years back:

4. There are parking garages downtown near the parade.

You will find two city-owned parking garages downtown: one next to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and another at traffic light #3. There are are also a number of privately owned lots throughout the downtown area. Top Cabin Rentals even has properties within walking distance of downtown!

5. Paralympic athlete Health Calhoun is this year’s Grand Marshal.

Riding on the Rocky Top Sports World Float, Retired Army Staff Sergeant Heath Calhoun will be the parade’s special guest. Calhoun served as a Squad Leader with the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq where he lost both of his legs in a rocket-propelled grenade attack. Heath is now a Paralympic adaptive skier and has competed in both the 2012 Winter Games in Sochi and the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

4th of July in Gatlinburg fireworksTo see Sergeant Calhoun before the parade, visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies at 1:00 p.m. on July 3rd. Calhoun will be on site to sign autographs and chat with guests. There will also be a free concert at 2:30 p.m. from the 100th Army Band on the plaza in front of Ripley’s Aquarium.

6. Fireworks will be held the following evening.

The Gatlinburg 4th of July fireworks display will be held downtown at 10:00 p.m. on July 4th (22 hours after the midnight parade). The fireworks are centered around traffic light #3, but they will be clearly visible anywhere you can look up. You won’t find better fireworks anywhere else in the area!

7. Top Cabin Rentals is close to all the July 4th action.

Top Cabin Rentals is just minutes away from the Gatlinburg July 4th parade and fireworks display! Our vacation rentals come with the very best amenities, including game rooms, fully furnished kitchens, and swimming pool access. Looking for a cabin within walking distance of downtown? Visit our Gatlinburg Cabins page.