When you visit the Great Smoky Mountains, there's no shortage of things to do. Whether you're an avid hiker who can't wait to wander through misty mountain trails at dawn or a die-hard foodie in search of the next great dish, you'll find it all in the Smokies.
But when you've got a trip with a tight timeline, getting around to everything you want to do might not be possible. That's why we've put together this list of 10 must-do activities in the Great Smoky Mountains!
- Stay in a Smoky Mountain Cabin
- Travel the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
- Smell the Wildflowers
- Walk the Appalachian Trail
- Stargaze at Clingmans Dome
- Climb the Gatlinburg Space Needle
- Ride the FireChaser Express® at Dollywood
- Take in a Smoky Mountain Sunrise
- Drive through Historic Gatlinburg
- Brave the Pigeon River While Whitewater Rafting
No visit to the Smoky Mountains is complete without an overnight stay in one of the area's iconic wooden cabins. Built in the style of a simpler time, these wooden cabins have a wealth of modern amenities packed into their unassuming frames. You'll love how these cabins get you closer to nature without removing your favorite modern conveniences.
Companies like Cabins of the Smoky Mountains offer deluxe cabins with up to 26 bedrooms for those who prefer a more luxe experience. Whether you prefer to meet up with friends and fill up a mansion or live like a settler, you'll find what you're in search of at a cabin in the Great Smokies.
If cabin fever sets in, hit the road and embark on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail! This one-way, six-mile historic motor trail runs alongside Roaring Fork, one of the largest mountain streams in the Smokies. Pink® Jeep® Tours offers a guided tour of this motor trail in one of its signature Pink® Jeep® Wranglers, departing from Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Best of all, you won't have to take your eyes off the road to catch any of the scenery! You can take in the stunning views of historic buildings, ancient forests and gorgeous waterfalls while being driven down the winding road. The tour lasts for two-and-a-half hours and ends with a thrilling off-road experience that you can't get anywhere else!
The Smokies may be known for its low-hanging mists and ancient trees, but there's treasure waiting for those who stop and smell the roses. Thanks to the age of the Appalachian mountain range, The Great Smoky Mountains are home to one of the most diverse arrays of flowering plants anywhere in the United States. With over 1500 different species of flowering plants, there's a blossom and bud for everyone!
To see the widest range of flowers, visit the Smoky Mountains in the springtime. You can see spring beauties, bloodroots, Solomon's seals, foamflowers, bishop's caps, galax, and multiple types of trilliums and lilies during this time. Pink® Adventure Tours has an online Bloom-ometer tracking the Smokie's parade of blooms. It identifies when specific wildflowers blossom and which tours offer the best views. Don't miss out on your chance to see all of these gorgeous wildflowers, some of which can only be found in the Great Smoky Mountains.
The Appalachian Trail (also known as the A.T.) is considered one of the quintessential hiking experiences in North America. More than 71 miles of this iconic trail weaves through the Smoky Mountains. Widely considered to be one of the most beautiful stretches, this section of the trail is beloved by regular hikers of the route.
During your time in the Smokies, take a walk through nature by exploring the Appalachian Trail. While hiking, keep an eye out for iconic landmarks like Rocky Top, the stone fire tower of Mt. Cammerer, and the rock outcropping known as Charlies Bunion. Just make sure to keep an eye out for bears while you mosey along this iconic slice of the American South.
If you want to get a better view of the stars, or just a better view of the Smokies, then you have to make time for a stop at Clingmans Dome. This mountain is the highest point in the Smoky Mountains and the third highest point east of the Mississippi River. Sitting atop the mountain is an observation tower that offers a 360° view of the surrounding vistas. On a clear day, you can see for up to 100 miles from the deck.
The observation tower also makes for incredible stargazing at night. Thanks to the higher elevation and remote mountain location, visitors can catch a glimpse of the Milky Way band and the billions of stars in our galaxy. In addition to this beautiful phenomenon, you may even see a few shooting stars as they streak across the night sky!
Step aside, Seattle! When you're in the Great Smoky Mountains, it's the Gatlinburg Space Needle that takes center stage. This observation tower reaches an elevation of 407 feet and overlooks downtown Gatlinburg, TN. But Gatlinburg isn't all you'll see from the top of this tower. The wraparound observation deck provides a stunning view of the Smokies at all hours of the day. Our favorite time to visit is during the early morning when you'll catch the golden hour and glimpse a stunning sunrise.
The Great Smoky Mountains may be the main draw of Gatlinburg, but that's not the only thing happening in the city. Dollywood, the theme park started by country music legend Dolly Parton, is one of the most popular attractions in eastern Tennessee. Of the many rides in the park, our favorite is the thrilling FireChaser Express®! This exciting thrill ride puts you in the boots of the heroic Smoky Mountain firefighters as they chase down and extinguish a roaring blaze. It’s the first dual-launch family coaster in the nation, so even smaller riders (minimum height 39") can experience the rush of the FireChaser Express®!
Every sunrise is beautiful, but there's something special about dawn in the Smoky Mountains. As the sun peeks out from behind the rolling green mountains, it creates a living painting of the landscape. The mists for which the mountains are named take on a hazy blue hue, softening the edges of each mountain and turning them into a magnificent deep navy. At the same time, the sky morphs into a fiery orange that slowly evolves into a brilliant yellow as it climbs higher in the sky.
Make sure to get up early and hike to an overlook to catch this spectacular natural phenomenon in its full glory. For those who don’t want to walk or get out of the car, you can capture stunning viewpoints along the Foothills Parkway and at the Newfound Gap Parking Area.
Gatlinburg has a rich history that stretches far beyond its current reputation as a resort town. Settlers have occupied the area since the early 1800s, and Native Americans lived around the area for centuries before settlers first arrived. Experience the unique history of this iconic city when you embark on our Gatlinburg Loop Smoky Mountains tour!
This two-and-a-half-hour tour takes you through the picturesque city and includes a stop at a scenic overlook. It's the perfect photo op for a family vacation! While on this tour, you'll also learn about the history of this incredible city, the native wildlife that lives in the area, and the unique topography that makes the town a major tourist destination.
Before you head back home, get your blood pumping with a whitewater rafting trip down the Pigeon River. This meandering river passes through two national forests and features two popular whitewater rafting sections. Beginners can jump into a raft on the lower section of the river near Hartford, TN for a thrilling whitewater raft ride. Those who are a bit more experienced with rafting can check out the upper river, which features Class III and IV rapids that are perfect for whitewater rafting enthusiasts!
If you only have a few hours to spend in America's most visited national park, make the most of your time by taking a Pink® Adventure Smoky Mountain Tour. You'll see the Smokies like never before from the back of a custom, open-air Pink® Jeep® Wrangler driven by local, certified adventure guides who bring the history and magic of the mountains to life!