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things to do in the smoky mountains

Things To Do In The Smoky Mountains

Published on July 30, 2019 by Our Roving Reporter

20 Fab Things To Do In The Smoky Mountains - Our helpful video guide

The Great Smoky Mountains are a part of the famous Appalachian Mountains, which run down most of the Eastern Coast of the United States. These mountains set the border between Tenessee and North Carolina, and are mostly the home of Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

In this vast region, visitors will find a myriad of activities, from outdoor hiking trails up the mountains and underneath the waterfalls, to experiencing firsthand what passengers on the infamous Titanic felt at the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge in Tennessee. The Smoky Mountains is the perfect place for viewing nature, with stunning caverns and rocky mountain peaks as well as a ton of old and rustic log cabins and barns hidden away into the wilderness, as a treat for history buffs.


Free Things to Do in Smoky Mountains

1. Cade's Cove

Cade's Cove

Cade’s Cove is a frequented spot in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, accessible via a loop road that surrounds the area. This stunning valley is circled by the high mountains of the Great Smokies and provides some gorgeous views for visitors, who often see wildlife such as turkeys, deer, coyotes, black bears while they are sightseeing.

The road to Cade’s Cove is open to vehicles, and along the drive visitors may spot old churches, mills, barns, and houses from the 18th and 19th centuries. Hikers will enjoy the hike to Abrams Falls or Thunderhead Mountain, or a short jog along the Cades Cove Nature Trail.


Cool Things to Do in The Smoky Mountains

2. Ober Gatlinburg

Ober Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg is a ski area and amusement park, situated in the mountains overlooking Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA. Founded in 1962, the area houses an indoor ice skating rink including new ice bumper cars, a big mall with indoor amusements, a full-service lounge, snack bars, restaurant, and gift and clothing stores. Outside there's an alpine slide, a maze, the ski mountain coaster, a chair swing, a mini-golf course, a thrilling chairlift to the top of Mount Harrison, water raft rides (summer only), kiddie rides, and a new rock climbing wall. There is also the Wildlife Encounter, where in addition to the black bears, there are also animals native to the area such as North American river otters, birds of prey, bobcats, opossums, snakes, raccoons, flying squirrels, and turtles. An aerial tram connects Ober Gatlinburg to downtown Gatlinburg, approximately 3 miles to the east.


Extreme Things to Do in The Smoky Mountains

3. Water Rafting in Nantahala

Water Rafting in Nantahala

Nantahala River rafting trips can be described as trips that alternate between calm spells of pristine flat water to more than 20 named whitewater rapids. This adventurous river is a particular favourite of families with young children since it is recommended for beginners. North Carolina rafting on the Nantahala River is a high value yet low-cost experience which will make your vacation to the Smokies more memorable.

Nantahala River rafting trips run the full length of the river – 8 miles through western North Carolina’s most verdant rainforest. The river also runs through the Nantahala National Forest – the biggest of the four national forests in North Carolina. Your Nantahala rafting trip ends with a big and bouncy splash at Nantahala Falls- the only class III rapids on the river.

Water rafting on the Nantahala River has become one of the most popular attractions in the Southeast for family rafting outings and group adventures.

One of a Kind Things to See in Smoky Mountains

4. Clingman's Dome

Clingman’s Dome is situated in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is the peak point in the state of Tennessee. This towering mountain reaches up to 6,643 feet at its summit, which is accessible via a paved trail that directs to the observation tower at the top.

Visitors can see breathtaking 360-degree views of the park and the nearby mountains, which on a clear day can stretch for more than100 miles. The concrete trail is half a mile long and rather steep, and temperatures at the top can be quite cold. The observation tower can be reached via the Appalachian Trail.


Things to Do with the Family in Smoky Mountains

5. Dollywood's Splash Country

Dollywood's Splash Country

Situated in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, both Dollywood and Dollywood’s Splash Country are waterparks owned by the one and only Ms. Dolly Parton. At Dollywood’s Splash Country, guests can have a thrill racing down waterslides, getting soaked at the Bear Mountain Fire Tower, or plunging through dark caverns and meandering turns on the Big Bear Plunge.

The waterpark is home to about 35 acres of slides, water attractions, and pools, with areas for picnicking, dining, and relaxing for a whole day of fun and water games. Dollywood's Splash Country is open during the warmer months, and opening hours depend on the weather.


Scary Things to See and Do in Smoky Mountains

6. Elkmont Ghost Town

Elkmont Ghost Town

Tucked somewhere along the Little River Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains lies Elkmont, an old abandoned town where old buildings have lain to rot for decades. Once renowned as "the Appalachian Club" early in the 20th century, Elkmont played a major part in the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park itself.

The citizens of this town sold their property to the government for a lifetime lease, and a lot of those leases expired in the 90s and early 2000s, leaving all of the houses and buildings empty. Today, Elkmont Ghost Town stands as an eerie reminder of the past, and even though most of the structures are lined up for removal, guests in the area now can see something truly one of a kind.


Extraordinary Things to See in the Smoky Mountains

7. Forbidden Caverns

The Forbidden Caverns, underneath the English Mountain in the eastern part of the Great Smoky Mountain, are not so forbidden like the name suggests. Numbered among more than 8,000 caves in Tennessee, the Forbidden Caves are open for people who want to see the stunning underground caves lit up with colorful and eerie lights.

Over the years, these caverns have been used as a shield from extreme weather, as the site of illegal moonshine stills during Prohibition, and now as a famous tourist attraction. Forbidden Caves houses some beautiful rock formations, quiet pools of water, a cold, clear stream, and a huge wall of cave onyx.


Free Things to See in Smoky Mountains

8. Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Great Smoky Mountain National Park is situated along the border between North Carolina and Tennessee and is the most famous national park in the US. Covering over 800 square miles of forest, rocky ridges, mountains, rivers, and more, Great Smoky Mountain National Park is popular for the diversity of nature found within it.

Visitors can drive, hike, and explore the park to reach the peaks of mountains, awe at the gorgeous waterfalls, or learn a bit about history from the structures on the property. Great Smoky Mountain National Park is gorgeous in any season and houses many spectacular spots for hiking, horseback riding, or biking including the Charlies Bunion, Alum Cave Bluffs, and Rainbow Falls.


Refreshing Things to See in Smoky Mountains

9. Grotto Falls

Grotto Falls is reachable via the Trillium Gap Trail, the start of which is located on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. On the almost 3-mile round trip, which is of moderate difficulty, hikers will hike through old hemlock forests in a tranquil atmosphere until they reach the falls.

The hiking trail leads directly behind the cascading water of Grotto Falls, providing a unique and stunning point of view for visitors, and the 25-foot-tall waterfall is a refreshingly cool and beautiful destination. For everyone’s safety, though, climbing on the rocks along the waterfall is forbidden as these rocks can get incredibly slimy and slippery.


Scenic Things to See in Smoky Mountains

10. Little River Road

Little River Road

Little River Road, situated between Gatlinburg and Townsend in Tennessee, provides a relaxing and picturesque drive along the Little River. More than 18 miles, Little River Road has a lot of overlooking sights and picnic areas, and is an awesome way to reach some trailheads like Laurel Falls or Cades Cove, where the road ends.

Seven signposted areas are along the road to direct points of interest for drivers, including waterfalls, trailheads, and picnic areas. This gorgeous drive is a great way to take in some lovely view, go for a picnic, or begin a wonderful hike.


Cultural Things to See in Smoky Mountains

11. Mountain Farm Museum

The Mountain Farm Museum celebrates some of the homes and buildings built by pioneers during the early 19th century. A lot of the structures were relocated to the museum during the 1950s, but the barn, built sometime in 1880, still stands on its original location.

The alfresco museum includes an old rustic log cabin constructed in around 1900, an icehouse utilized for refrigeration, a blacksmith shop, and two corn cribs, among other things. At the farm, guests can explore the buildings and learn about each of their individual stories for a glimpse at life and culture on a 19th-century farm in the mountains.


Historical Things to See in Smoky Mountains

12. Oconaluftee Indian Village

Cherokee, North Carolina, is a town situated in the Eastern Cherokee Reservation. Within the town is the Oconaluftee Indian Village, where visitors will be brought back to the 18th century to see life as the Cherokee tribe once lived it.

With the help of a tour guide, guests will follow through the paths of the village across dwellings, ritual areas, and more while learning more about the traditions and culture of the Cherokee tribe. Guests can watch traditional dances, see villagers engage in age-old crafts such as basket weaving and canoe-making, and witness an actual blowgun demonstration.

The Oconaluftee Indian Village is open Mondays through Saturdays from April until November.


Thrilling Things to Do in Smoky Mountains

13. Ramsey Cascades

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is full of stunning cascading waterfalls, the tallest of which is Ramsey Cascades, which has a drop of more than 100 feet.

The waterfall is reachable via a hike along the Ramsay Cascades Trail, which starts atg the Greenbrier area and stretches for about 4 miles each way. On the hike, the elevation level increases by more than 2,000 feet, over rivers and through forests along a tough trail that is recommended for seasoned hikers in good physical condition only.

All the difficulty is rewarded, though, in the end by the panoramic view of the falls, which pool at the bottom full of huge rocks and salamanders.


Incredible Things to See in Smoky Mountains

14. Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies was recognized as the Best Aquarium in the US by USA Today, and it’s pretty easy to see why. With everything from stingrays, to penguins, to sharks, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies offers a diverse array of aquatic life for guests to enjoy, and its educational, lively, and fun live shows are the perfect way for guests to learn about marine biology and enjoy some incredible sights.

In the aquarium, guests can clearly see 12-foot-long sharks through the glass bottom of a boat, make a masterpiece with the help of an African penguin, or watch energetic mermaids in an underwater show.


Things to See with the Kids in Smoky Mountains

15. Seven Islands State Birding Park

Seven Islands State Birding Park is situated just a quick drive from Knoxville and houses more than 200 unique species of birds.

Seven Islands State Birding Park is located on a peninsula along the French Broad River, and inside the park are over 8 miles of trails where visitors can relax, hike, and observe diverse variety wildlife and beautiful sceneries of the mountains.

Guests can explore the trails, kayak on the river, and try to spot the birds of prey, songbirds, and barn owls who frequent the area and live in the park.


Things to Do with the Kids in Smoky Mountains

16. Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster

With a track that is more than a mile long, the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster is the longest of its kind in the United States.

Guests will hop into a sled, which can carry up to two passengers and advances downhill on a picturesque and fast-paced track across the Smoky Mountains and the nearby areas. The passengers can control the speed of their own sleds, which can move up to about 30 mph through twists, slopes, and turns for an unforgettable experience.

The Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster is open all year long, in sun, rain, or snow.


Educational Things to Do with the Family in Smoky Mountain

17. Smoky Mountain Deer Farm and Exotic Petting Zoo

Smoky Mountain Deer Farm and Exotic Petting Zoo

Smoky Mountain Deer Farm is a fun and educational family-friendly destination that lets visitors get up close with not only deer, but also animals like zebras, camels, otters, and even reindeer among many more. At Smoky Mountain Deer Farm, visitors can learn about many various species of exotic animals while getting a face-to-face experience.

The zoo also houses Deer Farm Riding Stables, where visitors, especially kids, can take a riding lesson or a pony ride, or lead out on a guided trail that will offer them with some pretty stellar views of the Smoky Mountains.


Iconic Things to See in Smoky Mountains

18. Titanic Museum

The Titanic Museum in Tennessee is a one-of-a-kind experience that tells the story of the iconic doomed ocean liner and the lives that were lost on that unfortunate night in 1912.

Inside the museum, guests can get a glimpse of what it was like to explore the corridors and cabins of the great ship, with more than 400 artifacts on exhibit from the wreck and the passengers.

Titanic Museum offers guests the chance to feel firsthand the icy waters of the Atlantic that fateful night, touch an actual iceberg, and try to keep their footing on slippery decks that slant upward at the angle of the sinking ship in an experience that you can get nowhere else.


Gastronomic Things to Do in Smoky Mountains

19. Dine at Huck Finn’s

Huck Finn’s is a family-ran and operated restaurant in the heart of Pigeon Forge. They take pride in serving delicious food—especially amazing catfish, great prices, and wonderful service. If catfish is what you crave, you can enjoy all you can eat at Huck Finn’s.

Their eat all you can catfish and chicken is world famous. Just search for the hashtag #HereIsHuck on Instagram! They also offer a southern menu with country fried steak, frog legs, grilled chicken, shrimp and a lot more! Each meal is kicked off with unlimited ‘vittles.’ which is coleslaw, french fries or mashed potatoes, white beans, , hushpuppies, onion slices, and dill pickles.


Unique Things to See in Smoky Mountains

20. Tuckaleechee Caverns

The stalagmites and stalactites of the Tuckaleechee Caverns are situated in Townsend, Tennessee. They are over 20 million years old, with a cold and clear underground stream that runs through the wide chambers and the Big Room, which is over 400 feet across, with stalagmites that reach up to 24 feet tall.

There are over 8,000 caves in Tennessee, but the Tuckaleechee Caverns are the best rated of their kind in the eastern US. Visitors of the caverns can marvel at the Big Room as well as a double waterfall – Silver Falls – which has an almost 200-foot drop, on a mile-long guided tour of the caverns.


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