The Smoky Mountains region of Tennessee offers quite literally more wonderful things to do than any family can hope to manage in one vacation stay. Even after decades of visiting, people continually discover the wonders that they never knew existed. It becomes a public service, then, to offer some of these insider highlights of the things to do in the Smoky Mountains.
Things to do in the Smoky Mountains
This sounds like common sense but, as stated, there’s so much to do in this part of the world that plenty of people come here and barely set foot on the mountain. But, even if you’re not big on the great outdoors, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has plenty of easy hikes with big payoffs. The park has over 800 miles of trails that lead to picturesque waterfalls, stunning overlooks, and natural caves – and some of them are quite easy.
There are also several scenic drives throughout the park that allow families with small children or members with limited mobility enjoy the Smokies from the comfort of their car. The scenic, one-way, five-and-a-half mile Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, for example, starts with a 3,000-foot climb to the Piney Mountain overlook and ends with a five-thousand-foot descent from Mt LeConte to the Little Pigeon River. And the immensely popular 11-mile Cades Cove driving loop has many stops along the way where you can take easy walks and hikes, picnic, and explore the high concentration of historic buildings.
Stay in a Luxury Cabin
In the Great Smoky Mountains, even the accommodations get into the act. While the words luxury and rustic usually don’t go together, Pigeon Forge Rental Cabins offer the experience of mountain living combined with the pleasure of modern comfort and conveniences. Most cabins come with full kitchens, fireplaces, game rooms, multiple televisions, and covered decks with hot tubs and rocking chairs – and usually great views of the majestic Smoky Mountains.
A hotel room often makes sense on a trip, but not to the Smoky Mountains. With one of the thousands of rental cabins in the area, you’ll have plenty of room for family fun and enough space for everyone to enjoy some quiet time when they need it.
Visit Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge
The small towns of Gatlinburg and nearby Pigeon Forge cater to visitors, especially families. They both offer plenty of dining, shopping, wild attractions, and nightlife – all suitable for all ages. Gatlinburg is more compact and a bit easier to walk around than Pigeon Forge, which is a little more spread out. If you’re staying in either town, a well-run trolley connects the two together, along with a portion of the national park, and nearby Dollywood.
Speaking of Dolly, Pigeon Forge includes the ultimate dinner theater experience – “Dolly Parton’s Stampede – the Wildest Show in Pigeon Forge,” along with a variety of other dinner theaters, magic shows, fairs, conventions, and events. Between the towns, you’ll find many mini-golf venues, go-kart tracks, arcades, and museums. Other area attractions include the nationally acclaimed Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, the Titanic Museum which features a Titanic replica, a parrot and exotic bird sanctuary, and several other wildlife encounters.
Gatlinburg also boasts one of the largest communities of independent artisans in the country. Along the eight-mile Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community Trail, located at the edge of Gatlinburg, you’ll find no shortage of pottery, leather goods, handcrafted jewelry, ceramics, and a wide variety of other handmade items.
Spend a day at the Amusement Parks
Over a hundred different rides, live entertainment, and a musical theme make Dollywood one of the most popular theme parks in the country. With dozens of rides and attractions for small children, several heart-stopping coasters, and year-round concerts and dinner shows, Dollywood offers families the perfect amusement park experience.
Dollywood also has thirty-five acres of water rides at their water-park – Dollywood’s Splash Country. The Travel Channel recently named Splash Country as one of the best water parks in the United States. Splash Country has rides for all ages. The older kids, (and maybe even mom and dad), will love the heart-pounding excitement of RiverRush – Tennessee’s first and only water coaster. For the little ones, the slow-paced lazy-river Downbound Float Trip has many interactive children’s play areas along the loop.
The cities of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg play host to at least half a dozen great mountain coasters, as well as an Aerial Tramway, two chair lifts, a is a resort, indoor snow tubing, a sky-dive wind tunnel, and the nation’s longest sky bridge. Shopping is fun at quaint places such as The Village in Gatlinburg, while The Island in Pigeon Forge has rides, games, attractions, live music, over sixty retail and specialty shops, and lots of popular eateries.
At Anakeesta, a chair lift and enclosed gondola take you to the top of the mountain where there’s a food, a gift shop, and some great views of the Smokies. From there you can also zip line, ride a mountain coaster, or just relax and have a picnic. For more active fun, there is an abundance of tree-top adventures from zip lines to children’s tree-house play areas. Lower to the ground, there are horse-riding stables, whitewater rafting and lazy river tubing, and fishing in this water-blessed outdoor paradise.
If you go to the Smokies during the holidays, don’t forget to check out our winter wonderland guide!