The Gatlinburg, TN area offers endless opportunities for outdoor fun! Part of what makes the Smoky Mountains such an attraction is the incredible variety of outdoor activities available. Hundreds of miles of trails feature waterfalls, panoramic views, and hidden coves; rivers of all sizes and speeds are a rafter’s playground; massive labyrinthine caves promise adventure and discovery. Below are just a few of the Smokies’ best outdoors activities.
1. Admire the Views from Clingmans Dome
For the most breathtaking views in the Smokies, you can’t beat Clingmans Dome. At 6,643 feet, this observation tower is the highest point in the state of Tennessee and along the entire Appalachian Trail. On a clear day, visitors can see for over 100 miles. The paved walkway to Clingmans Dome is quite steep, but the breathtaking mountain vistas are totally worth the effort!
2. Go Whitewater Rafting on the Pigeon River
If you are a thrill seeker at heart, then there is no doubt you will love spending the day conquering the rapids during a whitewater rafting adventure in the Smoky Mountains. This is where you and your family or group are taken out on the river by an experienced guide and given the opportunity to see a side of the Smoky Mountains you have never seen before, from the comfort of an inflatable raft. The Pigeon River is the third most rafted river in the entire country! The Lower Pigeon River is popular with families, since it is relatively mild and features mostly Class 1 and Class 2 rapids, while the Upper Pigeon River is great for more adventurous rafters, as it includes mostly Class 3 and Class 4 rapids. Smoky Mountain Outdoors provides fun rafting tours of both the lower and upper sections of the river.
3. Take a Trail Ride
Horseback riding is another one of the best Smoky Mountain outdoor activities. Sugarlands Riding Stables offers scenic trail rides through the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Parks. No prior horseback riding experience is necessary, as all of the horses at Sugarlands are well trained and very familiar with the trails.
4. Explore Cades Cove
With over 2 million visitors a year, Cades Cove is easily one of the most popular Smoky Mountains activities. Here, not only can you and your family or group drive along the 11-mile Cades Cove loop road, you all can also choose to either walk or bike the roadway, especially when the National Park Service shuts down the roadway from automobile traffic to allow pedestrians to explore freely without worrying about cars rushing them. Cades Cove is quite possibly the most beautiful section of the national park. This gorgeous valley features spectacular mountain views, large open field fields, and numerous historic buildings from the 1800s. Cades Cove is famous for its wildlife viewing, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for black bears, wild turkey, white-tailed deer, and other critters. The valley’s 11 mile one-way loop road makes it easy to see all of the landmarks in Cades Cove.
5. Hike to Grotto Falls
Located about 1.3 miles into the Trillium Gap Trail, Grotto Falls is the only waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that you can walk behind. In addition to the stunning waterfall, the Trillium Gap Trail also offers hikers the chance to see a herd of llamas during their trek! These llamas deliver supplies to the top of Mt. LeConte and can be seen along the trail on most Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings.
6. Enjoy a Canopy Tour
A canopy tour is the perfect way to add some adventure to your vacation! Have you ever wanted to fly? Well, now is your chance with the next adventure on the list of our favorite Smoky Mountain activities, zip lining. Not only is this an incredible bonding experience for you and your family or group, it is also an incredible way to take in the scenic views of the Smoky Mountains while still adding a touch of adventure to your trip. Located across the street from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, CLIMB Works is home to 9 thrilling ziplines. When you go ziplining at CLIMB Works, your feet won’t touch the ground for 2 ½ hours.
7. Have a Picnic
Even if you’re not looking to do any exercise during your trip, you can still enjoy the region’s natural beauty with a scenic picnic.