Nestled between Tennessee and North Carolina, the Smokies are a subdivision of the Appalachian Mountains. Although the national park takes up most of the area, the surrounding towns offer plenty to see and do for visitors of all ages.
While it is best to visit the Smokies in the summer or autumn, almost anytime is a good time to visit. Do note that the activities available will change with the season, so be sure to plan accordingly!
Here are my recommendations for the top things to do in the Smoky Mountains.
Take a Mountain Tour
You might think it’s obvious to take a mountain tour when you’re in the mountains, but a surprising number of people don’t even know they exist. Tour buses will drive you high into the mountains, which is perfect for those who many not have a rental car or confidence driving on those scary, winding mountain roads.
Apart from being treated with some amazing views, you’ll also be able to learn about mountain life and the people who once called these mountains home.
Visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
A trip to the Smoky Mountains isn’t complete without visiting the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. This park is the most visited National Park in all of the US and a UNESCO Heritage Site.
Inside the park there are a number of historical sites, although the most well-preserved is probably Cades Cove, which is why it’s the single most frequented destination in the park. At Cades Cove you’ll find plenty of log cabins, churches and other buildings that give insight to old life in the Appalachian Mountains.
Hike the Appalachian Trail
Running from Georgia to Maine, the Appalachian Trail is one of the most famous hiking trails in the US. While you might not want to hike the full 2,200 miles, you can at least spend the day hiking through the Smoky Mountain section of the hike, which is also the highest point of the trail.
Paths are well-marked for hikers, with many rest facilities along the way. Just make sure to pack plenty of water and snacks, as there will be nowhere to stock up within the park.
Enjoy Ridiculous Tourist Traps
Neighboring towns Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are filled with fun, but kitschy tourist activities. There are various Ripley’s attractions such as the Believe It or Not Museum or Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze, and plenty of local souvenir shops.
From zip-lining to Dolly Parton’s Dollywood, the Smoky Mountain is filled with ridiculous, touristy fun.
Brave some Rapids
Although there are a few rivers that allow white water rafting in the Smoky Mountains, the most exhilarating option is the Pigeon River. Divided into the Upper Pigeon River and Lower Pigeon River, most trips run for a total of 6 miles through over 60 continuous class III and class IV rapids.
The scenery you pass through is beautiful, giving riders unique views of the National Park, as well as the Cherokee National Forest.
Visit a Local Winery
When most people think of Tennessee and alcohol, they probably think whisky or moonshine. However, the Smoky Mountain is also home to multiple wineries.
Known as the Rocky Top Wine Trail, you’ll be taken through five different wineries, which all offer complimentary tours and wine tastings daily. And if you visit during the fall, you’ll be able to watch them crush grapes as well!
Spend the day Fishing
The Smoky Mountains has over 2,000 miles of streams, which makes it the perfect destination for fishing enthusiasts. The area is home to one of the most diverse fishing locales in the world; stocked full of trout, bass, and muskie, amongst other fish species.
From fly fishing to traditional water fishing, you’ll find it all here in the Smokies.
Take in a Mountain Sunset
The Smoky Mountains have amazing sunsets, so make sure to schedule some time to enjoy them. As the orange color spreads across the sky, cool blue hues are cast amongst the mountains, making it very picturesque.
While there are many particular vantage points that remain popular with visitors, good views of the sunsets can be seen from pretty much anywhere. So make sure you take some time to just relax and enjoy nature at its finest– it’s an experience you won’t soon forget!