5 Fun-Fueled Ways to Splash in the Great Smoky Mountains

If you’re debating where to take your summer vacation, keep in mind that the Great Smoky Mountains offer the best of both land and water. Around every bend are stunning views of graceful peaks and serene forests — a much-needed contrast from your usual 360 of urban concrete and asphalt.

Yet, within the bosom of these smoky blue peaks, you’ll also find fresh, crisp mountain water. Aside from the thousands of creeks and tributaries wandering throughout the Great Smoky Mountains, there are three main rivers: the Little Pigeon River, Little River, and Pigeon River. These three giants afford a variety of splash-filled activities for both locals and visitors alike. Read on to discover a few of the best ways to splash your way across the Smokies during a fun-fueled travel adventure!

Whitewater Rafting

If you’re looking for action-packed fun in the water, set your sights for the Pigeon River, located in Hartford, TN. With its Class I through IV rapids surrounded by stunning mountainous scenery, it’s no wonder this river has become a top spot for whitewater rafting adventures.

Two of the most popular tour providers in the area are Rafting in the Smokies and Big Creek Expeditions. They both offer Upper and Lower section tours, as well as a full-day adventure covering both sections. Go for the Upper Pigeon River tours if you’re into intense Class III and chaotic Class IV rapids. Beginners and kids will find a gentler ride on the Lower Pigeon River tours, featuring Class I and II rapids.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a newbie to the sport, the Great Smoky Mountains makes whitewater rafting accessible and memorable for all.

River Tubing

River tubing can be thrilling, or it can be relaxing. An excellent activity for solo travelers, it can also provide opportunities to make new friends along the journey or to spend time with those you already love. It depends on what you want to get out of the experience!

To experience the best river tubing in the Smokies, head over to Townsend, TN, where Smoky Mountain River Rat maintains two tubing outposts. Outpost A is your threshold to calm rapids, perfect for families with small children or those who prefer a more laid-back approach. This route even features a rock jump and several places to swim and splash around. Outpost B, on the other hand, is for the more adventurous souls in your group. With larger rapids and a higher level of excitement, this route provides a thrilling experience for those who love a good adrenaline rush.

Swimming Holes

When the mountain rivers are crystal-clear and full of incredible wildlife sightings, it’s hard to pass up a chance to dip your feet and play a bit. An afternoon of splashing at a swimming hole is the locals’ favorite way to cool down and be immersed in the beauty of the region. Fortunately, you don’t need to break the bank to indulge in this experience as there are several swimming holes that are free and open to the public.

Take a dip in the Little Pigeon River at Greenbrier, where you’ll find ample parking, picnic spots, and easy access to the water. Alternatively, head over to The Sinks in Townsend, where you can swim in the safe and shallow area on the other side of the cascading falls. For those looking for a more relaxed experience, Metcalf Bottoms offers an ideal picnic area with access to the Little River for swimming and tubing.

Be advised that there are no lifeguards on duty at these swimming holes. Remember to wear coverings on your feet, bring plenty of drinking water, and pack a delicious BBQ picnic to make the most of your time.


With over 2,900 miles of streams to cast your line in, there’s no end to the amount of fishing you can do in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! Whether you’re an experienced angler or just starting out, you’ll find plenty of secluded spots to reel in trout or smallmouth bass.

One of the best places to fish is the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River, where you can find rainbow, brown, and brook trout, as well as smallmouth bass. This stream is easily accessible from the Pigeon Forge Riverwalk Greenway, as well as Highway 441 in Gatlinburg and various points within the National Park. The Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River in Greenbrier is also a great spot for fishing, with plenty of parking and picnic areas.

In order to fish in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll first need the proper permits and licenses. Be sure to purchase your fishing license from the Tennessee or North Carolina state governments, and follow the National Park Service’s possession limits of 5 trout and 20 rock bass total per day.

Waterfall Hikes

When you’re tired out from swimming and rafting and other glorious experiences in the water, there are still a couple of ways to enjoy the Smoky Mountain rivers without getting wet. Consider getting some exercise on a hike to a waterfall. While there are at least 150 official trails wandering throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, only a select few lead to significant water features. Here are three of our favorites:

• Ramsey Cascades, the tallest waterfall in the park, is a must-see after a rigorous 4-mile hike through old-growth forests.
• The picturesque Laurel Falls, named for the shrubs that line the trail, is a moderately difficult 2.6-mile hike full of rough and uneven sections.
• Don’t forget about Grotto Falls, a 25-foot waterfall worth the moderate 2.6-mile hike through the Hemlock forests.

In Conclusion

The rivers of Eastern Tennessee are natural water parks, creating endless possibilities for outdoor recreation. Are you up for a lazy float down the Little River? Perhaps an even lazier afternoon of fishing with your buddies in the Little Pigeon River? Or do you prefer the adrenaline rush of intense whitewater rafting on the Pigeon River?

No matter which cup of tea is yours, there’s no better way to beat the summer heat than by splashing in the refreshing waters of the Smokies. Plan your next summertime retreat in the Great Smoky Mountains, where the rejuvenating solitude and tranquility of the mountains meets splash-filled outdoor fun!

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