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Destinations  •  October 19, 2022

The Top 35 Things To Do in the Smoky Mountains Year Round

Danielle Vito
Danielle Vito

As Senior Social Media Manager, Danielle manages AvantStay's social media platforms and writes content for the Atlas blog. Previously, Danielle was the Social Media Producer at The Points Guy where she ran TPG's Instagram and wrote articles on the most social media-worthy destinations, and tips on hacking your travels by using credit cards.

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Explore Smoky Mountains

Are you looking for things to do in the Smoky Mountains? We’ve put together a round-up of the top activities in the area.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, not far from Knoxville and Asheville. There are fun activities both in the national park and nearby towns.

Whether you’re an outdoorsy person who loves hiking or you would rather cozy up in a mountain cabin with a cup of hot chocolate, there is something for everyone. Get adventurous on a rollercoaster ride, see historic structures, or have fun at a casino.

We’ll discuss the top things to do in the Smoky Mountains for every season. No matter what time of year you visit, you can have an unforgettable experience. Read on to discover the best things to do in the Smoky Mountains today!

Hit the trails in the spring

There’s nothing like springtime in the Smoky Mountains. Rhododendrons, mountain laurels, and wildflowers are in full bloom, and the temperatures rise to the mid-60s and higher.

If you visit the mountains in early spring, you might be able to hit the ski slopes. However, for the most part, the snowy weather will be gone by March.

Spring is a perfect time for outdoor activities like hiking, and we’ll discuss the best trails to check out. Also, consider visiting open-air historic sites.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Take a drive on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a winding road that snakes through the Smoky Mountains. It’s a one-way loop road that extends for five miles, and you can enjoy some of the most scenic drives in the mountains.

It takes about an hour to drive through Roaring Fork, but there are many things to do along the way. Stop at the Visitor’s Center at the head of the motor trail to pick up a guidebook.

You can park and hike along sunny trails or check out waterfalls and historic buildings. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is one of the top-recommended activities in the area, and it’s an experience you won’t want to miss.

Chimney Tops Trail

Hike Chimney Tops Trail in the spring to see rushing streams and beautiful mountain views. It’s just a few miles south of the Sugarlands Visitor Center on the northern side of the mountain range.

Chimney Tops Trail is just a short drive from many of our top rental properties. Check out the four-bedroom Fontana or the Pine Needle house with a hot tub.

Abrams Falls

Abrams Falls is a hiking trail area near Mill Creek. Take a five-mile hike to see the 20-foot waterfall named for a famous Cherokee chief.

The stunning pine tree forest is full of blooming rhododendrons in the spring, and you can take a leisurely walk through the nature preserve. It’s a moderately challenging hike, and you might need prior experience before embarking on this trail.

Tricorner Loop Trail

Consider the Tricorner Loop Trail if you’re a fan of backpacking. It stretches over 31 miles and offers spectacular views of the Smoky Mountain Range.

Head to the Big Creek campground to find the Tricorner Loop trailhead. While you can hike it during any season, we recommend visiting in the spring when temperatures are mild.

Horseback Riding

You can go horseback riding in the Smoky Mountains starting in mid-March. There are four stables in different park areas, and you can take a short ride or go out for the afternoon.

Check the schedule to see if a ranger-led tour is coming up or ride with a local guide. You can also book carriage and wagon rides through the park.

Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls is one of the longest paved trails in the Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s ideal for adventurous hikers, and you can trek the entire trail in about two hours.

Some steeper sections can get slippery, so avoid the trail during spring showers. The waterfall at the end of the hike features a wooden bridge perfect for an Instagram photo opportunity.

Mt. Leconte

Mt. Leconte is the third-highest point in Tennessee and one of the best places for spring hiking. It’s in the Blue Ridge Mountain range of Smoky Mountains National Park, and you can enjoy waterfalls, overlooks, and local wildlife. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a llama!

Grotto Falls

Head to Grotto Falls for a peaceful spring hike. The waterfall is over 25 feet high, and the environment is home to an abundance of wildlife, including salamanders.

You can access the waterfall through the Trillium trail system, which takes you on a three-mile scenic journey past rushing mountain streams. The hiking trails wind through rocky pathways and a beautiful hemlock forest.

Oconaluftee Indian Village

Oconaluftee Indian Village is a living museum in Cherokee, North Carolina. It’s on the southeast border of the Smoky Mountains, and the outdoor museum is ideal for a warm spring day.

The location is a historical replica of a Cherokee community dating back to the 18th century. The Cherokee Historical Association runs the museum, and you can learn about the daily life and customs of the Cherokee people.

Guided tours start every 15 minutes, so grab a spot and explore the facilities. Check the schedule to see if a dance or other event is happening soon.

Andrews Bald

Don’t miss Andrews Bald, a scenic grassy clearing named after a cattle herder in the 19th century. You can access it via Forney Ridge Trail, a short hike near the Clingmans Dome parking lot. It’s a year-round trail, but we recommend visiting in the spring to see the Innocence wildflowers bloom.

Near the end of spring, watch for blackberries and raspberries along the trail. There’s an elevation change of 1,200 feet to get to Andrews Bald, so bring plenty of water to hydrate yourself.

Get adventurous in the summer

Are you looking for a summer getaway? The summer is the height of the tourist season in the Smoky Mountains. There’s a massive number of things to do, from theme parks to water sports, and you might feel overwhelmed. 

Fortunately, we are here to help. We’ll go over the best summer activities in the Smoky Mountains, including outdoorsy excursions in the park, exciting roller coasters, and local sightseeing.

There’s something fun to do no matter where in the mountain range your accommodation is. Get in touch with local wildlife at the petting zoo, hit the rapids in an inner tube, or take a cave tour if it’s hot outside.

Dollywood

A trip to the Smoky Mountains wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Dollywood, a theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Owned by the legendary country music artist Dolly Parton, Dollywood is an Appalachian-themed attraction with rides, water slides, and gift shops.

Dollywood is an essential trip for any Dolly Parton fan, and you can learn about her life and legacy at the Chasing Rainbows Museum. Listen to live country music at night or walk through Dolly’s Country Home attraction.

Even if you aren’t familiar with Parton’s music, you can enjoy the roller coasters and the Wild Eagle, a 135-foot drop. End your day with American cuisine from Red’s Drive-In.

Seven Islands State Birding Park

Head to the great outdoors and explore Seven Islands State Birding Park in Kodak, Tennessee. It’s just north of the Smoky Mountains, not far from Knoxville.

The park is ideal for summer fun. Hike, ride a bike, fish in the river, or look out for protected wildlife like barn owls, waterfowl, and hawks. Seven Islands borders the French Broad River, where you can kayak or canoe in the summertime.

Ober Gatlinburg

Ober Gatlinburg is an amusement park next to the Smoky Mountain range’s north border. It’s full of adventurous rides and attractions, but there are quieter activities like mini golf if that’s more up your alley. 

Ride the roller coaster and try your hand at the rock climbing wall. You can beat the summer heat at the waterslide or grab a bite to eat at the Ober Loft Lounge.

Dollywood’s Splash Country

Dolly Parton owns multiple theme parks in the Smoky Mountains area, but Dollywood’s Splash Country is one of our top picks for local summer activities. It’s a great way to cool down on a hot Tennessee day, and the water rides are fun for families or groups of friends.

Head to Pigeon Forge to visit this 35-acre splash park and ride the Mountain Scream Slide and Raging River Rapids inner tubing. The attraction is open from May to September, and you can book tickets in advance.

Clingman’s Dome

Clingman’s Dome is a mountain peak in the North Carolina area of the Smoky Mountains. It’s the highest point in the Smoky Mountains range, and the 360° views of the park are spectacular. 

The paved trail system is only open in the summer and fall, so schedule a hike before the season ends. There’s also an observation tower perfect for watching summer meteor showers.

Whitewater Rafting

Go whitewater rafting on the Pigeon River for a fun summer activity. You can rent a raft from March to October, and the nearly seven-mile path includes 70 rapids.

A certified guide will take you upstream, and you’ll have a thrilling experience on the rapids. We recommend booking a reservation and scheduling around two hours for a raft trip.

Rainbow Falls Trail

The Rainbow Falls Trail is a winding forest trail that leads you to an astounding 80-foot waterfall. It’s in the Roaring Fork area, about five miles from Gatlinburg. If you’re interested in Gatlinburg rentals, consider our Ashberry property which sleeps ten people, or our Sugar Cove log cabin.

We recommend visiting during the summer to catch a glimpse of a rainbow. The light streams through the waterfall on sunny days, creating a shimmering rainbow effect.

Smoky Mountain Deer Farm and Exotic Petting Zoo

The Smoky Mountain Deer Farm and Exotic Petting Zoo are in Sevierville, just north of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can book a summer trail ride on a horse or pony, watch wildlife, or visit cute animals at the petting zoo. 

The farm and zoo encompass over 140 acres of natural beauty, and the institution has been around for nearly four decades. 

This spot is good summer fun for the whole family. Kids even receive discount tickets!

Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster

Bring some adrenaline to your trip and ride the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster. With one mile of track, it claims the title of the longest downhill ride in the United States.

This one-of-a-kind ride allows you to control the speed, making the roller coaster thrilling to experience. The attraction is in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, north of the Smoky Mountains.

Forbidden Caverns

Although it varies by area, summer in the Smoky Mountains can be hot. Skip the heat and cool off at a below-ground cave tour at Forbidden Caverns.

Forbidden Caverns is in the Sevierville area, just off Blowing Cave Rd. Descend into the cave and tour the tunnels, with handrails and lighting, for an incredible experience. 

You can book a guided tour and check out the underground river and ancient cave formations. It closes during the cold season, so catch this attraction in the warmer months.

Kayaking

Kayaking on a clear day in the Smoky Mountains is an unbeatable experience. There are dozens of lake and river spots great for kayaking, but we recommend the Little Tennessee River in Maryville.

You can book a kayak from one of the local rental agencies and spend the afternoon paddling peacefully through the river. Stop by the Citico Recreation Area to enjoy lunch by the waterfront.

Find spooky fall attractions.

Spend your fall vacation in the beautiful Smoky Mountains enjoying the fall foliage and fresh mountain air. The leaves change into brilliant fall colors, the temperature drops, and the peak tourist season levels off, making it an ideal time for a weekend getaway.

You can check out one of the campsites at the national park or go sightseeing in a nearby town and enjoy the crisp fall weather. Keep an eye out for black bears, as they’ll be venturing out to stuff themselves to prepare for winter!

Fall can be a spooky time of year, and nowhere more so than in the Smoky Mountains, legendary for its eerie natural fog. We’ve selected some creepy-themed activities and other ways to enjoy fall in the Smoky Mountains.

Elkmont Ghost Town

Fall is the perfect time to visit Elkmont Ghost Town. The cooler temperatures are ideal for a long walk around the once-inhabited buildings.

In the early 20th century, Elkmont, formally known as Little River, was a weekend getaway destination for wealthy Tennessean families. When the National Park Service annexed the area, the buildings were left to deteriorate. Today, there’s now an eerie ghost town of both abandoned and restored historic houses. 

Cades Cove

October and November are the best months for visiting Cades Cove. The fall foliage will be in full swing, and you can see some of the best wildlife sightings in the area.

Cades Cove Loop Road, an 11-mile stretch of paved road, encircles the cove. You can take a beautiful self-guided tour and enjoy the orange and red trees by driving the route or exploring it on foot on certain days. Take a hayride on a chilly fall afternoon and experience guided commentary from the NPS.

Newfound Gap Road

Newfound Gap Road runs right through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and it’s one of the easiest ways to experience the park. The trees are brilliant red and orange colors during the fall, making this drive one of the prettiest in the region.

Morristown

Want to see the location of a real horror movie? Morristown was the filming spot for the iconic 1981 film Evil Dead, and it’s a perfect place to visit in the fall months.

The cabin used in the film sits right in the woods near the Smoky Mountains, and you can venture into the forest to see its remains. Consider staying at one of our nearby properties, like Bluestem.

Mingus Mill

Mingus Mill is a historic grist mill built in Cherokee, Tennessee, in 1886. Parts of the machinery are still functional, and you can see the water turbine at work on a guided tour. It’s open to visitors until the end of the fall season.

The mill is just a half-mile from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, so stop by for cultural exhibits, ranger programs, and a bookstore. The mill and visitor center is in the southern part of the Smoky Mountains National Park, near Newfoundland Gap Road and Cherokee, North Carolina.

Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is undoubtedly among the most famous attractions in the area, with over three million yearly visitors. It’s one of our top picks for fall because the weather is temperate, and there are fewer tourists than in the summer.

The trail cuts through the Smoky and Blue Ridge mountains, following the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Consider taking a weekend getaway to section-hike the Appalachian Trail or drive up to the trail entrance for a photo op. 

Nantahala National Forest

Don’t miss Nantahala National Forest in Bryson City, North Carolina, a pristine natural reserve with waterfalls, campsites, whitewater rafting, and horseback riding. Hike over 60 miles of trails and enjoy the fall colors of the National Forest!

Blue Ridge Parkway

Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway is a great fall activity. It’s a National Parkway with scenic views, and the road boasts attractions like Mount Mitchell, Linville Gorge, and New River, the oldest river in North America. The parkway ends in Cherokee, North Carolina, near the Smoky Mountains.

See the snowy mountains in the winter

Winter is the offseason in the Smoky Mountains, but there’s still plenty to do. Curl up with a cup of hot chocolate at a hotel, learn about local culture at a heritage center, or check out a museum.

The Smoky Mountains have plenty to offer if you’re a winter sports lover. It’s just a few minutes round trip between the park and the ski areas, and you’ll be acing the slopes in no time.

The National Park is beautiful in the winter, from the snow-capped mountains to the slow flurries gracing the spruce firs. Spend your winter break in the Smoky Mountains, and you won’t be disappointed!

Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino

Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino is an upscale resort in Cherokee, North Carolina, off US Route 19. It’s just a 20-minute round trip from the Smoky Mountains, so you can retreat to the casino and play a round if it gets cold. Enjoy top restaurants, live music performances, and designer shopping while the snow falls outside. 

Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center

The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center is a fantastic way to learn about the local area without venturing outside. It’s in Townsend, Tennessee, right next to the entrance to the Smoky Mountains.

The galleries and exhibits range from Cherokee history to regional cooking practices. Visit for a concert or festival, see ancient pottery on display, and learn about the traditions of Townsend and Cades Cove.

The Mountain Farm Museum

The Mountain Farm Museum is near the southern border of the Rocky Mountains, not far from the town of Cherokee, North Carolina. It’s a collection of historic farm buildings dating back to the 19th century.

The Davis House is a log cabin made entirely from now-extinct American chestnut wood, and you can also see a working blacksmith shop with authentic tools. Learn about daily life in the 1800s and visit an apple house, barn, and log farmhouse. You can take a self-guided tour or see a demonstration of historic gardening or livestock practices.

Cataloochee Ski Area

Cataloochee Ski Area sits at 5,400 feet near the Maggie Valley area in North Carolina. The ski season peaks from mid-December to the end of February, so schedule your ski trip to coincide with the heavy snow. Cataloochee Ski Area also has snow-making machines to ensure your vacation is perfect if the winter is mild.

Sugarlands Visitor Center

Sugarlands Visitor Center is on the north side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s a few minutes from Gatlinburg, on the Tennessee side of the mountain range.

The center is the perfect place to introduce yourself to the national park. Stop by for information about the area, and find out what local plants and wildlife you can see in the winter.

There are natural history exhibits to explore and programs led by the NPS park rangers. They offer special winter hours, so check the schedule before going.

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

Don’t miss Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, the perfect activity for a snowy winter day. It’s on River Road in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, on the north border of the Smoky Mountains. 

The massive aquarium contains more than 10,000 sea creatures in ten different galleries. Book your tickets and step into the fascinating world of sea life!

Each gallery has a theme, like the Penguin Playhouse, the Shark Lagoon, and Stingray Bay. Stop by for a live show like the daily penguin feedings or a lecture on coral life.

Wrapping up

The Smoky Mountains comprise some of the most beautiful territories in the southern United States. From sprawling pine forests to snow-capped mountains, the natural beauty of the mountain range is unparalleled. 

Explore wildflower-covered hiking trails in the spring, and feel your heart race as you fly down rollercoasters and waterslides in the summer. The Smoky Mountains turn red and gold colors in the fall, perfect for a hayride or drive, and the winter is ideal for skiing or touring museums. 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park has attracted visitors for nearly a century. The picturesque scenery, historical structures, theme park attractions, and outdoor activities make it the ideal place for a vacation.

Danielle Vito
Danielle Vito

As Senior Social Media Manager, Danielle manages AvantStay's social media platforms and writes content for the Atlas blog. Previously, Danielle was the Social Media Producer at The Points Guy where she ran TPG's Instagram and wrote articles on the most social media-worthy destinations, and tips on hacking your travels by using credit cards.

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