The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an outdoor paradise for people of all ages and abilities, whether you’re looking to climb a mountain or just want to take a leisurely stroll through the forest. It’s no surprise that it’s the most visited national park in the US with miles of trails, amusement parks, and attractions, as well as exceptional flora and fauna. Keep reading for the best 10 things to do in smoky mountains.
The Great Smoky Mountains and a portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains are both included in the park, which is tucked between Tennessee and North Carolina. Gatlinburg, Tennessee; Cherokee, North Carolina; and Townsend, Tennessee serve as its principal entry points. The area is well-known for its stunning views in the mist and its inspiring wildlife scenes.
An experience unlike any other can be had in the Smoky Mountains. Climb Clingmans Dome to get a bird’s-eye view of the park. Drive the motor nature trail or parkway during the fall to see some of the most stunning fall foliage in the nation. Visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, go camping, and take a ride on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.
1. Things to do in smoky mountains: Climb Clingmans Dome
Did you know that the Great Smoky Mountains are home to the third-highest mountain east of the Mississippi and the highest point in Tennessee? Clingmans Dome, which is 6,600 feet tall, is a magnificent summit with breathtaking mountain views. You could see up to 100 miles away on a clear day.
While it is possible to drive the seven miles to the summit, a steep half-mile trail leads to the actual summit, where there is also an observation tower. Despite being well-marked and paved, the trail is extremely steep. The difficult but short hike is made possible by the high altitude. There are many places where you can “pull off” and rest.
2. Newfound Gap
At Newfound Gap, traverse the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s lowest drivable pass. The road, which is 5,000 feet above sea level, passes by some of the park’s most breathtaking sights as it winds through the heart of the area. You will see a wide variety of shifting forests and unusual wildlife as you cross the border between Tennessee and North Carolina.
One of the most picturesque attractions in the park, if not the entire country, is Newfound Gap Road thanks to its breathtaking views. Stand at the Tennessee-North Carolina state line at the Newfound Gap parking area or stroll along the storied Appalachian Trail. Since the trail crosses Newfound Gap Road, exploration is simple.
3. Go Autumn Leaf-Peeping
Nothing compares to enjoying a gorgeous fall day in the Smoky Mountains! Leaf-peeping in the Smoky Mountains is unlike anywhere else as the weather cools and the once-green trees start to turn vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges. You’ll be taken aback by the vibrant scenery that envelops the rolling mountains.
The park’s trees come in so many different species that you’ll see them in a variety of hues, from bright scarlet and glowing orange to deep red and golden yellow. Plan ahead and get there early because the Smokies’ fall foliage is stunning and draws lots of tourists. When it’s in the 70s during the day and the 40s at night, you can see the most vibrant fall foliage.
4. Places to visit in smoky mountains: Cades Cove
Cades Cove, a large valley known for some of the best wildlife viewings in the region, is one of the most well-known locations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Discover white-tailed deer, black bears, turkeys, raccoons, and skunks by driving the cove’s 11-mile loop. You might be fortunate enough to come across a black bear or coyote!
Cades Cove offers more thrilling attractions than just wildlife. Some of the most beautiful views in the park can be found along the winding road. You’ll be in awe the entire time at the backdrop of the mountains and the rolling green hills. Historic structures from the early 19th century, such as churches, log homes, barns, and mills, invite visitors to relive the time when the region was settled by Europeans.
5. Explore the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is one of the many scenic and lovely drives found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This six-mile loop, which is one way, passes by luxuriant forests, gurgling mountain streams, and old structures like grist mills. This trail is a must-visit location because of the log buildings and unforgettable natural beauty.
Stop and stroll through the Noah “Bud” Ogle nature trail before beginning the trail. The path leads you through a farmstead in the mountains tucked away in a hardwood forest. Rainbow Falls, the park’s most well-known waterfall, and the five-mile trail leading there are just beyond that. Roaring Fork can be as long or as short as you like, whether you’re looking for a quick drive or hours of exploration.
6. Things to do in smoky mountains: Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Away from Gatlinburg, the Smoky Mountains are home to bears, mountains, and thrilling attractions. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is a must-see when you’re in the area. More than 100,000 exotic ocean species call it home, making it one of the best aquariums in the country. Discover a variety of marine life while exploring, including jellyfish, barracudas, and colorful fish.
You can walk through a 340-foot underwater tunnel, one of the longest in the world, and encounter sharks, stingrays, turtles, and other marine life there. As you enter the tunnel, keep to the moving path that is there to direct you. The Gatlinburg aquarium features a maze of kid-friendly tunnels as well as a penguin exhibit where little ones can investigate alongside adults.
7. Things to do in smoky mountains: Foothills Parkway
The most picturesque areas of the Smoky Mountains can be seen along the 72-mile Foothills Parkway, a national parkway with a rich history and picturesque landscape. The parkway’s construction started in 1944 and hasn’t been finished since. Several miles of the roadway, which offer fantastic views of the Smoky Mountains, are open for exploration even though it’s expected to take another 20 years.
Visitors are welcome on the Foothills Parkway’s southern end. It provides some of the best views of the Tennessee Valley and the Smoky Mountains. You can see more than 50 miles to the Cumberland Mountains on the clearest days, which is an amazing sight. The Great Smoky Mountain Loop, a 150-mile loop that takes drivers on a daylong journey, includes the parkway.
8. Grotto Falls Trail
Add Grotto Falls Trail to your list if you’re looking for a fantastic hike with unforgettable scenery. The 2.6-mile hike leads you past historic forests and toward stunning waterfalls. As you cross over streams and walk through the woods in the spring, wildflowers sprout up along the side of the path. Grotto Falls can be reached after a mile-long hike.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s cascading falls is home to the only waterfall that guests can walk behind, making it a year-round favorite. Grotto Falls, which is 25 feet high, is a lovely, shady place to unwind and take in the splendor of the Smoky Mountains. Watch out for slippery rocks as you explore the falls, especially in the winter.
9. Go Camping at the Park
Camping is not required for a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are many campgrounds where you can pitch a tent, roast some hot dogs, and roast some marshmallows. Book early because Cades Cove is one of the most popular places to pitch a tent. Several isolated areas are available at Cosby Campground in the middle of the mountains. It’s a fantastic location for fishermen or avid hikers.
You don’t need to make reservations weeks in advance because Abram’s Creek is a first-come, first-served campsite. The Deep Creek Campground is one of the best places to set up your car or RV if you’re car camping. Mountain biking trails and waterfalls are easily accessible in the area.
10. Visit Cataloochee
You can find this tranquil mountain valley far from the tourist crowds and the bustle of Gatlinburg. Before the park was created, a small mountain community called Cataloochee called this valley home.
Now you can stroll through the surviving old houses and structures and enjoy the serene mountain charm that once made this the perfect place to settle.
A herd of elk can also frequently be seen grazing in the valley’s pastures. In this serene area of the park, you can also see wild turkeys and a variety of other interesting wildlife.