Don't miss the breathtaking views along these best Smoky Mountains hiking trails!

50 Reasons You MUST Visit the Smoky Mountains During Your Lifetime

When you’re planning your vacation or even a short weekend getaway, it’s hard to figure out what destination to choose. There are so many places to visit, and where you go comes from a decision of timing, location, and budget.

Of course, we might be slightly biased, but we’d like to make a case for the Smoky Mountains. Even if you don’t make it to our corner of Eastern Tennessee right away, these 50 things to do in the Smoky Mountains should definitely be on your list.

Appalachian Mountains - Max Patch - North Carolina - Smoky Mountains Fall Hiking
Appalachian Mountains – Max Patch

A Spectacular Spectacle From Max Patch

It’s one of Western North Carolina’s most accessible and stunning views, with access to the famous Appalachian Trail. The more than 4,000-foot bald mountain offers excellent 360-degree views, so make sure to bring your camera.

A Stunning View From Mt. Cammerer

Be sure to climb this old stone fire lookout tower for one of the best vistas anywhere in the Smoky Mountains. This is a great 12-mile roundtrip hike that allows you to see picturesque mountainsides and valleys.

Savoring a Moonshine Tasting

No, it’s not illegal, and it’s actually something tasty that the locals proudly craft in various distilleries around Gatlinburg. Many distilleries offer free samples and plenty of flavors, so you can indulge before you buy some to take home.

Marveling at Synchronous Fireflies

Nature’s own summertime light spectacular takes place in Elkmont each year in early June. These fireflies light up a section of Smoky Mountains National Park that delights roughly 12,000 visitors who are chosen by lottery to see the show.

Hiking Up to Mt. LeConte

If you want a little bit of everything in your Smoky Mountains hike — geology, history, and a wow factor view — don’t miss this trek. This is a popular route, but don’t be turned off by that. You’ll see some amazing sites and may even make some new friends.

Smoky Mountain Moonshine - Franklin, Tennessee - Smokey Mountain Moonshine
Smoky Mountain Moonshine | photo via @barrelsandbrews

Visiting Clingman’s Dome

The highest point in the national park (6,643 feet) is one of the easiest views to appreciate from its towering observation platform. Viewing the Smokies from this height affords you fantastic panoramic views as well as magnificent splashes of color if you visit in the fall.

Seeing an Abundance of Wildlife

Visitors to the Smokies see over 200 species of birds, all kinds of woodland creatures, and yes, black bears. Whether you’re going for a hike or a scenic drive, you’ll get a chance to see some amazing creatures up close. Keep your distance, but make sure to take some pictures.

Being Surrounded by Amazing Fall Foliage

If you love seeing fall colors, few places are more beautiful in the fall than the Smokies. The astonishing spectrum of color rolling down the Smokies is truly a sight to behold, and there are so many great spots to see the majesty of the fall colors.

Zipping High Above the Smoky Mountains

Ready to soar nearly 500 feet over Dunn’s Creek? Take on this adrenaline-pumping activity. This zip line, the highest in the Smokies, is known as the Goliath, but there are several more ziplining spots in the Smokies worth checking out.

Fishing in a Smoky Mountain Stream

You just can’t beat angling for trout in one of the area’s countless waterways. In the Smokies, the chances of hooking into trout, bass, and other species are almost endless.

Fish in Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Fall in the Smoky Mountains
Fish in Great Smoky Mountains National Park | photo via John Coley

Fishing in the Smoky Mountain Trout Tournament

Fishing in Smoky Mountains streams is such a great way to pass the time, but if you really love to fish, the annual Smoky Mountain Trout Tournament is an awesome way to get in on the fishing.

Before the tournament, 10,000+ trout are released in streams across the Smokies, so there’s plenty out there for you to hook into.

Attending the Pigeon Forge Rod Run

Car shows are all the rage in the Smokies, and the annual Pigeon Forge Rod Run in April is the perfect event for die-hard fans of classic cars. If you have a classic car, bring it to the LeConte Center to be shown off.

Going to the Carolina Mountain Cheese Fest

If you can never get enough of cheese, then head to Asheville North Carolina in April for this celebration of all things cheese. There are plenty of samples (of course), but there are also cheese-making demonstrations, discussions, and so much more.

Experiencing White Water Rafting in the Smokies

Whether you’re planning a long vacation or just a day trip, experiencing white water rafting in the Smokies is something you won’t soon forget. There are several places in the Smokies where you can have the experience and go on a trip that aligns with your comfort level.

Doing A Bit of Everything at Cades Cove

This jewel of the national park features historical buildings, animals in their natural habitat, and plenty of hiking and biking. Everything you need for an unforgettable Smoky Mountains experience is here, so add it to the top of your travel list.

Cades Cove Loop Road - Cades Cove, Tennessee
Cades Cove Loop Road | photo via @walkthroughlava

Paying a Visit to Dollywood

The largest amusement park in the Smokies region offers thrill rides, attractions, and water slides. A trip to the Smokies isn’t complete without a visit to Dolly Parton’s wonderland, which has fun activities and events no matter when you visit.

Taking a Helicopter Tour or Hot Air Balloon Tour

Fly high above and take in the bird’s-eye view of the Smoky Mountains’ favorite landmarks. Whether you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure or the perfect romantic activity, there are many companies in the area that can take you on either tour.

Channeling Your Inner Cowboy on Horseback

Channel your inner cowboy the old-fashioned way to see the scenic local landscape. Cades Cove is a great place to go for a ride, but there are several great spots in the Smokies where you can enjoy the gentle place of riding.

Marveling at Magnificent Christmas Lights

If you want to get into the holiday spirit, winter is a great time to visit the Smokies. Few towns in Tennessee put on as impressive a light spectacle as Gatlinburg does with Winter Magic. Pigeon Forge’s light displays are great too and you can even find great Christmas displays in Sevierville.

Sipping Wine Along the Rocky Top Wine Trail

You just might think that you’re in the middle of Napa or Sonoma when you taste the varietals at these five wineries. This is the perfect way to enhance your romantic or weekend getaway.

Christmas at Dollywood - Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Christmas at Dollywood | photo via @bryankhalid

Seeing Well-Preserved Primitive Sites

Walk through pioneer-era history with the abundance of well-preserved buildings around the national park. The area around Cades Cove is a great place to see some of these primitive sites and get a sense of what life was like in simpler times.

Buying Handmade Arts and Crafts

With more than 120 artisans’ works on display and for sale, you’ll likely find a unique handcrafted treasure. There are several great crafts fairs in the Smokies during the year that bring together the very best local artisans.

Viewing Ramsey Cascades and Laurel Falls

Viewing waterfalls along the many Smoky Mountain hiking trails is the perfect way to enhance a day of exploration. The two premier waterfalls in the Smokies await you for picture-taking and awe-gazing.

Visiting the Salamander Capital of the World

Since the Smokies have a misty and humid climate, it’s the perfect climate for salamanders to thrive. Nearly three dozen species inhabit the park, so chances are that you’ll see a few of them.

Stopping for a Mouthwatering Meal

There’s plenty to see and do in the Smokies, and a great meal can be the perfect start or end to your day. No matter where you are, you can find a great Smoky Mountains restaurant to satisfy any appetite, whether you’re looking for a big, family-style meal or just something to munch on.

Rainbow Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Rainbow Falls | photo via Michael Hicks

Visiting an Amazing Apple Orchard

If you’re visiting the Smokies in the fall, then a stop at an apple orchard is a must. Carver’s Applehouse is the perfect spot to stop for doughnuts, cider, handmade gifts, and other fall goodies.

Having a Romantic Mountainside Picnic

A picnic is hard to beat where romance is concerned, and there’s no better backdrop for one than the Smokies. There are several spots you can go to enjoy a great view, a good time, and a good meal.

Hiking in the Smoky Mountains

Whether you are an avid hiker or have never done it before, the Smokies offer numerous trails to explore in varying degrees of difficulty. You can enjoy hiking any time of year, and the views you’ll have are unmatched.

Attending the Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival

If you love fall, you’ll need to head to Gatlinburg for this 12-week celebration. Check out downtown Gatlinburg’s excellent decorations and scarecrow displays. In short, it showcases all there is to love about the Smokies in the fall.

Getting Married in the Smokies

If you’ve been searching for the perfect wedding atmosphere and venue, the Smokies has you covered on both accounts. The mountains are within a day’s drive of more than half the United States, and the views are absolutely breathtaking.

Fall - Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Fall – Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Participating in the Gatlinburg River Raft Regatta

On the Fourth of July, one of the most fun things to do in Gatlinburg is the River Raft Regatta. Anything that floats is allowed in the contest, so you can try your luck with your own handmade boat.

Swimming in a Smoky Mountains Stream

After you’ve gone for a scenic Smoky Mountain hike or spent time fishing in a creek, there’s no better way to refresh than by going for a swim in a Smoky Mountains stream. There are many pull-offs in the national park, so you don’t have to go far.

Watching Baseball at a Tennesee Smokies Game

If you’re visiting the Smokies in the summer, you can travel to Kodak to indulge in America’s favorite pastime. Head to Smokies Stadium, where you can watch the Tennessee Smokies, the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. It’s fun and very affordable.

Enjoying Beer at Hops in the Hills

If you love craft beer and have wanted to see how it’s made, you’ll love Hops in the Hills in Maryville. There’s a Celebration of Fermentation, a craft brew crawl, and a Brew Festival, complete with beer and food samples.

Having Year-Round Fun at Ober Mountain

Ober Mountain is a fun tourist destination for visitors of all ages, and it’s not hard to see why. There are year-round activities from skiing to snow tubing to ice skating, and so much more. Heck, you can even just relax and enjoy a drink!

Ober Gatlinburg - Skiing - Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Ober Gatlinburg – Skiing | photo via @therealdjred

Checking Out the Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair and Fall Festival

The Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair comes to Gatlinburg twice a year and is an event not to miss. The fair features dozens of artists, artisans, and craftspeople, and it’s frequented by locals and visitors alike as one of the area’s best events.

Visting Anakeesta Theme Park

Located in the heart of downtown Gatlinburg, Anakeesta is an award-winning theme park with activities that visitors of all ages can enjoy. This park sits on 70 acres and is 600 feet above Gatlinburg, offering attractions like a skywalk, a roller coaster, gem mining, and more.

Golfing in the Smokies

Next to hiking, golfing may just be the perfect outdoor activity in the Smokies. There are many golf courses in Gatlinburg and the surrounding area. Whether you’re a weekend duffer or a dedicated golfer, there’s nothing quite like playing a round in the Smokies.

Taking a Polar Express Train Ride

“The Polar Express” is a modern holiday classic, and in the winter, visitors can travel to Bryson City to go on their own Polar Express train ride. The 75-minute ride includes a reading of the book, snacks, and ultimately, a trip to the North Pole.

Attending Gatlinburg’s Festival of Trees

Christmastime in the Smokies is a magical time, and one of the best ways to get into the holiday spirit is at Gatlinburg’s Festival of Trees. The elaborately decorated trees are so fun to see, and youngsters can get their picture taken with Santa.

Anakeesta - Gatlinburg, Tennessee - Fall in Gatlinburg
Anakeesta | photo via @adrift360

Celebrating New Year’s in the Smokies

How do you like to celebrate the new year? If you’re looking for a unique way to do it, travel to the Smokies. There are lots of good reasons to celebrate here, whether you want to watch fireworks, visit tourist attractions, or take in the mountain beauty.

Hanging Out at a Smoky Mountain Brewery

There’s nothing better after a day of exploring the Smokies than a cold brew. If you’re looking for some quality suds, there are many Smoky Mountain breweries where you can find cold beer, good food, and good vibes.

Spending Time in a Smoky Mountains Small Town

If you want to visit the Smokies but aren’t sure where to go, there are some great small towns worth visiting. Some of these might be crowded, but trust us, they have a lot of charm and great places to check out.

Enjoying the View at the Gatlinburg Space Needle

If you’re bumming around Gatlinburg, then you have to check out the Gatlinburg Space Needle. Take a ride to the top, and prepare to be wowed. You can get a 360-degree view of the Smokies from the observation deck, and it’s great for checking out fall foliage too.

Planning a Smoky Mountain Family Reunion

Take it from us, the Smoky Mountains are the perfect destination for a family reunion. Not only will you have plenty of activity options just a short drive away, but you’ll also make plenty of memories to last a lifetime.

Charlies Bunion - Gatlinburg, Tennessee - Hiking Trails
Charlies Bunion | photo via @miller.parker

Going on a Fun Couples Adventure

The towns around the Smoky Mountains are the perfect spots for couples to spend some time together, whether you want to go to a dinner theatre performance, plan a romantic night out, or go on a fun adventure. The possibilities really are endless.

Taking a Relaxing Bicycle Ride

Believe it or not, cycling is allowed in many spots around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is a great way to take in the sights and sounds of the Smokies. Hop on your bike, and traverse the Gatlinburg Trail or the Oconaluftee River.

Exploring the Wonders of Gregory’s Cave

There’s plenty to see and do around Cades Cove, but if you’re interested in caves, you must check out Gregory’s Cave. You can get there from the Cades Cove Loop near the John Oliver Cabin to see some fascinating formations.

Experiencing Oktoberfest at Ober Gatlinburg

If you’re in the Smoky Mountains in the fall, one of the best ways to enjoy the season is to attend Oktoberfest at Ober Gatlinburg. Here, you can enjoy beers in large steins, listen to Oompa music, and enjoy a German-inspired menu.

Celebrating Thanksgiving With Fireworks

If you’re lucky enough to spend Thanksgiving in the Smokies, you can take in a unique fireworks display after you’ve eaten. The Titanic Museum Attraction honors those aboard the famous ship and puts on a spectacular light display.

Biltmore Estate and Gardens - Asheville, North Carolina - Romantic Asheville
Biltmore Estate and Gardens | photo via

Start Planning Your Great Smoky Mountains Visit Today

No matter if you’re outdoors-y and love hiking, biking, and driving, or if you like shopping and checking out museums, the Great Smoky Mountains and the towns that surround them have something for everyone.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve never visited the Smokies or you’ve been here a dozen times, any of the activities listed above make great additions to your Smoky Mountains bucket list.

With these things to do in the Smoky Mountains, you’ll make the most of your time here and have unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experiences that will have you wanting to come back again and again.

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