When I was growing up my family and I vacationed in the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee area quite often. We took the requisite trips to Disney and the beach but our trips to the Great Smoky Mountains were always my favorites. We live about 2 1/2 hours away so it was an easy trip without a lot of time spent in the car. The area has changed so much from when I was growing up! But no matter how much the area changes there are always great things to do, and many of them FREE in the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area. From downhill skiing to whitewater rafting, and fishing to hiking there is always something to do in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Today I’m sharing with you 10 outdoor activities for you and your family while visiting the Great Smoky Mountains.
Outdoor Activities in the Great Smoky Mountains
1. Ober Gatlinburg
Ober Gatlinburg has so much to offer. In the winter you can visit Ober Gatlinburg for some great skiing experiences or ride the chair lift to the top of the mountain to enjoy the breathtaking views. If skiing is not your thing you can also trying snowtubing or ice skating. Ober Gatlinburg is not just a winter attraction! Visit in the summer and ride the chair lift halfway up the mountain and then slide your way back down on the Alpine Slide. If you need a break from the outdoor activities head inside and enjoy some delicious food at one of the indoor restaurants or cafes and take some time to check out some of the shops that Ober Gatlinburg has to offer. Before you head back down the mountain on the Aerial Tramway, be sure to visit the Wildlife Encounter!
Rafting in the Smokies has been helping tourists experience the Pigeon River since 1978. You can choose the White Water Rafting Experience where a professional river guide will escort you down 5 miles of lively rapids with nicknames such as Too Late, Razor Blade, and Lost Guide. The upper section of the Pigeon River boasts 12 Class III and 3 Class IV whitewater rapids, guaranteed to thrill! If you are looking for a calmer river experience you may want to choose the Family Float Rafting experience where you can float down the lower section of the Pigeon River which offers calm Class I and Class II rapids with one Class III rapid at the end of the trip. The Family Float Rafting trip is open to individuals age 3 and up.
3. Cades Cove
Cades Cove is the most visited area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This 6,800-acre valley is known for its beautiful landscapes. The best way to experience Cades Cove is through the Cades Cove Loop Road which is an 11 mile, one way paved loop road.
I love taking the Cades Cove Loop Road because you are almost guaranteed to see wildlife up close. In my many visits along the road I have seen deer within arms reach, black bear cubs playing in the field, and foxes hiding in the woods. Along the road be sure to pull off at one of the many buildings along the way. You can get out of the car and explore the old churches and cabins along the way. You can also explore some of the many trails in Cades Cove such as the trail to Abrams Falls, a beautiful waterfall with a 20 foot drop to a pool and creak below. If you prefer to avoid the car and experience the Cades Cove Loop on your bicycle, the road is restricted to bicycle and foot traffic on Wednesdays and Saturdays until 10AM from May to September. Cades Cove also offers picnic and camping areas.
3. Clingman’s Dome
Hike to the top at Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Tennessee, at 6,643 feet tall. At the summit is an observation tower where you can enjoy expansive views of the Smokies. On a clear day you can see over 100 miles away. Along the seven mile Clingman’s Dome Road, which is closed from December to March 31, there are scenic pullouts where you can enjoy endless views of the ridges and valleys. Once you reach the end of the road, there is a parking area and a .5 mile trail leading to the summit.
4. Roaring Fork Nature Trail
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a 5.5-mile-long, one-way, loop road which offers rushing mountain streams, glimpses of old-growth forest, and a number of well-preserved log cabins, grist mills, and other historic buildings. Before you enter the nature trail, be sure to stop at the Noah “Bud” Ogle nature trail. This self guided nature trail offers a walking tour of a mountain farmstead which includes a streamside tubmill and Ogle’s handcrafted wooden flume plumbing system. While driving the Nature Trail you can pull off and explore one of the many hiking trails such as the trail to Rainbow Falls or Grotto Falls.
5. Mt. Leconte
If you are looking for a trail to the top then Mt. Leconte is where you want to hike. Mt. Leconte offers several trails to the top. One of the most popular trails is Alum Cave Trail which is a 5.5 mile which requires hikers to climb 2763 feet. Along the trail you will reach a point named Inspiration Point which offers commanding views of Little Duck Hawk Ridge and Myrtle Point. Also from Inspiration Point you can see The Eye of the Needle, a hole in the rock at the top of Little Duck Hawk Ridge. If you are brave enough to high all the way to the top of Mt. Leconte you can spend the night at Leconte Lodge. The only way to reach Leconte Lodge is by foot.
This photo of Mount LeConte is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Foxfire Mountain Adventures offers 15 zipline tours over 150 beautiful acres. Foxfire Mountain Adventures is located only minutes from Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge or Sevierville. They offer a two-hour canopy tour where your feet never touch the ground as you zip from tree canopy to tree canopy. If ziplining is not your thing, Foxfire Mountain also offers climbing walls, a free-fall plunge, an aerial adventure course, miles of hiking trails on America’s longest swinging bridge, and Bear Crawler ATV tours.
7. Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster
The Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster is a newer attraction in Pigeon Forge. It is located just 1.4 miles off the Parkway in Pigeon Forge and is the longest Alpine Coaster in the United States. This track is over a mile long and you can control how fast you go.
8. Smoky Mountain Riding Stables
Enjoy the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains atop a well-trained horse at the Smoky Mountain Riding Stables. The stables are located 4 miles from Gatlinburg on HWY 321. No experience is necessary and all rides are great for beginners to advanced riders.
If fishing is your outdoor activity of choice you can find many opportunities for fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains. With over 2,115 miles of streams the Great Smoky Mountains are one of the last wild trout habitats within the Eastern United States. Fishing experiences range from remote locations, headwater trout streams to large. and coolwater smallmouth bass streams. Fishermen (and women) are required to have a fishing licenses but no trout stamp is required. You can obtain a visitors license through the State of Tennessee or at one of many locations in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.
Growing up my family always played mini-golf when we were on vacation. Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, and Gatlinburg offer many miniature golf courses for you and your family.