Hello, adventurous souls! Are you planning a trip and wondering what to do in the Smoky Mountains? Well, you’ve come to the right place! This incredible region offers an array of exciting activities and spectacular sights that make it a perfect destination for teens and young adults. From thrilling outdoor adventures to exploring quaint local towns, the Smokies have it all. Read on for our top ten recommendations for making the most of your trip, including some unique, off-the-beaten-path suggestions that you won’t find in your typical guidebook. Let’s dive in!
1. Experience the Thrill of Whitewater Rafting
Ride the Rapids
If you’re wondering what to do in the Smoky Mountains, look no further than the thrilling rush of whitewater rafting! The Pigeon River offers heart-pounding Class III and IV rapids that are perfect for adrenaline seekers. There are numerous outfitters in the area, like Smoky Mountain Outdoors, that provide all the equipment and instruction you need, no matter if you’re a beginner or a pro.
Take it Easy
Don’t worry if you’re not up for the full-on whitewater experience, there are also gentler float trips available. These are perfect for enjoying the river’s beauty at a more leisurely pace. For more information on rafting in the Smoky Mountains, check out VisitMySmokies.com.
2. Embrace the Wilderness on a Guided Hiking Tour
Become a Trailblazer
Trekking through the Smokies is a must-do. There’s no better way to experience the lush forests, cascading waterfalls, and stunning vistas. A guided tour will ensure you learn about the region’s unique ecology and history, making it one of the top things to do in the Smoky Mountains. Companies like A Walk in the Woods offer tours tailored for all ages and fitness levels.
Off the Beaten Path: Midnight Hole
For a more offbeat hiking experience, head to Midnight Hole. This hidden gem is a beautiful, deep pool fed by two waterfalls. It’s located off Big Creek Trail and is an ideal spot for a refreshing swim. Read more about this natural wonder at HikingintheSmokys.com.
3. Take to the Skies with Ziplining
Soaring through the Skies
Ziplining is an exhilarating way to enjoy the Smoky Mountains’ magnificent scenery. Fly through the tree canopy and catch breath-taking views that you can’t get from the ground. Outfits like CLIMB Works offer a variety of tours with professional guides to ensure your safety and fun.
Hidden Adventure: Legacy Mountain Ziplines
For a ziplining experience away from the tourist crowds, head to Legacy Mountain Ziplines. Their 7-line course offers some of the best views in the Smokies, and it’s less well-known than other ziplining locations. Find out more at LegacyMountainZiplines.com.
4. Visit the Quaint Town of Gatlinburg
The Charms of Gatlinburg
When figuring out what to do in the Smoky Mountains, don’t forget to explore the charming town of Gatlinburg. Here you can experience local arts and crafts, indulge in delicious cuisine, and explore a variety of attractions like the Gatlinburg Space Needle and the Hollywood Star Cars Museum. Check out Gatlinburg.com for more information.
Hidden Gem: Gatlinburg’s Mysterious Mansion
For those seeking something a bit unusual, check out Gatlinburg’s Mysterious Mansion. This privately-owned haunted house offers an immersive, frightfully fun experience that’ll leave you screaming with laughter. More about this spine-chilling adventure can be found at GatlinburgsMysteriousMansion.com.
5. Explore the World Beneath the Mountains
oky Mountains aren’t just about what’s above ground. They offer some of the most unique cave experiences in the country. Tuckaleechee Caverns, for example, is a fascinating site to explore with its spectacular formations and underground waterfall.
Hidden Wonder: Forbidden Caverns
Forbidden Caverns is another cave system in the Smokies that’s less frequented but equally stunning. The caverns’ intricate formations and fascinating history make this a unique addition to your list of things to do in the Smoky Mountains. Visit ForbiddenCavern.com for more.
6. Experience the Unique Wildlife Safari
Roaming with the Wild
What to do in the Smoky Mountains if you’re a wildlife enthusiast? Take a drive through the Smoky Mountain Deer Farm! This unique wildlife safari offers a rare chance to get up close and personal with animals like deer, zebras, camels, and kangaroos. You can even feed and pet some of the animals, making this an unforgettable experience.
Hidden Attraction: Parrot Mountain and Gardens
For a less mainstream wildlife encounter, visit Parrot Mountain and Gardens. This unique place offers a chance to interact with hundreds of beautiful tropical birds in a stunning garden setting. Find more about this hidden gem at ParrotMountainandGardens.com.
7. Get a Thrill at Dollywood
Riding the Rollercoasters
Visiting Dollywood is a must when figuring out what to do in the Smoky Mountains. This renowned theme park combines thrilling rides, stellar live entertainment, and local culture and crafts. Don’t miss the opportunity to taste the famous southern cuisine here!
Hidden Experience: Dollywood’s Splash Country
For a less crowded yet equally exciting experience, check out Dollywood’s Splash Country. This adjacent water park offers a fun-filled escape from the heat with a variety of water slides, a wave pool, and a lazy river. Check out Dollywood.com for more information.
8. Take a Scenic Drive through Cades Cove
Immersing in Nature
Cades Cove offers one of the most scenic drives in the country. This 11-mile loop road offers stunning views of the valley, historic buildings, and abundant wildlife. It’s a must-do in the Smoky Mountains for any nature lover.
Off the Beaten Path: Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
For a less crowded scenic drive, take the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This 5.5-mile loop offers beautiful streams, old-growth forests, and historic log cabins. You can learn more at MyPigeonForge.com.
9. Horseback Riding in the Great Smoky Mountains
Horseback riding is a wonderful way to experience the Smoky Mountains’ natural beauty. Several stables in the area, like Sugarlands Riding Stables, offer guided trail rides suitable for all ages and skill levels. It’s an experience you won’t forget!
Uncommon Adventure: Big Rock Dude Ranch at Ponderosa
For a unique twist on horseback riding, visit Big Rock Dude Ranch at Ponderosa. Apart from regular trail rides, they also offer ATV rides, fishing, and a petting zoo. More about this place can be found at HorsebackRidingintheSmokies.com.
10. Visit the Titanic Museum
A Journey Through Time
The Titanic Museum is a unique attraction that offers an interactive, immersive tour that transports you back to the Titanic’s ill-fated maiden
voyage. You’ll walk through replica corridors, see artefacts, and even touch a real iceberg.
Less Known Gem: Alcatraz East Crime Museum
If you’re into history and crime stories, visit the Alcatraz East Crime Museum. This lesser-known museum takes you on a journey through American crime history with interactive exhibits and artefacts. Check it out at AlcatrazEast.com.
11. Experience the Splendor of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Diving into Nature’s Majesty
When considering what to do in the Smoky Mountains, a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park tops the list. As the most visited national park in America, it offers something for everyone. It’s a hiker’s paradise, with over 800 miles of trails ranging from easy to challenging. Don’t forget to check out the park’s most popular destinations, like Clingmans Dome and Cades Cove. Visit NPS.gov for more information.
Hidden Trails: Abrams Falls and Porters Creek Trail
If you’re interested in exploring less crowded trails, consider Abrams Falls and Porters Creek Trail. They offer equally beautiful views and tranquility away from the usual tourist traffic. Learn more about these trails at HikingintheSmokys.com.
12. Witness the Spectacle of the Synchronous Fireflies
A Light Show in the Wild
One of the Smoky Mountains’ most extraordinary spectacles is the annual display of the synchronous fireflies. Every year, usually in late May or early June, these fireflies light up the night in unison, creating a stunning natural light show that’s unique to this region.
Synchronous Fireflies Lottery
Due to the event’s popularity, access to the viewing area at Elkmont is limited to shuttle service operating from the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Because of this, the park holds a lottery for parking passes. For a chance to witness this extraordinary event, you need to enter the Synchronous Fireflies Lottery. Find more about this unique event and the lottery system at Recreation.gov.