Are you planning a trip to the heart of the Appalachian range? Here are some of the most exhilarating, picturesque, and unique things to do in the Smoky Mountains. These breathtaking sights, exhilarating activities, and captivating attractions are guaranteed to provide an unforgettable travel experience.
Known for its breathtaking landscapes, the Smoky Mountains are a part of the Appalachian Mountain range. Therefore, boast a rich natural and cultural heritage. However, what truly makes the Smokies an essential addition to any Southern U.S. road trip itinerary is its affinity for adventure, which means that the best things to do in the Smoky Mountains are sure to appeal to thrill-seeking visitors. However, the Smoky Mountains have so much more to offer.
From Cades Cove to Clingmans Dome, from Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail to the mesmerizing Laurel Falls. There is no shortage of things to do and places to visit in the Smoky Mountains. There really is something for everyone. That, of course, makes it all the more important for you to know which places are best suited for your particular interests. To help, I’ve compiled a list of some of my personal favorite Smoky Mountains attractions. Check it out! Here’s everything you need to know about these fun things to do in the Smoky Mountains.
Best Places to Visit in the Smoky Mountains
Ready for a deep dive into all the coolest things to do in the Smoky Mountains? As noted above, there’s something for everyone at this often overlooked vacation spot. So keep reading to discover all these unique Smoky Mountains places to visit.
Are you looking for historical and cultural sites? Or would you prefer a peaceful and relaxing getaway in nature? Whatever you’re planning, these must-sees in the Smoky Mountains can satisfy your needs. With a wealth of scenic drives, hiking trails, and historical sites, there are countless Smoky Mountain attractions that will appeal to nature lovers and history buffs alike. Here’s all the best attractions in the Smoky Mountains that you should know about.
1. Cades Cove
This is one of the best things to do in the Smoky Mountains, hands down. Cades Cove has earned the title of the ‘Crown Jewel of the Smokies’ thanks to its abundant wildlife and historical sites. Indeed, for those who enjoy immersing themselves in nature and history, Cades Cove is a true gem. That said, there’s still a lot to explore if you’re not a history buff. This includes a number of scenic trails and picnic spots.
One of the most captivating places to visit in the Smoky Mountains is Cades Cove, an open-air museum of sorts. Among the many historical sites located in Cades Cove, the John Oliver Cabin is by far the most popular. As a Smoky Mountain attraction, it draws an estimated hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
The rustic architecture of this cabin takes its inspiration from the early settlers of the region. Its log-built structure, simple design, and the surrounding lush greenery add to the charm of this homestead.
The John Oliver Cabin was built in the early 1820s by the Oliver family. The cabin has withstood the test of time, offering visitors a glimpse into the past. Facing the majestic mountains, this humble, historic cabin is among the most visited sites in all of the Smoky Mountains.
Whether you’re a history buff or just someone with a taste for adventure, visiting Cades Cove is one of the most unique things to do in the Smoky Mountains you don’t want to miss.
2. Clingmans Dome
No visit to the Smoky Mountains would be complete without a trip to Clingmans Dome. The highest point in the Smoky Mountains, Clingmans Dome, offers panoramic views that are truly unparalleled. At an elevation of 6,643 feet, it’s the highest point in Tennessee and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. On clear days, visitors can see over 100 miles into the distance, with views spanning across seven states.
A paved path leads to the summit, where the iconic Clingmans Dome Observation Tower stands. The tower’s unique spiral ramp takes you to an elevated platform, providing a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The climb is steep but short, and the breathtaking views at the top are well worth the effort.
In addition to the stunning views, Clingmans Dome is also a popular spot for hiking. The Appalachian Trail crosses Clingmans Dome, marking the highest point along its journey from Georgia to Maine. Whether you’re an avid hiker or just looking for a leisurely walk, the trails around Clingmans Dome offer a range of options for all fitness levels.
Visiting Clingmans Dome is a must when in the Smoky Mountains. The awe-inspiring views and the refreshing mountain air make it a memorable experience. It’s easy to see why this is one of the coolest things to do in the Smoky Mountains!
3. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
For a unique experience like no other, you’ll want to check out this top place to visit in the Smoky Mountains. If you’re looking for a scenic drive that combines natural beauty and Historical interest, then the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a must-visit. This 5.5-mile-long loop road is a favorite among visitors to the Smoky Mountains. Offering a leisurely drive through stunning forest landscapes, past cascading mountain streams, and around historic log cabins and grist mills.
Start your journey at the Rainbow Falls Trailhead, where a moderate hike will take you to Rainbow Falls, the highest single-drop waterfall in the Smokies. The waterfall is especially beautiful on sunny afternoons when you can see rainbows in the mist of the falls.
Further along the drive, you’ll find the Ephraim Bales Place, a small, two-room cabin that once housed a family of nine. It’s a stark reminder of the harsh living conditions endured by the early settlers in this region.
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a one-way loop road, making it a relaxing and stress-free drive. It’s also closed in winter, so plan your visit between early spring and late fall. Remember to take your time, enjoy the scenery, and make frequent stops to explore the sights along the way. There’s just so many reasons to love the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail that’s why it is one of my top things to do in the Smoky Mountains.
4. Laurel Falls
Looking to visit one of the best places in the Smoky Mountains? Add this to your bucket list! One of the most popular hikes in the Smoky Mountains is the trail to Laurel Falls. Named for the mountain laurel shrubs that bloom along the trail in May, this 2.6-mile round trip hike is a favorite among visitors for its accessibility and the stunning 80-foot high waterfall that serves as the trail’s climax.
The trail is paved and relatively easy, making it suitable for families and less experienced hikers. However, don’t let the ease of the hike fool you. The views along the way and the waterfall at the end are nothing short of spectacular.
Laurel Falls is a two-tiered waterfall, with an upper and a lower section divided by a walkway at the base of the upper falls. The falls cascade down a series of rocky outcrops, creating a beautiful, flowing spectacle that’s a perfect backdrop for a memorable photo.
The area around the falls is also a great place to spot wildlife, including black bears and various species of birds. However, remember to keep a safe distance from all wildlife and never feed the animals.
Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just looking for a leisurely walk in the woods, Laurel Falls is a must-visit when in the Smoky Mountains. Is this one of the best things to do in the Smoky Mountains? You bet!
5. Chimney Tops Trail
As far as things to do in the Smoky Mountains go, this activity is among the coolest! For those seeking a bit of a challenge, the Chimney Tops Trail offers one of the most rewarding hikes in the Smoky Mountains. This trail is shorter than many others in the park, but don’t let that fool you. The steep ascent to the summit makes for a strenuous workout. However, the breathtaking panoramic views at the top are well worth the effort.
The trail takes you through a lush forest, across streams, and up a steep path to the pinnacles of the Chimney Tops. It is one of the park’s most recognizable geological features. The final part of the trail was damaged in a fire in 2016 and is now closed. But a newly built observation point provides stunning views of the twin peaks and the surrounding landscape.
The Chimney Tops Trail is about 3.3 miles round trip. This hike can take between 2 to 4 hours, depending on your pace. I recommend starting early in the day to avoid the crowds and have enough time to enjoy the views.
Remember, the trail is steep and can be slippery, especially after rain, so wear sturdy shoes and take your time. The Chimney Tops Trail may be challenging, but the sense of accomplishment and the stunning views at the top make it one of the best hikes in the Smoky Mountains. Be sure to add this to your adventure list. Otherwise, you’ll regret missing out on one of the most unique Smoky Mountains things to do.
6. Newfound Gap Road
Attractions in the Smoky Mountains come in all shapes and sizes, but this one is among the best! One of the best ways to experience the Smoky Mountains is by taking a drive along the Newfound Gap Road. This 33-mile drive cuts through the heart of the park and offers some of the most stunning views of the Smoky Mountains. It’s also the only fully paved highway through the park, making it accessible for all vehicles.
The road climbs to an elevation of over 5,000 feet at Newfound Gap, the lowest drivable pass in the park. Here, you’ll find a large parking area, several scenic overlooks, and the Rockefeller Memorial, a tribute to the family’s contribution to the establishment of the national park.
One of the highlights of the drive is the chance to stand in two states at once. The Tennessee-North Carolina state line crosses at Newfound Gap, and there’s a sign marking the spot for a perfect photo opportunity.
Newfound Gap Road is also the starting point for several hiking trails, including the famous Appalachian Trail. Whether you’re up for a challenging hike or just want to take a short stroll, there’s a trail that’s just right for you.
No matter the season, a drive along Newfound Gap Road is a must-do when visiting the Smoky Mountains. The views are spectacular, and the opportunities for exploration are endless. As such, this Smoky Mountains attraction is one of the most popular sights in this mountain range.
7. Mount LeConte
Yearning for a getaway like no other? This thing to do in the Smoky Mountain has got you covered. Mount LeConte is the third highest peak in the Smoky Mountains, and it’s a must-visit for any outdoor enthusiast. The mountain is home to several popular hiking trails, each offering its own unique experience and stunning views.
One of the most popular routes is the Alum Cave Trail, a 10-mile round trip hike that takes you through Arch Rock, Inspiration Point, and the stunning Alum Cave before reaching the summit. The trail is steep and challenging, but the views from the top are some of the best in the park.
At the summit, you’ll find the LeConte Lodge, the highest guest lodge in the eastern United States. The lodge offers overnight accommodations, but you’ll need to make reservations well in advance.
Another popular trail is the Boulevard Trail, which starts at Newfound Gap and offers stunning views of the Smokies. This trail is longer and less steep than the Alum Cave Trail, making it a good option for those looking for a less strenuous hike.
Whether you’re an experienced hiker or just looking for a day trip, Mount LeConte offers some of the best hiking in the Smoky Mountains. There’s so much to see and experience at Mount LeConte, that it’s no wonder this is among the best things to do in the Smoky Mountains.
8. Deep Creek Waterfalls
Nature lovers will love this top thing to do in the Smoky Mountains. For those who love the soothing sound of cascading water, the Deep Creek Waterfalls are a must-visit. Located near the town of Bryson City, the Deep Creek area of the Smoky Mountains is home to three stunning waterfalls. All are accessible via a relatively easy hiking trail.
The trail begins with a short, half-mile hike to Tom Branch Falls, a beautiful waterfall that cascades into Deep Creek. Continue along the trail for another three-quarters of a mile, and you’ll reach Indian Creek Falls, a 45-foot waterfall that’s especially impressive after a heavy rain.
The final waterfall, Juney Whank Falls, is a bit further along a separate trail, but it’s well worth the extra effort. The falls are divided into an upper and lower section, with a footbridge spanning the creek between them.
The Deep Creek area is also a popular spot for tubing, so if you’re visiting in the summer, consider bringing a tube for a relaxing float down the creek. Whether you’re a waterfall chaser, a casual hiker, or just looking for a peaceful spot to relax, visiting the Deep Creek Waterfalls is one of the most fun things to do in the Smoky Mountains that you should try.
9. Appalachian Trail
Looking for what to do in the Smoky Mountains? Look no further than the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail is one of the longest hiking-only footpaths in the world, stretching over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. About 70 miles of this iconic trail pass through the Smoky Mountains, offering some of the most scenic views in the park.
One of the most popular sections of the trail in the Smokies is the hike to Charlie’s Bunion, a rocky outcrop with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. The hike is 8 miles round trip and is moderately difficult, but the stunning views from the top are well worth the effort.
Another popular hike is the trail to Max Patch, a bald mountain on the North Carolina Tennessee border. The 360-degree views from the top of Max Patch are some of the best on the entire Appalachian Trail.
Whether you’re a seasoned hiker looking to tackle a section of the Appalachian Trail, or a casual walker looking for a day hike with stunning views, the Appalachian Trail is a must-see in the Smoky Mountains.
10. Cataloochee Valley
It would be a crime to write an article on the top things to do in the Smoky Mountains without mentioning the Cataloochee Valley. For a unique Smoky Mountains experience, venture off the beaten path to the Cataloochee Valley. Nestled in the North Carolina side of the park, this secluded valley is rich in history and wildlife, making it a must-visit for nature lovers and history buffs alike.
The valley is home to several well-preserved historic buildings. This includes the Palmer Chapel, the Caldwell House, and several barns and outbuildings. These structures provide a glimpse into the life of the early European settlers in the Smoky Mountains.
But what truly sets Cataloochee Valley apart is its elk population. Reintroduced to the park in 2001, these majestic creatures can often be spotted in the fields, especially in the early morning and late evening. Remember to keep your distance and never approach or feed the wildlife.
Access to Cataloochee Valley is via a winding, narrow, gravel road, and it’s a bit of a drive from the main areas of the park. But the peace, tranquility, and natural beauty of the valley make it well worth the trip. Earning it a spot among the coolest things to do in the Smoky Mountains.
11. Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum
Looking for the best things to do in the Smoky Mountains? Don’t miss this one! The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is more than just a place to pick up maps and brochures. Located at the entrance to the park near Cherokee, North Carolina, it’s also home to the Mountain Farm Museum. A collection of historic log buildings gathered from throughout the Smoky Mountains and preserved on a single site.
The buildings, including a log farmhouse, barn, applehouse, springhouse, and smokehouse, offer a glimpse into the life of the early European settlers in the Smoky Mountains. During the summer, you can also see demonstrations of traditional farming techniques. This includes plowing with draft animals, making hay, and gardening.
Just behind the visitor center is the Oconaluftee River Trail, one of only two trails in the park where dogs and bicycles are allowed. The trail offers beautiful views of the Oconaluftee River and is a great place for a leisurely walk.
Whether you’re interested in history, looking for a pet-friendly trail, or just want to stretch your legs after a long drive, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum is a must-visit. With so much charm and personality, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum is one of the top places to visit in the Smoky Mountains.
12. Gatlinburg SkyLift Park
Experience the Appalachian Mountains in style at this unique place to visit in the Smoky Mountains. For a different perspective of the Smoky Mountains, head to the Gatlinburg SkyLift Park. Located in the heart of Gatlinburg, this attraction offers stunning views of the Smokies without the need for a strenuous hike.
The adventure begins with a ride on the SkyLift, a chairlift that takes you up 500 feet to the top of Crockett Mountain. From there, you can enjoy panoramic views of Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains from the SkyDeck. This is a large observation deck with plenty of seating and a fire pit.
The highlight of the park is the SkyBridge, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America. Walking across the 680-foot-long bridge is a thrill, especially when you reach the glass-floor panels in the middle that offer a look straight down to the ground below.
Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or just looking for a relaxing place to enjoy the views, Gatlinburg SkyLift Park is a must-visit. It’s especially beautiful at sunset and after dark, when the lights of Gatlinburg create a stunning backdrop. As one of the top Smoky Mountains attractions, you’ll definitely want to add this to your travel itinerary.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Best Things to Do in the Smoky Mountains
Looking for more content on the top things to do in the Smoky Mountains? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to the Smoky Mountains:
When is the best time to visit the Smoky Mountains?
The Smoky Mountains are beautiful year-round. However, the best time to visit depends on what you want to see and do. Spring and fall offer mild weather and stunning foliage, while summer is perfect for water activities and wildlife viewing. Winter brings fewer crowds and the chance to see the mountains covered in snow.
Where is the prettiest part of the Smoky Mountains?
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is vast and filled with scenic beauty at every turn. While different areas have their own unique appeal, Cades Cove stands out as one of the prettiest parts of the Smoky Mountains.
Cades Cove is a broad, verdant valley surrounded by mountains. It offers some of the best opportunities for wildlife viewing in the park. White-tailed deer, black bears, and wild turkeys are often spotted here. The Cove also has a rich history, with several well-preserved historic buildings. This includes log cabins, churches, and a working grist mill, providing a glimpse into the life of its early settlers.
The 11-mile loop road around Cades Cove offers numerous pull-offs with panoramic views of the valley and the surrounding mountains. The area is particularly enchanting during sunrise and sunset, with mist often enveloping the valley floor, giving the Smokies their famous name.
In addition to Cades Cove, areas like Clingmans Dome, with its panoramic views from the highest point in the park, and Alum Cave Bluffs, with its unique geological features, also offer breathtaking beauty. But truly, the Smoky Mountains are filled with countless spots of natural splendor.
Are the Smoky Mountains pet-friendly?
Pets are allowed in campgrounds, picnic areas, and along roads, but they must be kept on a leash at all times. Pets are not allowed on most of the park’s trails, with the exception of the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail.
What wildlife can I see in the Smoky Mountains?
The Smoky Mountains are home to a wide variety of wildlife, including black bears, elk, white-tailed deer, and over 200 species of birds. Remember to keep a safe distance from all wildlife and never feed the animals.
What is the most photographed place in the Smoky Mountains?
The most photographed place in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Clingmans Dome. As the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi, Clingmans Dome offers panoramic views of the surrounding Smoky Mountains. The observation tower at the summit provides a 360-degree vista. This makes it a popular spot for photographers, especially during sunrise and sunset. The ever-changing weather, fog, and seasonal variations in foliage ensure that no two photos from Clingmans Dome are ever quite the same. As such, it’s a magnet for photographers and nature enthusiasts alike.
Are there any entrance fees for the Smoky Mountains National Park?
No, the Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the few national parks that does not charge an entrance fee.
What should I pack for a trip to the Smoky Mountains?
Pack clothing that can be layered, as temperatures can vary greatly throughout the day. Also pack sturdy shoes for hiking, a hat and sunscreen for sun protection, and a rain jacket in case of sudden showers.
What is so special about the Great Smoky Mountains?
The Great Smoky Mountains are renowned for their stunning natural beauty, boasting a diverse range of flora and fauna. With breathtaking mountain vistas, and a rich cultural history. Their unique blend of scenic wonders, outdoor adventures, and historical landmarks make them an irresistible destination for travelers seeking both tranquility and thrill.
What is the most visited place in Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
The most visited place in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Cades Cove, a broad valley surrounded by mountains. It is known for abundant wildlife and well-preserved historic buildings. Its scenic beauty and rich history draw millions of visitors each year, making it a must-see spot in the park.
Closing Thoughts on Exploring the Smoky Mountains
The Smoky Mountains are a treasure trove of natural beauty, rich history, and outdoor adventures. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker, a history buff, or just someone looking for a peaceful retreat, the Smokies have something to offer everyone. From the stunning views at Clingmans Dome to the historic buildings in Cataloochee Valley. From the thrill of crossing the SkyBridge to the tranquility of the Deep Creek Waterfalls, every corner of the Smokies invites exploration and discovery. So pack your bags, lace up your hiking boots, and get ready for an unforgettable journey in the Smoky Mountains.