The Great Smoky Mountains, straddling the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, is a place of immense natural beauty and cultural significance. Known for its stunning landscapes, rich biodiversity, and unique Appalachian culture, this national park offers a wide range of activities and attractions for visitors of all ages. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a history buff, or simply seeking a relaxing escape, a Great Smoky Mountains vacation has something for everyone. Here are the 10 best things to do when visiting this enchanting region.
1. Hike to a waterfall.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to over 800 waterfalls, ranging from gentle cascades to cascading torrents. Some of the most popular waterfalls include:
- Abrams Falls: This 20-foot waterfall is located near Cades Cove and is one of the most easily accessible waterfalls in the park.
- Laurel Falls: This 80-foot waterfall is located near Sugarlands Visitor Center and is one of the most popular waterfalls in the park.
- Rainbow Falls: This 150-foot waterfall is located near Newfound Gap Road and is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the park.
Other popular waterfalls include Porters Creek Falls, Ramsay Cascades, and Grotto Falls.
2. Drive the Cades Cove Loop Road.
This scenic 11-mile loop road takes you through a lush valley surrounded by mountains and historic buildings. Be sure to stop at the Cades Cove Visitor Center to learn more about the area’s history and culture.
Along the Cades Cove Loop Road, you can see historic homesteads, churches, and a grist mill. You may also see wildlife, such as deer, turkeys, and black bears.
3. Visit Clingmans Dome.
This highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers stunning 360-degree views. On a clear day, you can see for miles in every direction.
Clingmans Dome is located on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. It is accessible by a paved road and a short hiking trail.
4. Go for a hike on the Appalachian Trail.
The Appalachian Trail runs through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for over 70 miles. There are hikes for all levels of experience, so you’re sure to find one that’s perfect for you.
Some popular Appalachian Trail hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park include:
- Clingmans Dome Hike: This 0.5-mile round-trip hike takes you to the highest point in the park.
- Laurel Falls Hike: This 2.6-mile round-trip hike takes you to one of the most popular waterfalls in the park.
- Cades Cove Loop Hike: This 11-mile round-trip hike takes you around the Cades Cove Loop Road.
5. Learn about the region’s history at the Mountain Farm Museum.
This living history museum features over a dozen historic buildings, including a farmhouse, barn, and grist mill. You can see how people lived in the Appalachian Mountains in the early 1900s.
The Mountain Farm Museum is located near Oconaluftee Visitor Center. It is open year-round, but hours vary depending on the season.
6. Go whitewater rafting or kayaking.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to several rivers that offer whitewater rafting and kayaking opportunities. There are tours available for all levels of experience, from beginner to expert.
Some popular whitewater rafting and kayaking rivers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park include:
- Pigeon River: This river offers Class I-IV rapids and is a good choice for beginners.
- Little River: This river offers Class II-III rapids and is a good choice for intermediate paddlers.
- Oconaluftee River: This river offers Class III-IV rapids and is a good choice for experienced paddlers.
7. Visit the Dollywood theme park.
Dollywood is a popular theme park located in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park features rides, shows, and attractions for all ages, including Dolly Parton’s Dreamland Drive-In, the Dollywood Express train ride, and the Wildwood Tree amusement park.
Dollywood is open year-round, but hours vary depending on the season.
8. Take a scenic drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic highway that runs through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other areas of the Appalachian Mountains. The parkway offers stunning views of the mountains, valleys, and forests.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is open year-round, but some roads may be closed due to weather conditions. Be sure to check the parkway website for current conditions before you go.
9. Go fishing.
There are many rivers and streams in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where you can fish. You can fish for trout, bass, and other species of fish. Be sure to purchase a fishing license before you go.
Some popular fishing spots in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park include:
- Little River: This river is located near Sugarlands Visitor Center and is one of the most popular fishing spots in the park.
- Abrams Creek: This creek is located near Cades Cove and is a good spot to fish for trout.
- Oconaluftee River: This river is located near Oconaluftee Visitor Center and is a good spot to fish for bass.
10. Visit the Biltmore Estate.
The Biltmore Estate is a historic mansion and winery located in Asheville, North Carolina, just a short drive from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The estate is the largest private home in the United States and is open to the public for tours.
The Biltmore Estate offers a variety of tours, including a guided tour of the mansion, a self-guided tour of the gardens, and a tour of the winery. The estate also offers a variety of dining and shopping options.
In addition to these 10 activities, there are many other things to do on a Great Smoky Mountains vacation. You can visit the Oconaluftee Indian Village to learn about the Cherokee people, go horseback riding, or take a scenic train ride. You can also visit one of the many small towns in the area, such as Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, or Sevierville, for shopping, dining, and entertainment.
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