Best Things to Do on Your Smoky Mountain Vacation
With over 11 million visitors annually, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited U.S. National Park. While there is no lack of things to do at the park and surrounding areas, here is some of the best things to do on your Smoky Mountain vacation. Be prepared to take in breathtaking mountain views and gorgeous landscapes that are best appreciated with foliage changes in the fall.
While many tourists opt for a family road trip into the area, you can also find cheap flights into McGhee-Tyson (TYS) in Knoxville or Asheville Regional airport (AVL) in Asheville, NC. Access to the GSMNP is roughly 42 miles from Knoxville and 85 miles from Asheville. Find the best car rental deals here.
A Smoky Mountain getaway is the perfect place for a cheap vacation spot for your honeymoon as well as one of the best family vacation destinations you will find.
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a sub-range of the Appalachian Mountains that rises along the Tennessee – North Carolina border. This beautiful forested region with impressive mountain has peaks that summit at more than 6,500 feet high. The Smokies get their name from the mist that frequently rises out of the valleys like smoke signals. Travellers are able to enjoy the mountains year-round. Hikers and mountain bikers make use of the scenic trails in spring, summer, and fall; while skiers enjoy the mountains in winter. There are several visitor centers that offer excellent guides and easy access to the most scenic areas. There are also numerous campsites in and around the park. The Smoky Mountains National Park is home to more than 1,400 species of flowering plants that include wild azaleas, mountain laurels, orchids, and mountain magnolias. There is more than 900 miles of hiking trails that criss-cross the park. In addition to hiking and mountain biking, GSMNP is also home to some of the best fly- fishing in the country. Official Site: www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm
Once home to early settlers, this beautiful valley is now one of the most popular attractions in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Over 2 million visitors come each year to check out the well preserved homesteads, scenic mountain views and abundant wildlife.If you are lucky, you may even see some of the bigger beasts that call this area home, such as deer or black bears. There are numerous hiking trails with the most popular trails leading to Abrams Falls. Also popular is the Cades Cove Loop Road- an eleven mile, one-way tourist route that is great for auto-touring. The Cades Cove Historic district is listed on the National Register of Historic places in the U.S.
Clingmans Dome Observation Tower:
Clingmans Dome sits at 6,643 feet above sea level and is credited as the highest point in Tennessee. It is the third tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River. Visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park can travel along the seven-mile stretch of Clingmans Dome Road to Visitors Center and the trailhead that leads to the summit’s observation tower. Along Clingmans Dome Road are several scenic areas with pull-outs that allow for photo opportunities of the Smoky Mountain range. The road is closed from December 1 through March 31 (and during inclement weather); although Clingmans Dome and the observation tower are open year-round. At the road’s end, there is a Visitors Center and parking area that begins the half-mile trail to the Clingmans Dome summit and its observation tower. The views here are arguably the best in the park. The paved trail is wheelchair and stroller accessible, but the very steep incline may be challenging for some.
The Sugarlands is a valley named after the many sugar maple trees growing in the area at the time of the arrival of early settlers. Syrup was made from the sap in these trees and used as a sweetener in the days before the availability of cane sugar. While these trees were cleared by the early settlers, the sugar maple is still common throughout the park. Lying just south of Gatlinburg, the Sugarlands is one of the park’s most popular access points. Sugarlands is particularly popular among hikers especially in October when the leaves are changing color. The Old Sugarlands Trail, open to hikers and horse riders. Be sure to check out the trail that leads from the Sugarlands Visitor Center and loops past the John Ownby Cabin, built in 1860. Not far away is Noah Ogle Place, a former homestead with an old barn, cabin, and mill. Another popular (and short) hike that’s great for kids heads off from the visitor center to the attractive 25-foot-tall Cataract Falls. While at the visitor center, check into their Ranger-led programs, natural history exhibits, and films about the park.
2. Gatlinburg, TN
Gatlinburg is a small mountain town located in eastern Tennessee and is known as the gateway to the Smoky Mountains. This quaint little town has a monopoly on the best scenic routes into the park. It’s hard not to notice the ample number of hotels and entertainment venues vying for your attention when you arrive. You can find cheap hotels starting at $65 per night in economy chain hotels such as Motel 6 or the Econolodge Inn and Suites. The Gatlinburg Town Square Resort is one of the luxury hotels available in the area. There is no shortage of bed and breakfasts, cabin rentals, or condo rentals if you prefer more space than a traditional hotel offers.
Gatlinburg is the perfect place for a romantic weekend getaway or vacation spot full of things to do with the kids.
Ripley’s Attractions- There are 8!:
At Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, you will be introduced to exotic marine life from all around the world. See sharks and other ocean predators up close via the submerged glass tunnel that puts you right in the middle of action. Pet a stingray at the popular “Touch a Ray Bay”. You can even sign up for a fun penguin experience that allows you to interact with and pet the penguins.Official Site: www.ripleyaquariums.com/gatlinburg
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium is the perfect place to entertain picky teens with an eclectic collection of oddities such as shrunken heads and medieval instruments of torture. Other Ripley’s attractions include the 5D Moving Theater, a bone-chilling Haunted Adventure, the mind-bending Marvelous Mirror Maze, Guinness World Records Adventure, and two fully themed Ripley’s mini-golf courses!
Downtown Gatlinburg and The Gatlinburg Space Needle:
Downtown Gatlinburg provides everything travelers need after a long day of exploration throughout the countryside. The main thoroughfare, Parkway, is home to many local mom-and-pop stores and restaurants. However, there is also no shortage of big-brand hotel and motel chains. This a great place to blow off steam and release a some energy for travelers with little ones in tow. There are numerous attractions that include arcade style amusements, theater shows and the aforementioned Ripley’s attractions.
The Gatlinburg Space Needle is a steel tower that is home to the 400-foot-high observation deck overlooking downtown. You will get some of the most spectacular views from the observation deck. Once on deck, be sure to claim your spot at one of the free viewfinders for a closer look at the breath-taking 360-degree views of the Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg. Don’t forget to check out the giant two-level Arcadia. It is a fun place to hang out with the kids and enjoy the many arcade and fair-style games or catch a movie at the on-site theater. Official Site:www.gatlinburgspaceneedle.com
Ober Gatlinburg is a ski resort and amusement park offering year-round recreational activities. The complex includes a chairlift; indoor ice skating; skiing; an alpine slide; Kiddie Land; and the Wildlife Encounter, a habitat for native creatures such as black bears, river otters, and opossums. Getting there is half the fun, with most visitors opting for the two-mile-long Aerial Tramway, which departs from downtown Gatlinburg and offers superb views along the way. The chairlift from Ober Gatlinburg includes a 30-minute ride to the summit with its scenic lookout. Official Site: https://obergatlinburg.com
Gatlinburg Sky Lift:
Jumping aboard one of the many chairlifts and heading up into the Smokies is a rite of passage when visiting. One of the most popular places to do so is the completely refurbished Gatlinburg Sky Lift. This open-air chairlift makes short work of the 1,800-ft elevation of Crockett Mountain. Along the way, you will be sure to catch stunning views over the town. Once at the Sky Deck platform at the summit, there are many hiking trails nearby to explore. You can hike your way back down into town or make the return journey on the Sky Lift. The view is even more spectacular after nightfall when the town and Space Needle are lit up. Official Site: www.gatlinburgskylift.com
Hollywood Stars Cars Museum:
This fun museum features more than 40 cars that were used in Hollywood movies. You will recognise autos from movies such as Days of Thunder, Gone in 60 Seconds, and The Fast and the Furious. Be wowed by the original Batmobile from the 1960’s TV show as well as the the Batmobile from the movie Batman Returns. A crowd favorite is the adorable Volkswagon Beetle, #53 Herbie, from the Disney movie franchise of the same name. Official Site: http://starcarstn.com
Anakeesta is derived from the Cherokee word meaning “higher ground” and is also one of the newest of Gatlinburg’s many attractions. It is an aerial adventure and hiking park. The fun begins with a cable car ride up to the 600-foot summit of Anakeesta Mountain. The summit also marks the heart of the park’s 70-acre forest. Once you have arrived, you can enjoy fun activities that include a tree canopy walk suspended 60 feet above ground, side-by-side ziplines for you to race friends and family, a kids’ treehouse playground, and a gem mining station.A fun way to get back down the mountain is on the thrilling mountain coaster (think gravity-powered roller coaster, and you control your speed). Also worth mentioning if you are seeking more ziplining fun is ZipGatlinburg. Two additional mountain coaster experiences are available at Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster and Rowdy Bear Mountain Coaster. Official Site: www.anakeesta.com
3. Pigeon Forge
Pigeon Forge is a small town surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains and is probably best known for Dollywood, theme park and amusement park. It’s namesake is country singer Dolly Parton. The park offers traditional thrill rides but also features traditional crafts and music of the Smoky Mountain area. Several concerts and musical events are hosted each year at Dollywood, including appearances from local and nationally known musical acts and Dolly Parton herself. Dollywood is also the site of the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame. Dollywood’s Splash Country is a 35 acre water park great for cooling off during the hot summer months. For a rootin’ tootin’ good time, be sure to check out Dolly Parton’s Stampede Dinner Attraction that hosts 32 magnificent horses and riders to wow you all sorts of cowboy tricks and fun. Official site: www.dollywood.com
Whether you are looking for a romantic honeymoon getaway or the perfect family vacation destination, a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg is sure to please even the pickiest traveller. MySittiVacations can help you find the best car rental deals, cheap flights, and all the best things to do on your Smoky Mountain vacation.