10 Amazing Things to Do in the Scenic Smoky Mountains
Hiking to Clingmans Dome offers stunning 360-degree views of the Smoky Mountains, best enjoyed early in the morning before the crowds arrive.
Driving through Cades Cove allows visitors to discover abundant wildlife and explore historic homes, churches, and mills while enjoying the most beautiful views of the national park.
A visit to the Oconaluftee Mountain Farm Museum provides a glimpse into 19th-century Appalachian life through preserved log cabins, demonstrations, and a similar Cherokee community.
Featuring over 800 miles of hiking trails, abundant wildlife, scenic drives, and idyllic waterfalls, the Smoky Mountains provide some of the best mountain vacations in the United States and provide the perfect outdoor playground for nature lovers, photographers, families, and anyone looking to enjoy the natural beauty of these Featured area.
Located just above the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, the Smokies Mountains contain one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States, offering travelers endless opportunities for adventure and relaxation. Whether you’re looking for an invigorating hike to a stunning peak, a fun wilderness excursion, or a day filled with Appalachian history and culture, the Smoky Mountains have something to satisfy all interests.
With so many amazing sights and activities to experience, travelers can enjoy some of the best scenic Smoky Mountain vacations by adding any of these epic adventures to their trip to-do lists. Here are some of the most scenic things to do in the Smoky Mountains, from hiking trails to helicopter tours and more.
Hike to Clingmans Dome
Smoky Mountains at Clingman Dome
One of the best things to do in the Smokies is to hike to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Tennessee. Located along the state line mountain range on the Tennessee side, the Clingmans Dome Trail climbs upward through spruce forests before opening up to reveal sweeping 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
The observation tower at the summit offers hikers a panoramic view of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park all the way into North Carolina. The strenuous 7-mile round-trip is best done early in the morning before the crowds arrive to enjoy the stunning views.
- Length: 7 miles round trip
- time: 3-4 hours
- difficulty: Moderate to strenuous due to steep sections
- best times: Early morning and spring through fall for wildflowers
Drive through Cades Cove
Restored log cabin surrounded by fall foliage at Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, USA
Every visit to the Smokies is complemented by a scenic drive through Cades Cove, a secluded valley surrounded by mountains. This 11-mile loop trail allows visitors to spot abundant wildlife such as deer, turkeys, raccoons, and black bears. Travelers can stop by historic homes, churches, and mills to learn about the families who once resided in this peaceful valley.
With lush meadows, preserved cabins, and fascinating stories of early settlers, Cades Cove offers a glimpse into the past and showcases the diverse flora and fauna of the Smokies. The road is also one of the most scenic in the Smoky Mountains, perfect for those looking to enjoy the most beautiful views of the national park.
- Length: 11 mile loop
- time: 2-3 hours of driving plus stops
- best times: Early morning and late evening to see wildlife
Visit the Oconaluftee Mountain Farm Museum
Oconaluftee River trail marker in Gatlinburg, Tennessee
To learn about the mountain culture and pioneer history of the Smokies, travelers can visit the Oconaluftee Mountain Farm Museum. This outdoor mountain farm features log cabins, barns, and outbuildings filled with antiques that provide insight into 19th-century Appalachian life.
Costume interpreters perform demonstrations such as soap making, blacksmithing, and weaving to showcase the skills and crafts of the early settlers. Visitors can also explore the replica of a Cherokee community at Oconaluftee Village, meet heritage-breed farm animals, and take guided tours to immerse themselves in daily activities from the 19th century.
- location: 1194 Newfound Gap Road, Cherokee, North Carolina
- hours: Open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m
- Tour duration: 1-2 hours
- Top attractions: Cabins, farm animals, demonstrations
Hike to Laurel Falls
Laurel Falls along the Laurel Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Gatlinburg, USA
One of the most popular and easily accessible waterfalls in the park is Laurel Falls, located near the Sugarlands Visitor Center. One of the most beautiful hikes in the Smoky Mountains in the fall to catch a glimpse of the foliage, this moderate 2.6-mile out-and-back trek follows a rushing mountain stream before culminating at the stunning 80-foot waterfall.
Photographers flock to this trail to capture perfect photos of the cascading Laurel Falls from the amphitheater. The trail also passes through clumps of wildflowers and towering hemlocks, making it one of the most scenic moderate drives in the Smokies. The gradual, shaded uphill trek showcases the beauty of these ancient mountains.
- Length: 2.6 miles round trip
- time: 1.5-2 hours
- difficulty: Easy to moderate
Go whitewater rafting on the Pigeon River
Little Pigeon River during the spring season in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
For an adrenaline rush in the Smokies, go whitewater rafting down the Pigeon River along the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Rafters experience thrilling Class III-IV rapids with names like “Lost Guide” and “Whirlpool” as they paddle through the scenic river gorge.
Trips range from light half-day adventures to controlled treks through the dam. Rafters can spot wildlife along the banks, admire towering rock walls, and take a refreshing swim through the quiet sections. The companies provide guided trips, safety instruction, and all the equipment needed for a fun day of rapids on the Pigeon River.
- Tour duration: Half day to full day options
- difficulty: Class III to IV rapids
- best times: Spring until fall
Unleash your inner child at Dollywood
Entrance to Dollywood, the famous theme park owned by Dolly Parton
With a 2019 expansion, Dollywood theme park offers Smoky Mountain fun for the whole family. Named after legendary country singer Dolly Parton, Dollywood features thrilling rides, live performances, traditional crafts and Southern cuisine. Thrill seekers can ride one of Dollywood’s 10 roller coasters, while kids can enjoy rides like the carousel and train.
Visitors can also watch talented craftsmen demonstrate skills such as glass blowing, ride a vintage Dollywood Express train, or watch a production of Dolly’s Musical. With its unique blend of rides, entertainment and culture, Dollywood offers the ultimate family theme park experience.
- location: 2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
- hours: Open daily, hours vary depending on the season
- Top attractions: Rollercoasters, shows, crafts and food
Take a scenic helicopter tour of the Smokies
Autumn leaves fall in the forests of the Great Smoky Mountains in the United States
Are you looking for some of the most stunning views in the Smoky Mountains? Take a helicopter tour for panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains’ craggy peaks and forested hills. Companies like Scenic Helicopter Tours offer exhilarating flights where travelers can see famous sights like Clingmans Dome, Mount LeConte, Cades Cove, and the twin bridges of the Tail of the Dragon.
Tours range from quick 15-minute trips to longer trips in the entire national park. Flying over the Smoky Mountains by helicopter gives travelers an unforgettable way to appreciate this region’s vast scope and natural beauty.
- Locations: Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
- Tour duration: Options from 15 minutes to 1 hour
Go fishing in the Smoky Mountains
A picturesque waterfall surrounded by lush green trees in a forest in the Great Smoky Mountains, USA
The Smokies offer excellent fishing opportunities with thousands of miles of trout streams and large lakes. There is a lot of fishing in the Smoky Mountains. Anglers can cast a line to catch trout in the flowing mountain streams of rivers such as Abrams Creek and the Little River. Lakes like Fontana Lake, Douglas Lake, and Hazel Creek feature bass, catfish, crappie, and more.
A special license is required for fishing in the national park. Whether you’re wading a secluded stream or cruising across a large lake, the diversity of fishing in the Smokies will satisfy every angler. Guided fishing tours in the Smokies are also available for those who want an expert to show them the best spots.
- Most important sites: Abrams Creek, Little River, Fontana Lake
- Best catch: Trout, bass, catfish, crappie
- Required license: Yes, a special permit for the national park
Ride the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
Great Smoky Mountains Railway
Take a cross-country ride on the stunning Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, a scenic railway that runs from Bryson City, North Carolina, into the heart of the national park. Travelers can choose from multiple classes of service, from comfortable coach cars to open-air observation gondolas.
The railway journey winds through tunnels, across valleys, streams and 100-year-old shafts. Knowledgeable guides narrate history and highlights during scenic excursions. The railway provides a unique perspective of the Smokies as well as great photo opportunities of the national park’s remote landscapes that are only accessible by rail.
- hours: Varies by season
- Tour duration: 1-4 hours
- road: Across the national park from Bryson City
Hike to Abrams Falls
Abrams Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains
One of the tallest and most beautiful waterfalls in the Smokies area is Abrams Falls, located in the western part of the park. Reaching this picturesque 20-foot waterfall requires a 5-mile out-and-back hike along Abrams Creek. The trail passes through a hemlock and pine forest filled with wildflowers in bloom during the summer.
Swimming is permitted below Abrams Falls, so many hikers bring swimsuits and water shoes during warm weather. With its spectacular cascading waterfalls, refreshing swimming holes, and solitude, the Abrams Falls hike is one of the most scenic hikes in the Smokies.
- Length: 5 miles round trip
- time: 3-4 hours
- difficulty: Moderate
Swimming is available at Abrams Falls in the warmer months.