The Best Things to Do and See in the Great Smoky Mountains
Collected by Stratton Lawrence , AFAR Local Expert
How can you go wrong when you're surrounded by spectacular hills, crashing waterfalls, shaded paths, glinting mountain lakes, winding highways with dramatic overlooks, and all of it within reach of Dollywood? Come to the Smokies and have some natural fun.
2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863, USA
Those who have never visited Dollywood may be surprised that Dolly Parton’s namesake attraction is anything but a dusty tourist trap up in the hills. In fact, it’s a world-class amusement park with top-notch thrill rides for all ages....
Biltmore Estate Dr, North Carolina, USA
A self-guided tour of the Vanderbilt family’s 8,000-acre estate in Asheville, North Carolina, takes you through gardens bursting with roses and azaleas, and past pools filled with koi and pineapple-scented water lilies. The centerpiece is...
Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains is America’s most visited national park. Among the forests and ancient mountains, visitors find a vast array of plant and animal life as well as vestiges of...
2230 Hidden Mountain Rd, Sevierville, TN 37876, USA
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to over 800 miles of trails, and you’ll encounter crowds on only about a dozen of those. Sharing the magical, remote parts of the mountain range is what led husband-and-wife team Erik and Vesna...
Gatlinburg, TN 37738, USA
Many of the Smoky Mountains’ earliest tourists came here to shop from local craftsmen, popularized by the Pi Beta Phi women’s fraternity that chose supporting these mountain folk artists as their cause. In 1912, the women established a...
1080 Ski Lodge Rd, Maggie Valley, NC 28751, USA
The Southeast may not offer the never-ending runs of the Rockies, but when you need your fix, snow is snow, and Cataloochee’s 740 feet of vertical drop and 5,400-foot summit elevation rank it among the region’s best. Five lifts service...
135 Smokemont Riding Stables Rd, Cherokee, NC 28719, USA
Smokemont’s horseback-riding routes, which average $30/hour per rider, can easily fill the better part of a day spent outside. The most popular ride is a 2.5-hour expedition that climbs uphill to a hidden mountain waterfall. It’s...
155 Branam Hollow Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738, USA
On a mountainside surrounded by the national park, this nine–zip-line course stands apart from many of its competitors in the Southeast. Owned and designed by professionals who build courses all over the world (they own a second in-house...
Asheville, NC, USA
Autumn is the best time of year to visit the many overlooks of the Blue Ridge Parkway as it passes through Asheville, NC area. This is only one view from the parkway to a valley below. Bring your coat and camera as temperature drops as altitude...
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Gatlinburg, TN 37738, USA
This 5.5 mile long one way road trip amidst the bustling town of Gatlinburg is a must see for visitors to the Smokies. This road is full of great nooks and crannies offering a glimpse into Appalachian history. Get here early to avoid the traffic...
Oconaluftee Indian Village, Cherokee, NC 28719, USA
Native American history comes alive at this re-creation of a Cherokee village that’s designed to replicate life in 1760, when European contact begins to negatively affect the tribe. Visitors experience life and witness skills that have been...
576 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738, USA
Accessible only via a gondola or chairlift, this mountaintop theme park features fun for the whole family. Thrill rides like a double zip line and single-rail mountain coaster appeal to adrenaline seekers, while the treetop skybridge—the...
7230 Grassy Branch Rd, Bryson City, NC 28713, USA
Fontana Lake, on Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s southwest border, is a worthy vacation destination. Easily accessed from Bryson City, North Carolina, the lake offers camping, hiking, fishing, and boating in one of...
469 Brookside Village Way, Gatlinburg, TN 37738, USA
Streams in the Smoky Mountains are among the most productive mountain trout fisheries in the world, but without knowing where to go, you’re likely to do a lot more fishing than catching. The staff at the Smoky Mountain Angler,...
Rainbow Falls Trail, Gatlinburg, TN 37738, USA
Rainbow Falls is known for producing a visible rainbow on sunny days. Close to get to from downtown Gatlinburg, this is a fairly popular hike although not for the ill prepared. It's rated moderate to difficult and is a 5.4 mile roundtrip with...
A quintessential Appalachian waterfall, Hen Wallow spans 90 vertical feet and spills silvery currents of water over ink-dark slabs of rock. Mosses cover the nearby cliffs, and salamanders swim in the pool below the falls. (30 salamander species...
Black Mountain, NC 28711, USA
OK, America has plenty of beautiful little mountain towns. I just happened to catch this one on a quiet, low-season day and I was utterly charmed. The secondhand bookshop was a thing of joy - run by a woman who knew her Dorothy Parker from her...
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