The Smoky Mountains are a mecca of things to do. Between the Gateway towns, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the National Forests. There is an amazing range of activities for groups of all sizes and types. I am lucky enough to live close parks so I have gotten to check out most of the Smokies attractions. Here are my very best things to do in the Smoky Mountains.
Make your Great Smoky Mountains trip planning super easy with one of our expertly designed Smoky Mountain itineraries.
- Best Things to do in the Smoky Mountains
- 1. Cades Cove
- 2. Abrams Falls
- 3. Meigs Falls
- 4. The Sinks
- 5. Little Greenbrier
- 6. Elkmont Historical District
- 7. Laurel Falls
- 8. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
- 9. Rainbow Falls
- 10. Grotto Falls
- 11. Ramsey Cascades
- 12. Alum Cave Trail
- 13. Chimney Tops Trail
- 14. Newfound Gap Overlook
- 15. Appalachian Trail
- 16. Clingmans Dome
- 17. Drive the Tail of the Dragon
- 18. Fontana Dam
- 19. Cataloochee Valley
- 20. Mountain Farm Museum
- 21. Oconaluftee Indian Village
- 22. Unto These Hills Cherokee Theatre
- 23. Museum of the Cherokee Indian
- 24. Tuckaleechee Caverns
- 25. Horseback Riding in the Smokies
- 26. Whitewater rafting
- 27. Dollywood
- 28. Dollywood’s Splash Country
- 29. Ober Gatlinburg
- 30. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
- 31. Titanic Museum
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Best Things to do in the Smoky Mountains
Make your Great Smoky Mountains trip planning super easy with one of our expertly designed Smoky Mountain itineraries.
1. Cades Cove
Cades Cove is one of the most popular things to do in the Smoky Mountains. This broad mountain valley was home to a small mountain farming community. This valley is full of historical homesteads, wildlife and mountain views.
Cades Cove is accessed via a 11-mile winding loop road. There are 12 historic buildings to visit including the cabins, churches, and a grist mill. Several trailheads can be found in the Cove. These include Abrams Fall and Rich Mountain.
Cades Cove is located near the Townsend, TN Entrance.
Other activities in Cades Cove
The Cades Cove Loop is popular with bicyclists. From May to September, the loop is closed to vehicles from sunrise to 10:00 AM so bicyclists and pedestrians can enjoy the cove. Bike rentals are available from the camp store. The cost for the bike rental is $7.50 per hour.
The Cades Cove riding stable offer guided trail rides in the cove. These rides are 1 hour and cost $35 per person.
2. Abrams Falls
Abrams Falls is a popular waterfall in Cades Cove. The waterfall is the most voluminous waterfall in the park despite only being 20 ft high. The waterfall is reached via a 5-mile round trip hike. The trail is moderate to difficult depending on your fitness level. This hike usually takes 3-4 hours.
The trailhead is located just past stop #10 on Cades Cove Loop Road (just past Elijah Oliver Place.
3. Meigs Falls
Meigs Fall is one of the easiest waterfalls to see in the park. This cute waterfall is located along Little River Road. The waterfall is set a little bit back from the road along a tributary of Little River. There are no trails leading to this waterfall and it can only be seen from the road.
This waterfall is 13 miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center and 7 miles east of Townsend. It is easy to miss this waterfall when driving along Little River Road. Keep an eye out for a long pull off with a stone wall next to the river.
4. The Sinks
The Sinks is a picturesque spot along Little River Road. This small waterfall is located at an S-bend in the Little River. This unique spot is actually a man-made waterfall. Before the Smokies became a National Park, the area saw extensive logging. The loggers floated the logs down the river and at some point, a log jam formed at this spot. The logging companies use dynamite to break up the log jam. The explosion cleared the log jam and created this waterfall and associated swimming hole.
Meigs Creek Trail starts from the Sinks parking lot.
Do not jump off the rocks. Park Rangers will give out tickets for this dangerous behavior.
This waterfall is 12 miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center and 8 miles east of Townsend. It is easy to miss this waterfall when driving along Little River Road. There is a small parking lot located near the bridge and a short walk down to the viewing platform.
5. Little Greenbrier
Little Greenbrier was an Appalachian community in a hollow near Metcalf Bottoms along the Little River. This historical area is home to the Walker Sisters Place, Greenbrier Cemetery, and Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse.
Please note there are two places in the Smokies called Greenbrier. The other Greenbrier is six miles east of Gatlinburg on US-321 and is home to the Ramsey Cascades hiking trail.
6. Elkmont Historical District
Elkmont Historic District is sometimes referred to as Elkmont Ghost Town. Elmont has a complex history as a logging and resort town. The areas didn’t come under full NPS control until 1992 when the private land leases were not renewed. The original plan was to remove all the buildings and let nature take over but several of the buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places. This meant they couldn’t be torn down.
While the buildings couldn’t be torn down, they were not actively maintained and several buildings have collapsed or been destroyed by fire. In 2009, NPS released its Final Environmental Impact Statement for Elkmont and outlined a plan to restore select buildings in the district and remove others. The structures to be restored were select due to their association with David Chapman or the logging history.
Elkmont is the site of the famed Smokies Synchronous Fireflies.
Elkmont Rd is 4.7 miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center and 14.5 miles east of Townsend. The turn off is well market
7. Laurel Falls
Laurel Falls is a popular moderately difficult trail. The trail is a 2.6-mile round trip and gains about 300 ft in elevation. While this trail is paved, the pavement is rough and uneven. This trail is not suitable for wheelchairs or strollers.
Laurel Falls is an 80-ft high waterfall which an upper and lower section. The upper and lower section is divided by a walkway at the base of the upper falls. Please do not climb on the rocks or riverbanks near the falls. They can be very slippery and people have died.
The trailhead is located on Little River Road. It is 3.5 miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center or 13.7 miles from the Townsend “Y”.
8. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a one-way 5.5-mile loop. This loop is a winding road that goes past historic buildings, old-growth forests, rushing mountain streams. I refer to the area as the quiet version of Cades Cove with better hiking.
Please note that much of this area burned in the 2016 Gatlinburg fire and care should be taken to avoid dead standing trees.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is located near Gatlinburg, TN. To Read Roaring Fork turn at traffic light #8 and follow Historic Nature Trail Road to the Cherokee Orchard entrance. Buses, trailers and motor homes are not allowed.
9. Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls is an 80 ft waterfall that is known to produce rainbows on sunny afternoons. Rainbow Falls is reached by a 5.4-mile roundtrip hike that gains about 1,500 ft in elevation. The trail is moderately difficult. This trail can also be used to reach Mount Le Conte. It is an addition 4 miles to the top.
Please do not climb on the rocks or riverbanks near the falls. They can be very slippery and people have died.
The trailhead is located on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The trailhead is the parking area just past the Noah “Bud” Ogle homesite.
10. Grotto Falls
Grotto Falls is a 25-ft high waterfall in an old-growth hemlock forest. Grotto Falls is located on the Trillium Gap Trail. Grotto Falls is a 2.6 mile round trip hike from the parking lot on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The hike is moderately difficult and gains about 600 ft in elevation.
Grotto Falls is a popular waterfall due to the trail length and the fact that Trillium Gap Trail runs behind Grotto Falls and it continues on into the mountains. When walking behind the waterfall, please WATCH your step. Salamanders are often seen behind the water and some species are highly endangered.
The trailhead is located on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The trailhead is stop #5 and has a decent-sized parking area.
11. Ramsey Cascades
Ramsey Cascades is the tallest waterfall in the park. It has a 100 ft drop over a rocky outcropping. Ramsey Cascades Trail is an 8-mile hike roundtrip. The trail is a strenuous hike that gains 2,200 ft in elevation. This hike typically takes 5-7 hours.
Do not attempt to climb to the top of the falls. Several people have been killed trying to do so.
The trailhead is located in the Greenbrier section of the park. This Greenbrier is not to be confused with Litte Greenbrier. The Greenbrier park entrance is located 6 miles east of Gatlinburg along 321. The trailhead is located at the end of the Greenbrier road on the left fork.
12. Alum Cave Trail
Alum Cave Trail is one of the six trails that lead to the summit of Mt. Leconte. Alum Cave is the most popular and shortest of these trails. The trail to the summit of Mt. Leconte is an 11-mile round trip hike that takes 6-8 hours. However, most hikers on this trail are only hiking to Alum Cave Bluff. The hike to Alum Cave Bluff is only a 4.6-mile round trip hike that takes about 3 hours.
Alum Cave Bluff is a 80-ft concave bluff with scenic views
The trailhead is located on Newfound Gap Road. It is 8.6 miles south of Sugarlands Visitor Center or 20 miles north of Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
13. Chimney Tops Trail
Chimney Tops is a steep but popular trail with spectacular views. This trail is 4 miles round trip and has an elevation change of 1,400 ft. This is a difficult trail. The trail starts with a gradual elevation gain as it crosses several streams. At the one mile mark, the trail starts to climb steeply and gains 960 ft over the last mile.
The trail ends about 1/4 mile below the rock pinnacle at a new observation point. The trail used to go to the top of the rock pinnacle due to the 2016 arson fire, the path to the summit is unsafe and is not stable enough to support a hiking trail. Please do NOT go past the observation point and closure signs.
The trailhead is located on Newfound Gap Road. It is 6.7 miles south of Sugarlands Visitor Center or 22 miles north of Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
14. Newfound Gap Overlook
Newfound Gap Overlook has an elevation of 5,046 ft and is the highest drivable pass in the Smokies. This popular overlook is at the border of Tennesee and North Carolina. President Franklin D. Roosevelt stood at Newfound Gap and dedicated the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Appalachian Trail crosses Newfound Gap Road at this point.
The Newfound Gap Overlook is located on Newfound Gap Road. It is 16 miles south of Sugarlands Visitor Center or 18 miles north of Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
15. Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail (AT) is one of the premier long-distance hiking trails in the United States. It runs around 2,200 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. Of the 2,200 miles, 71 miles of the AT travel through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Smokies potion of the AT starts at Fontana Dam and runs to Davenport Gap and follows the Tennessee-North Carolina border.
The trail climbs to Clingmans Dome and crosses the Newfound Gap Road at Newfound Gap overlook. Clingmans Dome is the highest point on the trail. It typically takes seven days for hikers to do this section of the Appalachian Trail.
The Appalachian Trail can be accessed from Fontana Dam, Clingmans Dome, Newfound Gap, and Davenport Gap. There are several day hiking options such as Charlies Bunion or Silers Bald.
16. Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains and the state of Tennessee. The mountain is 6,643 ft tall and on clear days the view can be over 100 miles. At the summit is an Observation Tower that provides an view about the tree line.
The Observation Tower is a 0.5-mile walk from the parking lot at the end of Clingmans Dome road. This walk is on a paved but steep trail. While this trail is paved but is too steep to be wheelchair accessible.
The Clingmans Dome is located on Clingmans Dome Road off Newfound Gap Road. The turnoff is 0.1 miles south of Newfound Gap.
17. Drive the Tail of the Dragon
The Tail of the Dragon is an 11-mile section of US 129 between Tabcat Bridge and Deals Gap. This legendary section of the highway has 318 miles and is often considered to be one of the world’s foremost motorcycling and sports car touring roads.
This popular road is narrow and winding. Vehicles over 30 ft in length are banned and care should be taken to stay in YOUR LANE. This road isn’t for sightseeing. It is a road to drive and enjoy the feel of the turns.
If you survive your ride don’t forget to get your Tail of the Dragon photos from Killboy.com Killboy offers professional photos at an amazingly affordable price.
18. Fontana Dam
Fontana Dam is a hydroelectric dam on the Little Tennessee River. The dam formed Fontana Lake which forms part of the southern boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Fontana Dam is 480 ft high and is the tallest dam in the eastern United States. The dam has a flood storage capacity of 513,965 acre feet and has 238 miles of shoreline.
Fontana Dam offers amazing lake views and the lake is popular for boating, fishing, and swimming. The Appalachian Trail cross over the dam as it makes its way in to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
From Tennessee, follow U.S. 129 south to NC Highway 28 South. From North Carolina, go west from U.S. 74 to NC 28 North.
19. Cataloochee Valley
Cataloochee Valley is an isolated valley in the North Carolina side of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The valley is home to several historical buildings and is the best place in the park to see the historic frame buildings.
Cataloochee is a little off the beaten path of the Smokies but this remote valley is gaining popularity due to its elk herd. In 2001, elk were reintroduced to the park after an almost 200-year absence. Elk had been hunted to extinction in the mid-1800s. The reintroduction project has been highly successful and today there are almost 200 animals.
Cataloochee Valley is located via I-40 exit #20 and Cove Creek Road. Follow the signs from the interstate.
20. Mountain Farm Museum
The Mountain Farm Museum is a collection of historic log buildings at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. These buildings were built in the late 1800s and moved to the Museum in the 1950s. This collection of buildings includes a log farmhouse, barn, apple house, spring house, blacksmith shop, and a smokehouse.
There is a short self-guided tour of the museum and one can get a sense of what life was like the Smokies before it became a National Park. Pay attention to the Davis House. This house is made from American Chestnut. Prior to 1908, the Smokies were dominated by the American Chestnut tree. The Chestnut Tree was wiped out from our forests due to a fungus called the Chestnut blight. This fungus effectively pushed the American Chestnut tree to extinction as a mature nut-producing tree.
The Mountain Farm Museum is located at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. It is located on the Newfound Gap Rd and is 30 miles from Sugarlands Visitor Center.
21. Oconaluftee Indian Village
Oconaluftee Indian Village is a living history museum. The Village has recreated a 1760s Cherokee village and offers an interactive guided tour where guests learn about the culture and traditions of the Cherokee Nationa. There are live demonstrations of hulling canoes, pottery making, basket weaving, and many more daily activities.
Oconaluftee Indian Village is open from April to October and Monday thru Saturday. The Cherokee Pow Wow is held the weekend of July 4th.
Oconaluftee Indian Village is located in Cherokee, NC. Take I-40 to exit 27.
Cost: $18.50 for adults, $10.50 for children.
22. Unto These Hills Cherokee Theatre
Unto These Hills Cherokee Theatre is a drama following the history of the Cherokee Nation from the arrival of the first Spanish Conquistadors. It looks into the dark history of broken promises, stolen land, and forced marches as the United States formed and grew as a country and it’s relations with the Cherokee Nation. This is a two-hour show.
The Cherokee Theater has been operating since 1949. The theater is open air and shows go on rain or shine (except when lighting is present).
Unto These Hills Cherokee Theatre is located in Cherokee, NC. Take I-40 to exit 27.
Cost: $28 for adults
23. Museum of the Cherokee Indian
The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is rich museum that showcases 11,000 years of Cherokee history. The museum mixes archaeological artifacts with life size figures, interactive technology, and special effect. The museum showcases the history, heritage and traditions of the Cherokee Nation.
This Museum is one the top Native History Museums in United States and is not to be missed when exploring the Smokies.
The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is located in Cherokee, NC. Take I-40 to exit 27.
Cost: $12 for adults, $7 for children.
24. Tuckaleechee Caverns
Tuckaleechee Caverns is a small cave near Townsend, TN. The cave is affectionately known as “Greatest Site Under the Smokies.” The tour of the Tuckaleechee Caverns travels through 1.25 miles of the cave and the tour guides share stores from the caves discovery and its rich geological history.
The cave is between 20 to 30 million years old. If you take a tour, I highly recommend seeing if you can get on Brandi’s tour. Her tours are amazing.
Tuckaleechee Caverns is open from March to November and the cave is just off US Hwy 321. Turn on to Old Tuckaleechee Rd and follow the signs.
Cost: $18 for adults, $8 for children.
25. Horseback Riding in the Smokies
Horseback riding in the Smokies is a popular activity in and around the Smokies. There 550 miles of the Smokies hiking trails are open to horseback riding. There are a lot of options from day hikes to multiday trips. If you don’t have a horse, there are four riding stables in the National Park and several more that offer rides outside the park.
There are many people who consider horseback riding to be animal exploitation and call for the practice to end. Please take the ethics of this into consideration. Here are an article that discusses both sides for you to consider.
Cost: Prices range depending on stable but expect to pay around $35 per hour for adults, $25 per hour for children.
26. Whitewater rafting
East Tennesse and Western North Carolina are one of the top destinations in the world for whitewater rafting. Raftable rivers include the Nantahala River, French Broad River, Ocoee River, and the Pigeon River. The rapids range from class II to class IV and trips range from half-day to full day.
The Ocoee River is the premier whitewater river in the area. This dam-controlled river was the site of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics whitewater rafting events. There is a half-day and a full day option on this river.
The Pigeon River is the most popular with visitors to the Smokies. The river is located near Gatlinburg and trips are offered daily.
Check with individual rafting operators as to their location.
Cost: Starting at $30 per person.
Dollywood is a amusement park named from famed Sevier County native and country music star Dolly Parton. Dollywood is a 90-arce mountain themed assessment park with more than 50 rides and attractions as well as a range of craft shops, theaters and play areas. The park is also home to a 30,000 aviary the house the nations largest collection of non-releasable bald eagles.
The park offers a little bit of everything and can make for an exciting addition to any Great Smokies Mountain National Park trip.
Cost: $79 for those ages 10-61
28. Dollywood’s Splash Country
Dollywood’s Splash Country is a sister park to Dollywood. This 35-acre water park is adjacent to Dollywood. This park is themed around Dolly’s childhood and swimming in the rivers of the Smokies. The Splash park has 11 rides and several pools. There are three children areas, a lazy river and a wave pool.
Cost: $49.95 for those ages 10-61
29. Ober Gatlinburg
Ober Gatlinburg is an amusement park and ski area in Gatlinburg, TN. Ober Gatlinburg is the state of Tennessee only ski and snowboard area. The ski area has 10 skiing trails, a terrain park, a snow tubing hill and three chairlifts. The slopes range from a gentle teaching slope and 4,400 ft long slope with 556 ft drop.
Ober Gatlinburg’s amusement park includes summer tubing, scenic chairlifts, a climbing wall, water raft rides, coaster, ice skating, bummer cars, and a wildlife park with native TN wildlife.
Cost: Tickets start at $34 for adults and $29 for kids
30. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Cost: Tickets start at $34.99 for adults and $17.99 for kids
31. Titanic Museum
The Titanic Museum is a two story museum that is shaped exactly like the RMS Titanic. The museum is half the size as the original ship and is the largest permanent Titanic museum in the world. The Titanic Museum contains over 400 artifacts displayed over 22,000 sq ft and twenty galleries.
Cost: Tickets start at $27 for adults and $14 for kids