These Smoky Mountain Outdoor Adventures Should Definitely Be On YOUR Bucket List!
If outdoor family vacations are your favorite vacation, then the Smokies has everything you need. The term “smokies” is the colloquial term most often used to refer to this southern region of the Blue Ridge Mountain range. These beautiful mountain ranges comprise northeast Tennessee area of the Appalachian mountains and are home to the very popular Great Smoky Mountain National Park as well as the mountain tourist towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN.
As you can imagine, outdoor fun in the Smokies comes in all forms and activity levels. There is sure to be an outdoor adventure waiting for every member of the family in the beautiful smoky mountains of east Tennessee. Here are five Smoky Mountain Outdoor Adventures for your family to enjoy.
Hike The Smokies
Of course our #1 fun outdoor activity in the Smokies is to go for a hike. With more than 800 miles on over 150 trails located in the Great Smoky Mountains and surrounding areas, there is a hike for every level. Here is a brief overview of just a few of the our favorite Smoky mountain hikes.
- Laurel Falls: Family friendly 1.3 mile paved hike to an 80 foot cascading waterfall. This hike is easily accessed just past Sugarlands Visitor Center so it is popular and busy. We recommend arriving early if you want a place to park.
- Abrams Falls: This hike is located within Cades Cove and is considered a moderate hike. The five mile trail will take you to a 20 foot waterfall that splashes into a pool below. Swimming is not allowed as the currents are very strong and the pool is deep.
- Rainbow & Grotto Falls: These are very popular hikes located off the Roaring Fork Motor trail in GSMNP. Both of these hikes will take several hours so good shoes and a packed lunch is recommended. Rainbow Falls is a 5.2 in and out hike and Grotto Falls is 3 miles round trip.
- Clingman’s Dome: One of our family favorites is to hike to the top of Clingman’s Dome. The view is said to be as far as 100 miles on a clear day. After visiting the dome, you can access the Appalachian Trail to hike back to your car if you desire.
- Middle Prong Trail: We found this trail to be delightful. The “trail” is actually the remains of an old railroad logging trail that ran through the lumber camp and small community known as “Tremont”. Three waterfalls can be accessed via this trail as well as remnants of the old logging camp. The area is well shaded and has lots of side trails and fun nooks and crannies for the kids to explore.
If you really want to get the family excited about hiking the Smokies, stop by one of the visitor centers to pick up your Hike The Smokies booklets to log your miles.
After logging your miles, return the booklets and receive a sticker or a pin and get recorded in the “Hike the Smokies-For Families” record book.
Bike In The Smokies
If seeing the great outdoors in the smokies by foot isn’t enough, hop on two wheels and bike the Smokies. These bike trails are an excellent way to get outside in the Smokies and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
Much of the Smoky Mountains is difficult to bike and the bike trails available are as varied as the mountain ranges themselves. However, biking within the park is allowed in several areas, just keep in mind that terrain will dictate the type of bike needed as well as the skill level required to complete the trail.
Here are a few trails that are great for families and all skill levels.
- Cades Cove: Probably the most well known section of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Cades Cove is an outdoor enthusiasts paradise. The 11-mile one way loop is open to cyclists as well as motor vehicles. However, from early May until late September, cyclists can ride the loop until 10:00 am without any motor vehicle traffic. Bikes may be rented in the summer and fall at the campground store.
- Gatlinburg Trail: This 1.9 mile one way trail is much shorter and leisurely than Cades Cove. The trail begins near Sugarlands Visitor Center on the outskirts of Gatlinburg. If you enjoy history, you will enjoy viewing the remnants of old homesteads and historical buildings. Don’t forget to wave at the rafters in the Little Pigeon River as you pass by. While the trail isn’t open to vehicles, it is open to pedestrians and pets and can become quite crowded. We recommend an early start for the family to enjoy this bike path.
- Townsend Bicycle Path: Located in beautiful Townsend, TN this 3 mile trail runs parallel to US-321 with a portion along Little River. There is parking located at each end of the trail and several restaurants and shops along the route
- Oconaluftee River Trail: This trail is also short and great for families. It’s 1.5 miles long and is also open to pets, joggers, and pedestrians, but the serenity of riding past the Oconaluftee River through the forested beauty of the Smokies makes this a great bike path for families. Keep your eyes open for wildlife!
Ride ATVs In The Smokies
Another great way to enjoy the Smokies on a trail is on an ATV. Never ridden an ATV? That’s no problem, Bluff Mountain Adventures offers guided ATV tours for all levels and ages.
Take in the breathtaking scenery while riding through the Smoky Mountains on a four wheeler or side by side. You can choose from four tour types of tours ranging from family friendly leisure tours to advanced tours which require experience as you navigate the narrow cliff hugging trail to the top of Bluff Mountain in Pigeon Forge, TN.
Here is a complete guide for Bluff Mountain Adventures.
Raft The Rivers Of The Smokies
The rivers and white waters of the Smokies offer yet another outdoor adventure to be enjoyed. The Upper Pigeon river will satisfy the adrenaline need of any outdoor enthusiast with it’s Class III rapids surrounded by the Smoky Mountain scenery.
For families with children as young as three years, take a raft on the Lower Pigeon river for a nice float trip, gentle rapids, and some great swimming holes surrounded by the beauty of the Smokies.
Not sure what to wear on a rafting trip? Here’s a great guide to the best rafting clothes for your whitewater rafting adventure.
Kayak fishing is growing in popularity and has become another way to enjoy the rivers of the Smokies. This guide to best fishing kayaks will help you decide on the right kayak.
See The Smokies On Horseback
Another fun and unique way to experience the beauty of the Smoky Mountains is on horseback.
Guided horseback rides are available in Great Smoky Mountain National Park from mid-March through late November in the following locations.
- Cades Cove, near Townsend, TN (865) 448-9009
(also offers hayrides and carriage rides) Visit website for additional information
- Smokemont, near Cherokee, NC (828) 497-2373
(also offers wagon rides) Visit website for additional information.
- Smoky Mountain, near Gatlinburg, TN (865) 436-5634. Visit website for additional information.
- Sugarlands, near Gatlinburg, TN (865) 436-3535.
Other Outdoor Activities In The Smokies
These five outdoor adventures only scratch the surface of outdoor fun to be had in the Northeast Tennessee outdoor playground known as the Great Smoky Mountains. Other fun activities in and around the Smokies, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge include:
- Zip Lining
- Fly Fishing
- Helicopter Tours
- and more…
If you are looking for even more fun activities while visiting the Smokies and Gatlinburg, read our complete guide to the Smoky Mountains for all seasons.
Curious about other great outdoor adventures in Tennessee? Check out this Tennessee Outdoor Guide from Circa Wanderlust.
We also recommend
Best Hotel in Gatlinburg: The Park Vista – a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel – Gatlinburg Our family has stayed here almost every fall for over 10 years. We love the indoor pool and the views.
If your visit to Gatlinburg is extended and you are looking to spend some time in Pigeon Forge, TN, check out our review of the Home 2 Suites located near The Island and Dollywood.
Best Hiking Shoes: Check out our review of Best Wide Toe Box Shoes for Hiking