Whether you are looking for a Smoky Mountains Vacation Guide for the first time or you are a veteran Smokies visitor, and just want something new and fun to try out, this list of 125 things to to do in the Smoky Mountains is the answer you are looking for.
In addition to this massive list of things to do in the Smoky Mountains, we also answer some of the most frequently asked questions about visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Things to do in the Smoky Mountains
The Smoky Mountains or as they are sometimes called, “The Smokies”, refers to the Great Smoky Mountains National park and the surrounding Southern Appalachian communities which includes the popular gateway communities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville.
The Smoky Mountains are the most visited national park in the United States with more than 11 million visitors annually. It is no wonder the world flocks to the Smoky Mountains with more than 800 miles of trails including 70 miles on the Appalachian Trail, nearly 400 miles of maintained roadway offering some of the most scenic drives in America, and a diverse population of wildlife and plant life to enjoy.
Where are the Smoky Mountains?
The Smoky Mountains is a mountain range located in the Southeastern United States along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. They lie within the Blue Ridge Province of the Appalachian Mountains. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is connected via the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
Why are the Smoky Mountains Smoky?
The Smoky Mountains get their “smoky blue” from the fog that hangs over the mountains created by the respiration of trees, themselves. The trees grow so densely in the area that when they “breath” the moisture they produce condenses into a fog. The blue color also comes from the trees which emit hydrocarbons as a result of tree metabolism. According to gatlinburgweather.com, these hydrocarbons, “bend the shorter light rays, those towards the red end of the spectrum, more than the blue rays, so the result is a bluish tint to the vapor.” (citation: http://www.gatlinburgtnweather.com/mountain_sense.html)
When is the best time to visit the Smoky Mountains?
TODAY!! Today is the best time to visit the Smoky Mountains in our humble opinion, but if not today, soon! Okay, I’ll be a bit more specific. Here is my answer to the most commonly asked questions about when to visit the Smoky Mountains.
Are The Leaves Changing In The Smoky Mountains Yet?
Mid-October to early November is the best time for fall foliage in the Smoky Mountains and as such, Fall is a peak season in the Smoky Mountains.
You should expect large crowds, especially on the weekends. There will be road congestion and hotel rates will be at their highest.
However, despite this fact, I have to confess the fall is truly our favorite time to visit the Smoky Mountains. We’ve been at least once yearly during the fall for the past 15 years and don’t anticipate changing that.
The best time to visit the Smoky Mountains for Fall colors is between mid-October and November!
Despite the larger crowds, the draw of the Smoky Mountains in the fall is hard to resist. This is when the Smoky Mountains make their brightest debut.
Does it Snow In The Smoky Mountains?
Yes! It does snow in the Smoky Mountains, but not always in the Winter. I like to say, we don’t expect a white Christmas but we fully expect a white Easter.
That’s not entirely accurate, but in the lower elevations, it can be. However, as I am writing this, we have just experienced the largest single snowfall in the Appalachian mountains in December since the 1960’s so, yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause and sometimes it snows in the winter in the Smokies.
It does snow in the higher elevations of the Smoky Mountains and several road closures do occur which we will talk more about in our section on scenic drives, but here is the lowdown on what to expect in the winter in the Smoky Mountains.
WINTER- The best time to visit for Christmas lights is the first two weeks of December before schools let out.
Crowds will be largest from mid-November leading up to the Christmas holiday and will begin to thin after New Year’s Day. Weekends will be crowded throughout the holiday season. After mid-January through early March will be the lowest crowds in the park, but many roads may also be closed.
Is March A Good Time To Visit The Smoky Mountains?
As I mentioned, snowfall can and often does occur in early spring, but Spring is still a great time to visit the Smoky Mountains and as the temperatures rise in late April and early May, it’s one of our favorite times because the flowers are beautiful.
SPRING- The best time to beat spring break crowds and enjoy spring flowers is Late April to Early May
Crowds will be lower in the Spring, but you can expect them to swell during the Spring break weeks in March and April, but still be less crowded than in the Fall and Summer.
What Is There To Do In The Smoky Mountains In The Summer?
What ISN’T THERE TO DO in the Smoky Mountains in the Summer. The second best time to visit the Smoky Mountains is often listed as the summer because most attractions are open, but whether it’s the best time really depends upon your preferences and crowd toleration.
SUMMER- Peak Season is June 15-August 15th. Best time to visit for most attractions & summer fun.
Next to weekends in October, summer will be the second peak season for the Smoky mountains. June 15-August 15th is the busiest time.
If you visit in the summer, we recommend arriving early at the most popular attractions and trails or using some of our tips for finding more off-the-beaten-path ideas.
How much does it cost to get into the Smoky Mountains?
It is FREE to get into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park is one of the few national parks in the United States that does not require an entrance fee. In the 1930’s when the park was established, Newfound Gap Road was one of the major routes crossing the Southern Appalachian Mountains and was paid for by the states of Tennessee and North Carolina as well as the local communities. When the state of Tennessee transferred ownership of the land to the Federal Government, they stipulate that, “no toll or license fee shall ever be imposed…” to use the road. Therefore, there is still no fee to this day to enter the park. Read more on the NPS website.
125+ Things to do in the Smoky Mountains
Here’s our huge list of things to do in the Smoky Mountains. Don’t forget to visit our Smoky Mountains Vacation Guide page for even more articles and tips on how to have the most amazing Smoky Mountain vacation.
Hiking is one of the top things to do in the Smoky Mountains and bonus: it’s completely free. (Unless you opt for a guided tour)
- Clingmans Dome- Clingman’s Dome is one of the most popular and, yes, very likely crowded, hikes to do in the Smoky Mountains.
- Laurel Falls– This paved 1.3 mile out and back trail leads to a cascading 80-foot waterfall.
- Alum Cave Trail– This is a great trail in any season, but the winter can be especially beautiful.
- Andrews Bald- Andrew’s Bald is accessed via a 3.6 round trip trek on the Forney Ridge trail from the Clingman’s Dome parking lot.
- Porter’s Creek– This is an easy to access trail in the winter due to its lower elevation.
- Huskey Gap Trail– Another great trail included in the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage.
- Grotto Falls- A beautiful 25 foot waterfall located 1.5 miles in on Trillium Gap Trail in Roaring Fork.
- Gregory Bald- This is not an easy hike, but for those willing to climb the 11.6 mile out and back trail to the summit of Gregory Bald in the summer, the reward is worth it.
- Rainbow Falls- Rainbow Falls is found at the end of a 2.7 mile moderate trail (5.2 miles in and out) and is the highest single drop waterfall in the Smokies.
- Cucumber Gap Trail– is located in the Elkmont Camp area and is loaded with wildflowers in the Spring.
- Huskey Gap Trail– Another great trail included in the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage.
- The Jump Off Trail– This trail takes you to the 6,000 foot ridgeline of the Appalachian mountains and will give you everything you want in a hiking trail.
- Chimney Tops Trail-The trail is between 3,300 and 4,800 feet in elevation making it ideal to enjoy in late October.
- Tremont on Middle Prong Trail -If you’d like a smaller crowd, but a serene and scenic hike, we recommend hiking the Middle Prong trail in Tremont.
- Ramsey Cascades– If you are looking for some larger waterfalls in the fall, Ramsey Cascades are the largest in the park, cascading 100 feet over the rocks and splashing into a pool below.
If you are looking for some scenery, but aren’t up for a hike, there are plenty of scenic drives in the Smokies. In fact, this is one of the best things about this national park in my opinion. There are so many great scenic views and overlooks that are accessible to everyone.
- Cades Cove Loop Road– This 11 mile loop drive circles around a cove filled with wildlife and historical buildings.
- Cataloochee Valley– If you are looking for a real treat and want to avoid the insane crowds of Cades Cove, you should definitely check out Cataloochee Valley. If you are lucky, you’ll get to spot some elk.
- Newfound Gap Road- Newfound Gap Road is quintessential Smoky Mountains!
- Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail– There are two great hiking trails located along the Roaring Fork Motor Trail, but if you aren’t up for hike, this autotrail is a favorite drive for the Springtime.
- Little River Road– Little River Road is another great auto touring option for the spring.
- Foothills Parkway-The completion of the highway was celebrated in November 2018, when the so-called “missing link” of the Foothills Parkway was completed.
- Rich Mountain Road– This primitive and easily accessible road is an alternative exit from Cades Cove.
Smoky Mountain Attractions
As you have probably already discovered throughout this guide on things to do in the Smoky Mountains, every season has its own special magic. Whether it be hiking, scenic drives, or attractions, there are things not to miss in every season and special festivals and attractions that keep you wanting to visit the region throughout the entire year. Here are a few of our favorite Smoky Mountain Attractions and ideas on when to visit them.
Smoky Mountains Attractions in the Fall
In addition to the beautiful Fall Foliage in the Smokies, these attractions are some of our favorites to visit during the Autumn season.
- Dollywood’s Great Pumpkin Luminights This event has quickly become a new family favorite for a fall visit to the Smoky Mountain theme park.
- Craftsmen’s Fair– Visit the Gatlinburg Convention center for the Fall Craftsmen’s Fair to get a truly unique souvenir from one of the area’s many talented craftsmen and women.
- Oktoberfest at Ober– This is such a fun event in Gatlinburg during the fall.
- Grains & Grits Festival in Townsend, TN– This over 21 only foodie and craft spirits festival kicks off in early November.
- Ride the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad– The Great Smoky Mountain railroad offers a chance to step back in time and enjoy the fall foliage from the comfort of the train as you whisk through the mountains on steam locomotive.
Smoky Mountains Attractions in the Winter
Winter is a special time in the Smoky Mountains. From late fall until after the first of the year, Winterfest is underway and the sights and smells of the Christmas season are in full force. There are more than 10 million twinkling lights throughout the Smoky Mountain area in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville. Dollywood alone has more than 5 million Christmas lights thanks to its newly expanded Glacier Ridge. Snowfall in the lower levels of the Smoky Mountains is minimal with low accumulation about five times per year. Higher elevations and several of the more shaded and narrow roadways do become snowy and icy and will be closed. Check the National Park Page for road conditions and closures.
- Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas– This relatively new addition brings the total Christmas lights in Dollywood to over 5 million.
- Ober Gatlinburg- In addition to the 10 slopes for skiing, Ober offers snowboarding, tubing, and an indoor ice skating rink.
- Take in a Christmas Show– Take in a Christmas show at Dollywood or one of the many Smoky Mountain dinner theatre’s.
- Ring in the New Year with Fireworks at The Island
Smoky Mountains Attractions in the Spring
As you can imagine, Spring is a great time for visiting the Smoky Mountains. The air is fresh and fragrant with the smell of freshly blooming wildflowers, the streams and rivers are bursting forth, and the wildlife and singing birds begin to emerge adding to the magical feeling in the air.
- Attend Dollywood’s Festival of Nations
- Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales– Step back in time with this Smoky Mountain cultural treat.
- Smoky Mountain Trout Festival – Bring the kids because there is even a separate youth tournament.
- Gatlinburg Wine Weekend- Do I really need to say anything else?
- Wilderness Wildlife Week– Based at the LeConte Center in Pigeon Forge, your family will enjoy guided hikes and educational activities all week.
Smoky Mountains Attractions in the Summer
Summer is, of course, one of the best times to visit the Smoky Mountains as all activities both indoor and out will be in full operation. The temperatures do heat up and humidity is high in the lower elevations, but that’s all the more reason to head for the hills of northeast Tennessee and reach those higher elevations and cooler temperatures. Here are a few ideas for how to best spend your summer in the Smoky Mountains.
- Dollywood and Dollywood Splash Country
- Smoky Mountain White Water Rafting– Gatlinburg is home to several regional rivers including the Pigeon River offering class III and class IV rapids.
- Ride a Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster– A new and more unique way to explore them there hills, is on a smoky mountain Alpine coaster.
- Ride a Bike Through Cades Cove– This is a really fun way to explore the Smoky Mountains in the summer.
- Pigeon Forge Snow Tubing– This is a brand new way to cool off and have some fun in the summer in Pigeon Forge.
- Ride an ATV
Things to do in Gatlinburg
- Anakeesta Gatlinburg
- Rent an ATV
- Take the Kids to Adventureworks
- Hillbilly Golf
- Gatlinburg SkyLift Park
- Ride the Aerial Tramway to Ober Gatlinburg
- Ride the Gatlinburg Trolley
- Ride the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
- Go Skiiing at Ober Gatlinburg
- Visit Ripley’s Aquarium
- Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
- Ripley’s Davy Crockett Mini-Golf
- Ripley’s Haunted Adventure
- Ripley’s Odditorium
- Ripley’s Mirror Maze
- Ripley’s Moving Theatre
- All new Guiness World Records Museum
- Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster
- Wild Bear Falls Water Park
- Cooter’s Place Go Kart & Golf Gatlinburg
- Rowdy Bear Mountain Coaster
- Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre
- Visit the New SkyBridge Gatlinburg
- Fannie Farkle’s
- Mysterious Mansion
- Hollywood Star Cars Museum
- 7D Dark Ride Adventure
- Gatlin’s Escape Room Games
Things to do in Pigeon Forge
- Visit Dollywood
- See Hollywood Stars at the Hollywood Wax Museum in Pigeon Forge
- See The Beverly Killbillies Show
- Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Show
- Wonder Works Pigeon Forge
- Alcatraz East Crime Museum
- The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel
- The Track – Pigeon Forge
- LazerPort Fun Center
- TopJump Trampoline & Extreme Arena
- Outdoor Gravity Park
- Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show
- Pigeon Forge Gem Mine
- SpeedZone Fun Park
- Parrot Mountain and Gardens
- Visit the Titanic Museum
- Ripley’s Old MacDonald’s Farm Mini-Golf
- Paula Deen’s Lumberjack Feud Show and Adventure Park
- Enjoy Christmas at The Smoky Mountain Opry
- Classified Escape Room
- Douglas Lake Helicopter Tour
More Free Things to do in the Smoky Mountains
- Visit Patriot Park
- Visit the Old Mill Shopping District
- Get in the Christmas Spirit at The Christmas Place
- Visit the Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts Community
- Visit Sugarlands Visitor Center
- The Island at Pigeon Forge
- Ride the Trolley For Free in the Summer Months
- Visit Little River Railroad & Lumber Company Museum
- Go to Nearby Douglas Lake
- Window Shop at The Village Shops
- Take the kids fishing at Mynatt Park
Festivals to Visit in the Smoky Mountains
- Dollywood’s Harvest Festival
- Tennessee Smokies Beerfest (Nearby Kodak in August)
- Great Smoky Mountain Hot Air Balloon Festival
- Fall Rod and Run
- Chalkfest at The Island in Pigeon Forge
- Great Smoky Mountain Jeep Invasion
- Welcome Home Veterans Parade
- Grains & Grits Festival in Townsend, TN
- Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair
- Festival of Trees Gatlinburg
- Gatlinburg’s Taste of Autumn
- Great Smoky Thanksgiving Arts & Crafts Show
- Winter Smoky Mountain Tunes and Tales
- Chili Cookoff presented by Bush’s Chili Beans
- Smoky Mountain Bigfoot Conference
- Smoky Mountains Songwriters Festival
- Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade
- Christmas Craft Shows gatlinburg
- Oktoberfest at Ober
- Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales
- Smoky Mountain Trout Festival
- Attend Wilderness Wildlife Week with Park Rangers