The Top Things to Do in the Smoky Mountains

There are so many things to do in the Smoky Mountains region of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its gateway towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, that a full list would literally fill a book. We'll save you some page-turning with a brief overview here of some of the best highlights of this magical place.

The National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the nation, receiving more than 10 million visitors annually. It's one of the few that never charge admission (a condition of the land grants that went into its creation), and it consists of an area that has been designated by the United Nations as a unique biosphere of the planet. The park teems with wildlife and plant species, and park rangers have created over 800 miles of trails that offer some of the most scenic views in the land.

The park has abundant streams and waterfalls, and there are even a few that can be accessed by car - a great boon for the physically challenged and families with small children or pets. There are also several nature trails and quiet walkways that offer a chance to stretch your legs and take a short walk that plunges deep into stunning scenery, or else to walk a paved trail or one designed for a baby stroller or even a wheelchair. The rangers have done a wonderful job of sharing the best they can find with as many as possible.

Cades Cove is the most popular destination in the national park. It's a flat valley in the mountains with wildlife and immense calm and charm. A driving loop offers walking trails and historic sites to stop at along the drive. In summer the roadway is restricted early in the morning for bicycles on certain days. Traffic and crowds are the hazard of popularity. The golden rule visiting the park is to go early or late to avoid the crowds. Slow down. Don't go near wildlife, especially the many black bears you can often see - this is for their protection as much as yours.

Attractions and Sights

The area is filled with Appalachian history and culture, and Gatlinburg is home to the largest community of independent artisans in America. Several times each year, the arts & crafts shows provide unique shopping opportunities for handmade and unique items in all media, and of heirloom quality. The Arts & Crafts Community Trail is an 8-mile scenic loop runs along the edge of Gatlinburg, hosting over 100 studios, galleries, shops and eateries for a year-round way to spend a day window shopping or simply talking to experts in your filed of interest. The local trolley system also runs this route for those who want to leave the car behind.

The towns themselves hold more things to do than stories can tell. Family friendly is the keynote of this area - even the crowds that throng the spring and fall hot-rod & auto shows are super friendly - and kids are never bored. For the energetic there are go karts, mountain rail coasters, sky lifts, ziplines amid fantastic scenery, ropes courses, climbing walls, indoor sky diving, indoor snow tubing year-round (a first in the nation), and even indoor ice skating all year round up at the Ober Gatlinburg ski resort, which fields one of the country's largest Aerial tramways.

For adults and kids alike, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are home to several high-energy and acclaimed dinner shows and theater events, with magic and comedy venues as well. Festivals throughout the year offer bluegrass music, and other genres, moonshine distilleries offer tours and tastings, and for sustenance during all your explorations, it is said that you can eat at a different place each day all year and not visit the same restaurant twice.

Each season offers its own magic to the visitor, including winter for the snowbirds and skiers. Ober Gatlinburg offers snow tubing from Thanksgiving until Easter, when the Easter Sunrise dawn service on the mountain ushers in the change of seasons. Summer is filled with its countless outdoor activities, and red flame azaleas burst into color in the mountains. Fall is the world of magic when the leaves turn.

In winter the lights go on, something like 20 million lights in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, out at Sevierville and along the highway to the interstate, and over at Dollywood. There are fireworks displays, parades, animated lights, carolers and costumed players stroll on the streets of Gatlinburg offering music with a decided bluegrass feel. Sparkle is everywhere. Santa is known to appear at times.

One of the best ways to explore this region at any time of year is in one of the hundreds of luxury vacation cabins that dot the area. Cabins offer the ability to run to town in a few minutes, or to stay completely put if you just don't want to move. Nowadays you can get in-cabin grocery shopping and delivery, massage and spa treatments, and your own personal chef service.

Cabins are often booked in clusters for extended family and guests to stay in, making a far more robust form of community than hotel rooms allow for. Cleverly, most cabins are packed with video and arcade games, as well as pool tables, foosball and shuffleboard.

With Wi-Fi throughout and TVs everywhere, a multi-floor cabin offers the all-important gift of keeping the kids occupied while the grownups relax on vacation. Cabins are the only answer for sharing accommodations with many people: see how well two families shared one cabin in Gatlinburg.

Off-season times obviously mean less crowds and traffic, and also discounts on cabins. Cabin specials, last minute weekend getaways at half price and it pays to keep an eye on Gatlinburg cabin rentals for discounts. While many people book ahead to get the exact cabin they want, many others, especially those living closer to the area, like to take a chance of the price drops for an impromptu weekend getaway.

Whatever the season, cabin living in the mountains is a lot of fun, and you can be sure that Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge will be bustling every day with lots going on!