Ultimate Smoky Mountain Bucket List: 20 Smoky Mountain Activities to Experience Before You Die
When it comes to fun and family-friendly things to do in the Smoky Mountains, there is no shortage of opportunities. From hiking trails to amusement parks to daring adventures, there is something for everyone found in these hills.
However, there are a few Smoky Mountain activities that are sure to make your next trip here truly remarkable. That is why we have put together the ultimate Smoky Mountain bucket list for you and your family or group to follow so you will have the opportunity to enjoy all of the best things to do in the Smoky Mountains.
1. Hike All 150 Official Trails
There are over 800 miles of hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park spread out over 150 different trails. Meaning, there is a countless number of outdoor adventures you and your family or group can experience when you travel here.
That is why have hiking all 150 official trails at the top of the list of our favorite Smoky Mountain activities. With difficulty ratings of these hikes ranging anywhere from very easy to extremely difficult, we guarantee you will have no trouble finding a trail that is perfect for you. Whether you are a beginner or an expert outdoors enthusiast, you are guaranteed to have a fun and memorable experience. Some popular hikes in the Smoky Mountains are Laurel Falls, Alum Cave, and Mount LeConte.
2. Ride The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel
If you love scenic views of the Smoky Mountains, then you will love the unique sights found from the top of the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel at The Island in Pigeon Forge. Not only do you get a clear view of all the fun and exciting Smoky Mountain activities found in Pigeon Forge, but you also get a bird’s eye view of the majestic mountains in the distance. This means no matter where you look, you are guaranteed a picturesque view you cannot find anywhere else.
The Wheel itself is a 200-foot modern-day Ferris wheel. Each of the all-glass gondolas is climate controlled and can hold up to 8 guests.
To make your experience at The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel even more memorable, consider riding it at night. With over 1 million LED light bulbs attached to the frame of the ride, you and your family or group are sure to be amazed at the dazzling light show seen each night here.
For an inside look at what to expect when you visit The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, watch the video below!
3. Walk the Gatlinburg Strip
There is so much to discover when you walk along the Gatlinburg strip, it is almost hard to put it all in one description. Here, you have restaurants, moonshine distilleries, an aquarium, an endless amount of shopping, an arts and crafts school, attractions, and so much more! With all of these fun things to experience, you shouldn’t be surprised that we think a trip here deserves a spot on our list of the best Smoky Mountain activities, especially since all you have to do is park your car and walk around to experience it.
That’s right! These fun and free things to do in Gatlinburg are all found within walking distance of one another.
4. Go to a Pigeon Forge Car Show
You don’t have to be a car expert to appreciate the classic beauties that show up on display at the many Pigeon Forge car shows throughout the year. From American classics to trucks to hot rods, there is a car show for every automobile interest you can think of.
What makes these car shows even better is they are completely free to attend. In fact, you can see most of the cars just by strolling up and down the Pigeon Forge Parkway.
For details about this year’s Pigeon Forge car shows, click here.
5. See the Smoky Mountains From the Top of the Gatlinburg Space Needle
At 407 feet up in the air, the Gatlinburg Space Needle is one of the best places to catch unbeatable views of the Smoky Mountains outside of the national park. Not only do you get a clear 360-degree view of the mountains, but you also get to look down on all of the excitement of downtown Gatlinburg below.
Whether you are visiting for the fall foliage, to see the snow-capped mountains in the winter, to catch a peek at the spring wildflowers or just to enjoy a beautiful sunny day in the summer, we promise you will not be disappointed in the spectacular view found here. Not to mention, there are also a slew of fun things to do at the base of the Space Needle to make your visit here even more memorable, including an arcade, a pizza restaurant, and a show!
6. Bike the Cades Cove Loop Road
With about 5 million visitors a year, Cades Cove is easily one of the most popular Smoky Mountains activities. Here, not only can you and your family or group drive along the 11-mile Cades Cove loop road, you all can also choose to either walk or bike the roadway, especially when the National Park Service shuts down the roadway from automobile traffic to allow pedestrians to explore freely without worrying about cars rushing them.
The Cades Cove Loop Road even vehicle-free days on Wednesdays May through September so that you can enjoy the loop without cars around.
7. Experience the Synchronized Smoky Mountain Fireflies
Did you know the Smoky Mountains are the only place in the United States where you can witness synchronized Smoky Mountain fireflies? It’s true!
Every year, in early May and June, the Elkmont area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park comes to life with millions of twinkling fireflies that light up the night sky as part of their mating ritual. It is a stunning sight you truly have to see to believe.
Speaking of which, the staff with the National Park Service invites you and your family to do just what during the peak times for the fireflies. Every year, they release a set number of tickets and parking passes you and your family can pick up to see this stunning display for yourself.
Click here to learn more about the synchronized Smoky Mountain fireflies at Elkmont and for updated information on tickets to the event.
8. Try Whitewater Rafting
If you are a thrill seeker at heart, then there is no doubt you will love spending the day conquering the rapids during a whitewater rafting adventure in the Smoky Mountains. This is where you and your family or group are taken out on the river by an experienced guide and given the opportunity to see a side of the Smoky Mountains you have never seen before, from the comfort of an inflatable raft. We recommend going rafting with Smoky Mountain Outdoors, the most trusted outfitter on the Pigeon River!
The best part is that in between rapids, you and your group will be able to sit back and enjoy peaceful views of the Smokies.
For a sneak peek at what to experience when you go whitewater rafting in the Smoky Mountains, watch the video below!
9. See a Smoky Mountain Black Bear
It’s no secret the Smoky Mountain black bears are the most popular animal living in the national park. In fact, the National Park Service dubbed it the park’s official mascot thanks in part to the popularity of the animal.That is why we know you will want to try your best to see one of these playful creatures for yourself during your next visit to the area.
Now, it is important to remember it is very unlikely you will see a bear near your vacation rental. Meaning, you will have to go to one of the popular places viewing spots in the area to see the Smoky Mountain black bears, including Cades Cove at sunrise.
Please remember, you do need to exercise extreme caution if and when you do encounter a Smoky Mountain black bear. These are wild animals after all! Take a look at these black bear safety tips to be prepared.
10. Stand on Top of a Mountain
There is just something about the feeling of accomplishment you get when you are able to stand at the top of a mountain and look down at the ground below. Not only do you get to revel in the miles of hiking trails you conquered to reach the peak, but you also get to take in the beautiful views of the area around you.
That is why we think everyone should stand at the top of a mountain in the Smoky Mountains at least once, if not more.
For us, our favorite mountain to stand on top of to enjoy the scenic views of the Smokies is Mt. LeConte. At 6,594 feet tall, Mt. LeConte is the tallest peak completely within Tennessee. It is also the third tallest peak in the national park as a whole.
At the peak of Mt. LeConte, you and your family or group will discover one of the most unique businesses in the Smoky Mountains, the Mt. LeConte Lodge. Our favorite part of the lodge is they sell picnic style lunches you can pick and enjoy before you head back down the mountain.
11. Watch a Smoky Mountain Sunrise
Similar to the feeling you get when you stare out at the Smoky Mountains from the top of a mountain, there is a calming effect that happens when you catch the sunrise peaking over the mountains in the morning. It doesn’t matter if you are glancing out from the private patio of your cabin rental or experiencing the view from one of our favorite scenic overlooks in the area, nothing beats a Smoky Mountain sunrise.
It is as if everything is at peace when you first see bits of red and pink spill over the hills in the distance as the night sky fades away to reveal a brand new day. For help deciding where to watch the sunrise, check out our favorite places for a Smoky Mountain sunrise.
12. Sample Homemade Fudge
Fudge is by far one of the most popular desserts and snacks you can find in the Smoky Mountains. This is probably because you can find it nearly everywhere you go. However, this is hardly a bad thing once you sample the delicious melt-in-your-mouth samples that all of these shops have to offer.
Whether you prefer fudge with nuts, peanut butter fudge, white chocolate fudge, or any other variety you can think of, we promise there is a sample to cure any sweet tooth. Wondering where you can find the best Smoky Mountain fudge? Check out one of these delicious fudge shops in the Smokies.
13. Go Zip Lining With Friends
Have you ever wanted to fly? Well, now is your chance with the next adventure on the list of our favorite Smoky Mountain activities, zip lining. Not only is this an incredible bonding experience for you and your family or group, it is also an incredible way to take in the scenic views of the Smoky Mountains while still adding a touch of adventure to your trip.
Don’t worry if you have never zip lined before, the experienced guides will be there to help you every step of the way.
To catch a glimpse at what it is like to go zip lining in the Smoky Mountains, watch our Insider’s View video below!
14. Ride a Roller Coaster at Dollywood
Imagine, the wind in your hair, the sun on your face, and your loved ones around you as you all twist and bend around one of the most daring adventures in the Smoky Mountains, a roller coaster at Dollywood. Whether you are young or young at heart, these rides are a perfect way to create long-lasting vacation memories, especially now that the park recently opened the longest coaster in the park, Big Bear Mountain!
For over 35 years, Dollywood has been a staple in the family-friendly entertainment found in Pigeon Forge and the surrounding area. Here, you and your family or group can experience a ton of exciting moments you cannot find anywhere else. From the skilled craftsmen displaying their wares to the delicious restaurants to the entertaining shows and the daring roller coasters, there really is something for everyone at this Pigeon Forge amusement park.
15. See the Winterfest Christmas Lights
Although we don’t have Christmas all year long in the Smoky Mountains, it does hang around for a pretty long time thanks to the annual Winterfest Celebration. In fact, you and your family or group will be able to experience the dazzling Christmas lights display that light up the entire area from early November to mid February. That is nearly 4 months of stunning holiday spirit, and we could not be happier!
For the best view of the lights, we recommend you and your family take a drive down the Parkway in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, or head to Soaky Mountain Waterpark for the magical Shadrack’s display with millions of synchronized lights.
For more ways to experience the Winterfest Christmas lights, click here.
16. Witness the Smoky Mountains Fall Foliage
Fall in the Smoky Mountains is one of the most popular times of the year. This is when the leaves in the trees come to life with vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges as opposed to their usual greens found through the year.
The beauty found during this season is truly breathtaking. Not to mention, the weather is nearly perfect with the crisp cool breeze on warm sunny days. Take a look at our fall foliage forecast for updates on when the leaves will reach their peak!
For a better idea of what fall in the Smoky Mountains is all about, watch this video!
17. Go Shopping at The Village
We can’t have a list of all of our favorite Smoky Mountain activities without including a little shopping, can we? That is why we invite you to check out all of the quaint shops at The Village in downtown Gatlinburg during your next trip to the area. From home decor to clothing to masterpiece paintings, this Gatlinburg shopping center has everything you need to find the perfect souvenir or gift to take back home with you.
When you have had your fill of shopping, don’t forget to swing by the Pancake Pantry for lunch or the Donut Friar for a delicious cup of coffee before continuing on your day. With the variety of places to explore at The Village, it’s no wonder why this is one of the best things to do in the Smoky Mountains!
18. Enjoy Stargazing at Clingmans Dome
Another reason we love the Smoky Mountains is they give you a countless number of scenic places where you and your loved ones can catch unbeatable views of the thousands of stars that fill up the night sky, including Clingmans Dome.
We love Clingmans Dome for stargazing because it gives you a 360-degree view of the night sky from the tallest peak in the Smoky Mountains. From here, you can see both the twinkling stars above your head, as well as the dazzling lights in the distance from the cities below. Which, in our opinion, is the best of both worlds.
19. Say “I Do” at a Smoky Mountain Chapel
Whether you are getting married for the first time or looking for a romantic place to renew your vows, you cannot go wrong with enjoying this experience in one of the many Smoky Mountain chapels found in the area. Not to mention, with breathtaking views as far as the eyes can see, there are few better places to host your big day than in the heart of the Smokies.
20. Spend Summer in a Smoky Mountain Cabin Rental
Summer in the Smoky Mountains is already an incredible experience. However, when you pair it with staying in a relaxing and peaceful Smoky Mountain cabin rental, the trip becomes one of the best ways for you and your family or group to spend your summer vacation.
If you can’t spend a long summer break here, you can always look into planning a memorable weekend retreat for you and your loved ones to enjoy. Either way, we promise you will not regret staying in a cabin during your trip.
Check out the video below for an inside look at all the benefits included with staying in a Smoky Mountain cabin rental during your vacation.
Plan Your Visit to Enjoy These Things to Do in the Smoky Mountains
To get started checking off these exciting Smoky Mountain activities off of your own bucket list, start planning your next trip to the area today. To begin, start by choosing which of the unbeatable places to stay in the Smoky Mountains is right for you! With hundreds of relaxing rentals to choose from, we guarantee we have the perfect place for your family or group.