Within one of the oldest ranges in the world are the Great Smoky Mountains, a region between Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina, renowned for its vast deciduous forests, timeless blue peaks, and crisp clearwater rivers. Today, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park preserves these timeless mountains while providing ample opportunities for adventurers to experience their natural wonder.
Visitors can find a comfortable home base in any of the nearby towns, in addition to a diverse offering of fun and exciting things to do. From Pigeon Forge horseback riding to ziplining in Sevierville to a scenic drive through Gatlinburg, there are countless memorable ways to explore the Great Smoky Mountains.
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Take A Horseback Riding Excursion
The sun is high in the sky overhead, its golden rays filtering through verdant leaves to speckle the sweet-smelling ground as your horse gently hoofs over it. Your guide tells you that this land was once hunted by Cherokee riders and settled by Scots-Irish immigrants, but truth be told, the 31 species of salamanders have always been the ones to dominate it. Your spouse whispers to you, “Hey, check it out,” and points toward a handsome male turkey, feathers all a-plume.
A horseback riding tour shows you the zenful world of the Smokies without the strain of hiking. At Sugarlands Riding Stables, you don’t even have to have riding experience. With over 20 years of experience, their expert guides will offer fascinating background on the area while your well-trained horse keeps you safe on the trail.
Fly Over the Mountains On A Zipline
From the height of 500 feet, the treetops look like a puffy green overcoat fitted over the shapely limbs of a mountain ridge. Your guide clips you in, and next thing you know, you’re soaring at top speed over a trickling stream and across a wide-open valley. When you land at the next treetop perch, you might glance down to catch a family of deer traversing the forest and then laugh as your kid pulls a wacky stunt on the zip, yelling, “Look what I can do!” Ziplining is not just another unconventional way to see gorgeous Smoky Mountain views, but it also captures the freeing experience of flight.
At Legacy Mountain Premier Ziplines, riders at least seven years of age can reach up to 50 mph across 4.5 miles of lines! An excellent choice of activity to do with the whole family, their tours can accommodate up to 12 people. Plus, if you’re looking to do some horseback riding, laser tag, go-karts, and mini-golf as well, Legacy Mountain Premier Ziplines has it all.
Float Away Down the Little Pigeon River
The warm current caresses your feet as you float lazily onward. An impressive bird of prey, possibly a bald eagle, swoops onto a perch in the foliage above you. You call out for your kids to catch a glimpse too, but they’re preoccupied diving off the rock jump and splashing in the nearby swimming hole. You sit back and smile, remembering that you’ll be back here tomorrow to spot more local wildlife during a thrilling whitewater rafting trip.
The Little Pigeon River is a haven for water lovers of all kinds. Head out to Townsend, TN, just a half-hour drive from Pigeon Forge, to the tubing outposts at Smoky Mountain River Rat. Not only does Outpost A feature several gentle rapids and swimming holes, but it’s safe enough to bring your dog, too. Meanwhile, Outpost B is where you’ll find the adrenaline-pumping rapids and private riverside cabana rentals. Alternatively, drive out to Hartford, TN, where four different whitewater rafting adventures await. Take your pick between rafting the Upper Pigeon’s class III and IV rapids or the Lower Pigeon’s gentler current – or try both! No matter what floats your boat, you’ll find plenty of tubing and whitewater rafting options at Smoky Mountain River Rat.
Grab Some Grub And A Picnic Site
After a physically strenuous day in the mountains and rivers, there’s nothing more satisfying than homestyle Southern food, moonshine to match, and round two of outdoor time on a picnic! Head to your choice of picnic site in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, from Cades Cove to Green Brier to Twin Creeks. Picnic pavilions are also available in select areas for a fee.
Conveniently located near the National Park in Gatlinburg, Mama’s Chicken Kitchen will set you up right with some crispy fried chicken and homemade sides. Dig into an irresistible bucket of chicken breasts, thighs or legs, with some mashed potatoes, creamed corn, baked beans or coleslaw on the side. Or, try something a little different like the Chicken and Dumplings or Southern Fried Chicken Liver Meal, and then share a plate of saucy wings with your whole group.
While you’re cruising through Gatlinburg, make a pit stop at the Holler or the Barrelhouse to sample some of the best whiskey and moonshine in the Smokies. Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery is Tennessee’s first legal moonshine distillery, but their methods are over a century old. Splurge on a bottle of Blueberry Pancake Moonshine, Pumpkin Spice Cream Whiskey, Root Beer Whiskey, Mountain Java or Apple Pie Moonshine, and bring it with you to your picnic site!
Rent A Vehicle For A Scenic Drive
Viewing the grandeur of the Smokies from the comfort of a vehicle is just as rewarding as the more active pursuits. Head out to Wranglers & Razors first to rent a two-door or four-door Jeep, a Razor 1000 UTV, or a two-seat Polaris Slingshot. You’ll be riding through town in style and able to traverse the rough terrain of the Cades Cove Loop or Roaring Fork Motor Trail at the same time.
For a more hands-on experience, you could drift turns and catch airtime on the 6,000 acres of trails at Bluff Mountain ATV. Ride as a passenger or take the helm of a fully automatic, four-wheel-drive ATV or UTV, and choose your experience level of their four trail options. The guided tours run about an hour to an hour and a half, taking you safely through the lush forests and up to magnificent viewpoints.
In Conclusion: An Unforgettable Experience
The Great Smoky Mountains are not just an area of immense natural beauty but also a world of unique opportunities. You might see your first black bear during a horseback riding tour or savor the mouth-watering combination of Southern barbecue and moonshine on a picnic. You could view the world a little differently after spotting magnificent landscapes from the vantage of a zipline or after a curve in the road. Maybe you will learn how to shred the gnar East Coast-style on a rafting voyage down the Pigeon River. No matter the nature of your explorations, your adventures in the Smokies will undoubtedly give you new experiences that you’ll never forget!