The Gatlinburg area is an outdoorsman’s paradise tucked away in the Smoky Mountains. This recreational retreat just minutes away from Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers world-class hiking, white water rafting and terrific trout streams. And that’s saying nothing of the prime bicycling, horseback riding, winter sports and other fun family outdoor activities you’ll find here as well. At the end of the day you can settle into a cozy mountain cabin, luxurious lodge or extend your outdoor time at a campsite. Read below to see why Gatlinburg is the perfect basecamp for fun and adventure in the Smokies.
The mountains and valleys are laced with 800 miles of hiking trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hiking in the Smokies offers everything from a leisurely walk among the wildflowers to a backcountry climb up a rocky outcropping, so there are trails for hikers of every fitness and skill level.
You can set out right from Gatlinburg or drive to well-marked trailheads off the Park's scenic, winding roads and disappear into the backcountry.
Disappear into diverse forestlands, climb to a breathtaking views or pull off your boots and cool your feet in streams rushing down the mountainsides and along the trails. Waterfalls gurgle, sing and roar.
Back in town, there are plenty of outfitters to get you ready for hiking in the Smokies backcountry. Guided Nature Services are available for those looking for a more educational and in-depth look at the Smoky Mountains. Visitor centers are stocked with maps and information, like this one from the National Park Service. Or start here with a few favorites.
Get the net.
From the Little Pigeon River running right through Gatlinburg to the swift streams of the backcountry, there are plenty of places to drop a line or cast a fly. The Smokies have hundreds of miles of streams teeming with trout, including beautiful brook trout, which have been successfully returned to their natural habitat. Fishing is permitted year 'round in the Park, and there are several full service fishing outfitters in downtown Gatlinburg.
Some favorite spots include Greenbrier, Little River and Abrams Creek. Or hire a guide and head to a little-known spot in the backcountry. Or, grab your fishing pole and head downtown.
Pitch it or park it.
Bring your RV or camper and you can stay near town at a local campground in Gatlinburg, each with electricity, water, cable TV, hot showers and pools. They are within walking or driving distance to great fishing and hiking in the Smokies. Or head up into Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Cades Cove or Elkmont, where you can pitch a tent and rough it for a few days in the wilderness. Some campgrounds accept reservations, but most are accessible first come, first served. Whether you're looking for fun family outdoor activities or serious hiking, your backcountry or frontcountry escape begins in Gatlinburg. The National Park Service has great information to help you plan. If you're a frontcountry camper, start here. If you're a serious backcountry adventurer, take a look here.
Take a wild ride.
There are miles of Class III and IV rapids on the Big Pigeon River and other regoinal rivers, and several outfitters are ready to help you plan anything from a nice float trip to wildwater adventure. With names like "Too Late," "Vegamatic," "Razor Blade," "After Shave," and "Lost Guide," you know the rapids are rockin' in the Smokies.
Hold on tight.
Experience your canopy adventure in downtown Gatlinburg with one of the most fun family outdoor activities you’ll find anywhere. If you've been waiting to try ziplining or are ready to go again, outfitters can hook you up to some of the wildest rides in the Smokies. Fly under the forest roof and over streams and valleys by the seat of your pants at 50 miles an hour.
Ski and skate the Smokies.
Welcome to Tennessee's one and only ski resort. Using a combination of natural and man-made snow, Ober Gatlinburg has eight slopes, from bunny hills for beginners to fast runs for serious skiers. Snowboarders, bring it on. There is a 10- lane snow tubing park in wintertime and an alpine slide anytime. There's also an indoor ice-skating rink. Even if you don't ski or skate, the view is awesome from the Ober Gatlinburg restaurant.
Ride Cades Cove.
Bring your bike or rent one at Cades Cove and head out for a great ride on the 11 mile Loop Road. Dismount and explore the historic buildings. See whitetailed deer or experience a black bear sighting. If you plan for a Wednesday or Sunday morning ride, you'll share the road with pedestrians and cyclists only, because the Loop is closed to motor traffic until 10:00am.
Bring your binoculars.
More than 200 species of birds have been spotted in the Smokies, and at least half that many are known to breed. Whether you take a wooded walk on an easy trail or head out for some serious backcountry hiking in the Smokies, listen and keep your eyes open for everything from songbirds to screech owls in the trees and valleys. There are wild bird habitats at every elevation, and many birds make the Smokies a stop on their yearly migrations.
Head to Smoky Mountain Stables or Sugarlands Riding Stables and mount up for a guided, backcountry excursion. Bring the kids, and ride out to see wild turkeys, a herd of wild deer or even black bear climbing a tree. There are miles and miles of trails open to riding in the Park. Own your own horses? There are five drive-in horse camps, too.