In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, mountains and valleys are interwoven with 800 miles of hiking trails, offering everything from a leisurely walk among the wildflowers to a back-country climb up a rocky outcropping. With trails for hikers of every fitness and skill level, the Smokies is a fantastic place to experience one spectacular slice of the great outdoors.
From the Little Pigeon River, which runs right through Gatlinburg, to the swift and plentiful streams of the scenic backcountry, there are plenty of great places to drop a line or cast a fly. Hundreds of miles of streams teem with freshwater fish, including the beautiful brook trout, now successfully returned to its natural habitat. Fishing is permitted year-round in the Smokies, and there are several full-service fishing outfitters in downtown Gatlinburg. Favorite spots include Greenbrier, Little River and Abrams Creek. Hire a guide and head to a little-known spot in the backcountry, if you like, or just grab your fishing pole and head downtown. It’s your vacation.
Bring your RV or camper, and you can stay near town at a local Gatlinburg campground. Each comes equipped with electricity, water, cable TV, hot showers and pools, and each is within walking or driving distance to great fishing and hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If glamping’s not your thing, head for 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 first-come, first-served. Whether you’re looking for fun family outdoor activities or serious hiking, your back-country or front-country escape begins in Gatlinburg. The National Park Service has plenty of helpful information for planning your stay. If you prefer a few more amenities, start here, but if you’re a serious back-country adventurer, take a look here.
Whitewater Rafting and Ziplining
With miles of class-III and -IV rapids on the Big Pigeon and other regional rivers, Gatlinburg outfitters are ready to help you plan anything from a casual float trip to an extreme wildwater adventure. With rapids known as Too Late, Vegamatic, Razor Blade, After Shave and Lost Guide, it’s obvious that rivers are rockin’ in the Smokies. In addition to water-based adventures, we’ve got aerial ones, too. If you’ve been waiting to try ziplining or are ready to go at it again, outfitters can hook you up to some of the wildest rides in the Smokies. Fly under the forest canopy and over streams and valleys, by the seat of your pants and at 50 miles an hour.
With eight slopes available for every conceivable skill level, from bunny-hill beginners to speedy and seasoned ski-masters, Ober Gatlinburg is Tennessee’s one and only ski resort. Like to snowboard? Bring it on. A 10-lane snow-tubing park debuts when winter arrives, and our alpine slide is available anytime. Did we mention the indoor ice-skating rink? Even if you don’t ski or skate, you’re sure to have a blast. From the Ober Gatlinburg restaurant, the view is unbeatable, just like the menu.
Why not bring your bike, or consider renting one at Cades Cove, and head out for a great ride on the 11-mile Loop Road? Dismount and explore historic buildings. Watch the white-tailed deer, or if you’re lucky, spot a black bear. If you plan for a morning ride on a Wednesday or Sunday, you’ll only encounter pedestrians and cyclists, as the Loop is closed to motor traffic until 10:00 am.
More than 200 species of birds have been spotted in the Smokies, and at least half of them are known to breed in the area. Whether you take a wooded walk on an easy trail or head out for some serious back-country hiking, 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, back-country excursion. Bring the kids, and ride out to see wild turkeys, a herd of wild deer or even a black bear climbing a tree. There are miles and miles of trails open to horseback-riding in the Park. Own your own horses? There are five drive-in horse camps, too. Don’t forget the tack.