The Smoky Mountains: America’s Favorite Great Outdoors
Why spend your work day just daydreaming about crisp morning walks along sunny trails, the scent of fresh pine, and starry evenings spent near a crackling campfire? Start making plans for your next vacation to the Smoky Mountains, and discover why it’s known as America’s favorite outdoor playground. From fishing and mini-golf to hiking and rafting, even tubing and zip lining, there’s more than enough adventure in and around the mountains to make an outdoor lover enjoy being alive. Smoky Mountains National Park isn’t called a national treasure for nothing!
Need a home base during your stay? Bluegreen Vacations has great deals on comfortable, affordable stays in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, your gateway to the beautiful Smokies.
Cast Your Line
The first time you feel a fish tugging at the end of your line, you—and not just the fish—will be hooked. And in the Smoky Mountains you’ll find exceptional fishing with plenty of opportunity to grow to love the sport. Trout is king around here and so is fly-fishing, but if you don’t yet have your own gear, don’t worry. There are many local shops available with all the rods, bait and equipment you’ll need to start telling fish tales of your own.
More advanced anglers can wade through the mountain streams or cast out from shore on their own. Those who’d like some local guidance can tag along with experts provided by one of the many area outfitters. Even though trout is abundant, they may not always be in the mood to bite. But that’s not a problem since a lot of the waters have been stocked—increasing your chances of landing the big one.
Fishing is permitted year-round in the 2,900 miles of streams that flow through the park. Anglers can reel in trout from headwater streams, and smallmouth bass from coolwater streams. Fishing licenses issued in Tennessee or North Carolina are required.
There’s Nothing Small About Mini Golf in the Mountains
You’ll have your choice of mini-golf courses when putting around in the Smoky Mountains. So many, in fact, the area could easily claim to be the mini-golf capital of the world. Some of the best places to play a round or two include Bear Country Fun Park, Ripley’s Davy Crockett Mini-Golf and Firehouse Golf.
Hillbilly Golf—One of the most popular mini-golf destinations lets you ride the rails of a 300-foot incline straight up the side of the mountain, where two unique mini-golf courses have been cut into the hills. Tee it up, then get ready for a little friendly family competition. Putt your way through the mountainside to sink a hole in one and the lowest score. But be careful of hazards such as outhouses, covered wagons, stills and lush overgrown vegetation—they just might cost you a stroke (or three).
Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure Golf—To play at this course, you’ll have to take a mining train to the first hole of this Pigeon Forge mini-golf course. You’ll be putting around the Smoky Mountains, so expect your expedition to include caves, waterfalls and yes, a pirate ship, temple, and volcano, too. Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure Golf is an exciting trek across the same paths Professor Hacker followed in search of gold and diamonds.
Adventure In and On The Water
Conquer the water with a wide variety of outdoor aquatic activities in and around the Smoky Mountains. Whether you prefer a lazy inner tube float or a thrilling whitewater raft adventure, you’ll there’s a lot to love in and on the water in the Smoky Mountains.
White Water Rafting—Shoot the rapids on one of the many challenging rivers flowing through the Smokies. Take your vacation to exciting new heights during a guided adventure on the Big Pigeon River. Rafting in the Smokies is one of the top outfitters in the area known for providing safe and comfortable experiences.
Rafting in the Smokies offers no-experience-necessary trips for ages 3 to 93. Their Upper Pigeon whitewater trip is 5 miles and 90 minutes of adrenaline-pumping rafting, featuring 12 Class III and three Class IV whitewater rapids. Professional river guides lead all trips. The rafting season is March through November, so your window is wide open, but reservations are required. If you’re planning a vacation to the area and this sounds interesting, the sooner you call the better. The minimum age is 8, the minimum weight 70 pounds.
Rafting in the Smokies also offers a Lower Pigeon River Float trip, designed for children too small or young for the Upper River trip. The trip is ideal for children 3 and up, and for grandparents or folks that would prefer a relaxing float. Trip times can be coordinated for families who wish to do the upper and lower routes at the same time.
Inner Tubing—Mild-mannered river explorers should try tubing down the Little Pigeon River with River Romp, a well-established, family-owned and family-friendly business. Tubing here offers the scenery and peacefulness of a secluded mountain river. River Romp is one of the best-kept recreation secrets in the area.
The tube route is about 2.4 miles down, and takes between one and two hours, but tubers can do the trip as many times as they like in one day. It’s a smooth, relaxing float, and you’re invited to bring your own coolers for refreshments. There are five sections of light, Class I rapids—quite tame and a lot of fun.
Hit The Trail, Take A Hike
Hikers of all skill levels can return to this park year after year and still never run out of new places to explore. A few landmark hikes in the park stand out among all others, though, and have made our “must see and do” list.
Clingman’s Dome—The highest point inside The Great Smoky Mountains National Park (and Tennessee) offers views that stretch more than 100 miles and across seven states. Seven states! If you love photography, be sure to pack your camera. The photo opportunities from the 54-foot observation tower at sunrise and sunset are breathtaking. To get there, you’ll have to hike up a steep half-mile trail that’s well worth a few sore muscles.
Not into hiking? You can still snap plenty of beautiful pictures from the parking area. If you plan to include a visit to Clingman’s Dome on your Smoky Mountains weekend itinerary, be sure to check the weather first. Conditions change rapidly and snow can fall anytime between September and May.
Mt. LeConte—Take a short hike to the top of Mt. LeConte, the tallest peak in Tennessee at 6,594 feet above sea level. The third tallest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers sweeping views of the undulating peaks and valleys that form the Blue Ridge chain of the Appalachian Mountains, shrouded in the blue-tinged mist that gives the Smoky Mountains its name.
Cades Cove—Cades Cove is a beautiful 6,800-acre valley dotted with log cabins and churches. These structures date back to the 18th and 19th centuries and are among the most historic buildings in the Smokies. It’s also home to verdant forests, flowering meadows and some of the most diverse wildlife in Tennessee.
Exploring Cades Cove by foot allows you to experience everything this area has to offer, at your own pace. Numerous trails are available and each possesses its own set of challenges. Always be sure that your fitness level matches the trail you choose to hike. Online or paper trail guides and books will often rate the trails from easy to strenuous, and give all the detail you need to plan your hike.
Mount Cammerer Trail—Another popular—and strenuous—Smoky Mountain hike is the route to Mount Cammerer, an 11-mile roundtrip day-hike. This one’s for experts as it is steep, with a relentless climb over switchbacks. The unique feature of this trail is the stone fire tower at the end. This historic tower is one-of-a-kind and looks more like a castle turret than a fire tower. You can climb to the top and see for miles from the catwalk. Plan on hiking three hours out and two hours back. The trail starts at Cosby Campground, just off Hwy. 321, about 20 minutes outside Gatlinburg.
Don’t Miss These Outdoor Activities
Horseback Riding—Saddle up and enjoy a guided horseback ride through the Smoky Mountains thanks to Sugarlands Riding Stables. This is a scenic experience with plenty of opportunity to see wild turkey, deer and black bears. Due to varied terrain, all horseback rides are at walking pace, allowing riders of all skill levels to feel comfortable on the backs of the horses.
Zip Lining—Take the Tree Trek challenge with ZipGatlinburg and experience the thrill of traveling through a tree canopy maze. You’ll cross bridges, climb ladders, swing on trapezes and walk along logs to get around obstacles. For a nominal fee, you can capture everything you conquer during this self-guided tour on a GoPro® helmet.
Whatever approach you take to your great outdoor adventure, start out at our Smokies resort and plan your getaway!
Mini Golf by Austin Kirk CC-BY-2.0