Fun Things to Do in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in America and it’s easy to see why. Tucked between Tennessee and North Carolina, the Smokies are the perfect location for families, romantic getaways, and solo travelers alike!
With hiking trails for all kinds of expertise, you’ll find yourself surrounded by the lush forests and beautiful wildflower blooms year-round. There is also an abundance of wildlife – If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see some bear cubs in the spring!
In nearby Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, there are a number of family-friendly activities, areas to shop, yummy restaurants, and museums to enjoy. Here are some of the top things you can’t miss on your visit to the Smoky Mountain area.
1. Visit A Few Waterfalls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Some of the most beautiful waterfalls we’ve visited in the United States are within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A few of the popular hiking trails with scenic waterfalls are Laurel Falls, Abrams Falls Trail, and Grotto Falls Trail.
Laurel Falls Trail
Laurel Falls Trail is about 2.6 miles round-trip and takes about 2 hours to complete the entire moderately difficult hike. Although the trail is paved, it is steep and rough in some areas and can be slippery if there has been recent rain. So make sure you watch your step!
Once you get to Laurel Falls you’ll be able to see the fabulous 80-foot waterfall that cascades over a number of large rocks. Although it might be tempting to climb on the rocks, make sure you only view from a distance in the designated areas. This helps protect not only the park but also yourself as a few people have been seriously injured here or have even lost their lives by climbing.
Abrams Falls Trail
Abrams Falls Trail is a 5-mile round-trip hike that I consider to be more difficult than Laurel Falls Trail. Typically the entire hike takes about 3-4 hours to complete. Like Laurel Falls Trail, the path to get to Abrams Falls is slippery in addition to rocky at many places. Make sure you wear sturdy hiking shoes when visiting this trail.
Abrams Falls is only 20-feet high, but the powerful water tumbling off into the base of the waterfall adds an extra element of beauty to view plus the hike to get there is incredibly scenic as well.
Grotto Falls Trail
Grotto Falls is accessible by the Trillium Gap Trail. It is about 2.6 miles round-trip and takes 2-3 hours to complete. As you walk on this trail through a hemlock forest, you might notice that it has a movie scene vibe. Like something from The Princess Bride or Game of Thrones even.
Basically, it has a unique and mysterious feel to it – especially if you head there early in the morning when the fog is settling. Because of the extra shade from the trees, this hike is perfect for summertime because it is cooler than other hikes within the park. Once you get to the end of the trail, you’ll see Grotto Falls which stands at 25-feet high.
2. Go For A Scenic Drive
While the hiking scenery within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is absolutely beautiful, so are the driving paths within the park. Especially at sunrise and sunset. Two of our favorite drives within the park are Cades Cove and Newfound Gap Road.
Cades Cove Loop Road
Cades Cove is a large valley within the park that is surrounded by mountain views. It is by far, one of the most popular things to do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park for numerous reasons. On the Cades Cove Loop Road, you can drive the 11-mile loop and view wildlife safely from a distance such as white-tailed deer, black bears, coyotes, wild turkeys, and other animals.
Also on Cades Cove Loop Road, you’ll see a number of historic buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries that have been preserved for viewing. The buildings you will see here include churches, barns, log houses, and even a working grist mill.
Newfound Gap Road
At 5,046 feet in elevation, Newfound Gap Road is the lowest driveable pass through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Within this route, you’ll pass through a forest of pine trees and other evergreens making the scenery not only appear beautiful but smell lovely too!
The winding curves of this road plus the unique elevation change makes for a terrific place to enjoy a scenic drive through Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
3. Try Moonshine at Sugarlands Distilling Company
After visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park, consider visiting one fo the nearby towns of Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg. Sugarlands Distilling Company is one of the top fun things to do in Gatlinburg. It is located in downtown Gatlinburg near many restaurants and places to shop making easily accessible.
Within the barn-style distillery, you can enjoy samples of flavored moonshines or take a tour of the still house where you’ll witness the process of moonshine making and other behind-the-scenes features. If you aren’t a fan of the straight moonshine from your tasting, you can also get a moonshine cocktail from their seasonal menu. Sugarlands moonshine also makes for a great souvenir or gift for someone!
Location: 805 Parkway, Gatlinburg
Hours: Sunday: 12pm-6:30pm, Monday-Thursday: 10am-10pm, Friday & Saturday: 10am-10:30pm
Cost: $5 for a tasting (in exchange they give you a $5 store credit)
4. Experience Ripley’s Aquarium
Voted as one of the best aquariums in the United State, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies has many amazing animal encounters. One of the top attractions inside the aquarium is the underwater tunnel where you can see 12-foot sharks, giant sea turtles, and many other species of exotic fish.
Location: 88 River Rd, Gatlinburg
Hours: Monday-Thursday: 9am-9pm, Friday-Sunday: 9am-10pm
Cost: $35/adults, $18/child 6-11, $8/child 2-5
5. Play Games At A Local Arcade
All over Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are a number of fun arcades that will take you back to your childhood or give you an excuse to do so with your own kids! 😉 The arcade we visited was Rockin’ Raceway Arcade which has a retro vibe on the outside and inside! They have over 150 classic arcade games and even kart racing!
Location: 2839 Parkway, Pigeon Forge
Hours: 11am-10pm, 11am-12am
Cost: Play cards come in $25, $65, or $145. You can purchase play cards on their website for a discounted price!
6. Shop & Dine At The Island in Pigeon Forge
The Island is a 23-acre entertainment area in Pigeon Forge that has a ton of places to eat, shop, and play! You can go there any time of the day, but I think it’s the best in the evening when all the lights turn on – especially on The Great Smoky Mountain Ferris Wheel which offers a view from 200 feet high!
Another thing to do on The Island at Pigeon Forge is to watch the fountain show that is programmed to perform with lights and sound similar to the fountain show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
Location: 131 The Island Dr, Pigeon Forge
Hours: Sunday-Thursday: 10am-10pm, Friday & Saturday 10am-11pm
7. Check-out The Epic Views from Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome has one of the best panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains, hands down. The paved walkway to get there takes only 20-minutes but is steep in some areas so be prepared to go slow, especially if many other tourists are visiting too. The only problem is, it can often be foggy so make sure you visit during the summer months (when snow doesn’t close it!) and check for fog before you go.
8. Go On A Hike to Enjoy A Few More Scenic Areas
We’ve already shared some waterfall hikes, but let’s talk about a few other hikes to do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park or nearby that offer some really pretty scenery and views – talk about romantic things to do in Pigeon Forge and the Smoky Mountains!
The decently easy hike to Andrews Bald is 1.8 miles one-way and starts near Clingmans Dome on the Forney Ridge Trail. As you walk along the trail you’ll notice wildflowers, Fraser fur trees, and even wild blackberries and raspberries certain times of the year (sadly we didn’t get to pick any of these)! I personally think this hike is a great alternative to visiting Clingmans Dome if it happens to be too crowded because it offers a similar view.
Another hike that has beautiful views is Porters Creek. It’s a little more challenging than Andrews Bald and is 4 miles round-trip. As you walk the trail you’ll notice the many trees providing shade as you make your way to a 40-foot waterfall and many historic buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Thunderhead Mountain & Rocky Top Trail
If you’re looking for a strenuous hike, Rocky Top Trail, also called Thunderhead Mountain might be the perfect one! This hike is 13.9 miles round-trip and is pretty rugged with an elevation gain of 3,665 ft. Because of the long-distance and the rocky path, it takes about 7-9 hours to complete.
There are many ways fun things to do in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We can’t wait to go back and explore this area more! What would be on the top of your list?