Summer is fast approaching, and as the temperatures of eastern Tennessee rise, we love finding fun and creative activities that help us cool off. Read on for just a few of the exciting ways we’re looking forward to doing so, while taking advantage of the region’s unique culture and scenery.

Bathe Near a Waterfall

There are several spots in the Smokies where you can bathe and splash around a pool formed by a waterfall. (Swimming directly beneath the fall, where rocks are more slippery, is generally not advised.) These include the Sinks, near Gatlinburg, and the pool at Abrams Falls in Cades Cove.

Sip Local Beer

Excellent beer can be found at the four Smoky Mountain Brewery locations throughout the region. Sample the signature black Bear Ale or seasonal flavors, such as Raspberry Wheat, while attending karaoke parties, trivia, and other fun weekly programs in the brewery’s adjacent pub.

Hike Through a Valley

If heat rises and cold sinks, it follows that another great way for outdoorsy visitors to Pigeon Forge to cool off is trekking around a valley. Try Cataloochee, where you may experience elk sightings during certain times of day, or verdant Cades Cove, home to white-tailed deer and black bears.

Nibble Homemade Ice Cream

Summer is the perfect time to savor homemade ice cream. Try traditional flavors, as well as unexpected options such as banana pudding and whiskey. We recommend Marble Slab Creamery, the Old Mill Creamery, and Mad Dog’s Creamery, as  well as Island Creamery, located at The Island in Pigeon Forge.

Enjoy the Breeze on the Alpine Coaster

Where better to enjoy a refreshing breeze than a coaster car shooting down the mountains at high speed? Trying out the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster, you’ll experience a one-mile, eight-minute journey down the longest downhill track in America.

Take on Class III and IV Rapids

There’s no place for whitewater rafting quite like the Smokies — so link up with suppliers like National Geographic Adventure-approved Natahala Outdoor Center and take on twelve Class III and IV rapids in Pigeon River.

Hit the Slopes

Yes, you read that right. If you need to cool down quickly, Pigeon Forge Snow, America’s first indoor snow park, is open year-round and offers a tubing course, plus a dedicated Snow Play area with snowmen and snow forts.

Experience the Winterfest Lights

Every winter, Sevier County becomes a winter wonderland with more than 5 million lights brightening the night. Now in its 31st year, Winterfest has become one of the most anticipated celebrations in the Smokies. Wherever you drive in the county, you’re sure to see many stunning light displays. Businesses get in on the fun, too. You can see amazing arrangements at The Old Mill, The Island, Dolly Parton’s Stampede and so many more! The city of Pigeon Forge publishes a Winterfest Driving Tour Map that YOU CAN DOWNLOAD HERE that will take you through all the best lights in the city.

Take a Winter Hike Through the Smoky Mountains

There is truly something special about hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the winter. Many people probably think hiking in the winter sounds too cold, but there are some things in the park you can only see in the winter! So bundle up and check out the distant views from the Smokies!

The winter reveals lots of things that are usually hidden. Since the trees are bare in the winter, you can see much farther into the woods while you’re hiking. It gives you the feeling of walking through a wide open space. Also, during the winter, you will have a better chance of viewing wildlife without leaves obscuring the vision.

You’ll also get the chance to see some artifacts you probably missed in the summer and spring seasons. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park has the largest collection of human artifacts out of all the national parks. But, many of these artifacts are hidden by the foliage most of the year.

Not to mention all the amazing things you’ll see on a winter hike, there are other perks to hiking this season. Because so many people are turned away from falling temperatures, you won’t have to navigate the large crowds during the busier spring and summer months. The trails are quiet, serene, and offer a better chance of reflection.

If you do decide to tackle a winter hike, make sure you’re prepared. Higher elevations in the park can experience sudden snow, icy conditions and sudden dropping temperatures. Vesna Plakanis from A WALK IN THE WOODS reminds winter hikers to dress in layers that keep you warm and dry, and to drink lots of water. Another thing to consider is road closures. Several secondary roads in the park close in the winter, BE SURE TO CHECK OUT THE NATIONAL PARK’S WEBSITE FOR A COMPLETE LIST OF ROAD CLOSURES. Preparation is key, but a properly planned winter hike can be magical!

Take a Guided Tour Through the Smokies

Do you want to explore the Smokies but don’t want to deal with the stress of driving or picking a trail to explore? That stress can be especially high in the winter when dealing with snowy or icy conditions. Well, why not take a guided tour through the Smoky Mountains? It takes all the guesswork and stress out of traveling. Worrying about where to stop? Your guide has it covered. Looking for a sight to see off the beaten path? Your guide knows all the spots. Guide services can help connect you with anything you need to have a great vacation, from securing lodging and restaurant reservations to securing tickets to the best attractions. If you’re looking for an amazing guide service to take you and your family through the Smokies, be sure to check out the following chamber members:

A WALK IN THE WOODS

ROCKY TOP TOURS

PINK JEEP TOURS 

SMOKY MOUNTAIN TOUR CONNECTION

Winter-time Shopping

With holiday deals, after-Christmas sales and winter offerings, winter is the perfect time of year to do some shopping! It can get you out of the cold and offer a fun respite from outside. Also, just like hiking in the winter, you will be dealing with smaller crowds. This makes for a calmer shopping experience. There are lots of places in the Smokies where you can find many shops concentrated in one area, like TANGER OUTLETS. Tanger Outlets in Sevierville offers your favorite brands in one spot so you don’t have to spend a long in the cold before heading to your next shop!

Explore the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community

The GREAT SMOKY ARTS AND CRAFTS COMMUNITY is the largest collection of crafters and traditional artists in the United States. On their 8-mile loop in Gatlinburg, TN, you’ll have the opportunity to visit over 200 different businesses focused on specific traditional arts. From soap makers to woodworkers to glass blowers and potters, the only limit to what you’ll find in the community is the time you have to spend there.

The community and 8 mile loop is open during the winter. And, visiting in the winter is especially fun. The drive on the loop is already scenic in other seasons, but the white on the trees and nip in the air make it extra beautiful. Many businesses in the community regularly offer demos to show off their skills or even classes to teach you how to do what they do. Be sure to check out this amazing community this winter, and see what all they have to offer.

Have a Winter Adventure at Ober Gatlinburg

Ober Gatlinburg is the ultimate destination for a winter adventure in the Smokies. For many people, winter in the Smokies means one thing: skiing and snowboarding at Ober Gatlinburg. The slopes at Ober tentatively opens during the holiday season and continues throughout the winter. There are 10 different ski trails at the park with varying levels of difficulty. Everyone, from beginners to experts, can have a great time!

If you’re new to skiing or snowboarding, the folks at Ober also offer lessons from experts in the field. Not up for skiing, but still love the snow? Snow tubing is a great option for everyone – there’s nothing like zipping down the huge hill on an intertube! When you’re done hitting the slopes, you still have so much to do. Your family can head inside to check out the plethora of shops, the food court, or even go ice skating and try out the ice bumper cars!

Take a Scenic Drive Through Cades Cove in the Winter

Anyone who has driven through CADES COVE knows that is one of the most beautiful parts of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. But, in the winter, there is a special beauty to Cades Cove that you won’t find any other time of the year. One of the most popular things to do is to take a winter drive. Cades Cove is situated on an 11-mile one-way loop road that gives you the chance to sightsee at a leisurely pace. Along the way, there are plenty of pull-offs if you want to stop and take in the scenery. You’ll definitely want to take your time. With the bare trees of winter, you have a much greater chance of seeing some of the wildlife that calls the cove home. Some of the animals you could potentially see include black bears, white-tail deer, coyotes, turkeys, and more!

One of the coolest things about Cades Cove at any time of the year is the history. Cades Cove has a plethora of historic sites from the early European settlers to the area as well as evidence of the original hunters of the cove: the Cherokee. Some of the many historical sites include three churches, a working grist mill, barns, log houses, and several other restored buildings. You can grab a self-guiding tour booklet at the start of the cove that discusses the history of the area.

Like we indicated earlier in our list, winter hiking is an awesome activity. And, Cades Cove has no shortage of fun winter hikes. Two hikes of particular interest are Abrams Falls and the Middle Prong Trail. Abrams Falls is a five mile, moderately strenuous hike that culminates with the titular waterfall. Although Abrams Falls is only 20 feet tall, the massive volume of water that rushes over makes up for it! The Middle Prong Trail is considered one of the best waterfall hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains. You’ll pass by three major waterfalls, several smaller falls, cataracts, and cascades. Winter is the only time when you’ll have a chance to see beautiful frozen waterfalls while hiking the Middle Prong Trail.

Take a Spin on the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel

Whenever you visit riding the iconic Great Smoky Mountain Wheel is a must. Riding the wheel is fun any time of year. But, when you ride in the winter, you have the chance to see the beautiful mountains blanketed with snow. There’s nothing like experiencing a bird’s eye view of Pigeon Forge during a winter snow shower. If you’re worried about the cold, don’t stress. Each pod that you ride in on the wheel is climate controlled, meaning you can have a comfortable ride any time of year!

View Nighttime Winterfest Lights from the Sky

You can now experience the magic of Winterfest from a one-of-a-kind point of view!  Scenic Helicopters will launch its Winterfest Night Flight tours in conjunction with Pigeon Forge’s Smoky Mountain Winterfest. This guided tour will fly you over the cities of Sevierville and Pigeon Forge

on your way to see the millions of twinkling lights of Dollywood and The Island. Scenic’s pilots are your helicopter adventure guides, providing their unique perspective of the cities and lights below. 

Visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

Rain or shine, snow or sun, there’s never a bad time to visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.  This immersive facility is regularly recognized as one of the top aquariums in the United States. And, in 2016, it was named by USA Today as the best place in the US to see penguins! There are so many exhibits to explore and animals to see, that you could spend the entire day at Ripley’s and still have more to do. In addition to their exhibits, the aquarium regularly hosts special events, such as divers heading into the shark tank to feed the fish. Once you’re done checking out the fish, the kids can enjoy the aquarium’s new gigantic indoor playground! If you’re looking to escape the cold and still have an adventure, Ripley’s is the place to go.

 

From hiking to biking to skydiving, Pigeon Forge and the surrounding Smoky Mountains have an outdoor activity for everyone (and some indoor ones too). Read up on the many ways you can get active throughout the region.

Ziplining

Numerous canopy tours in the area include Pigeon Forge’s Smoky Mountain Ziplines, Gatlinburg’s CLIMB Works, and The Dome Ziplines. Experience up to eleven zipline trails, over two-and-a-half total hours at an elevation of up to 450 feet.

Hiking

Hiking is the single most popular outdoor activity throughout the Smokies, as the region holds more than 850 miles of hiking terrain and a whopping 311 trails. Review our hiking guide [link to article] for introductions to some of the more popular trails.

Biking

Biking is another way to experience the national park’s 500,000-plus verdant acres. Although there are no mountain-biking trails in the region, advanced road bikers can take on the paved roads within the park, as well as the Deep Creek Trail, the Oconaluftee River Trail, and sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Whitewater Rafting

Whitewater-rafting instructors such as the staff members at Natahala Outdoor Center (a National Geographic favorite) can take you along the class III and IV rapids of the Pigeon River, on a tour of up to 6.5 miles. Shorter, milder tours are available for families with small children.

Skydiving

The most popular Smoky Mountain skydiving destination is not the park itself, but indoor wind tunnels in Pigeon Forge and nearby Mohawk. However, for those brave enough to try the real thing, Skydive East Tennessee — roughly 40 minute from Pigeon Forge — offers the “tandem” version with licensed instructors.

Adventure Parks

For something different from the usual Smoky Mountains activities, the Adventureworks Climb Zip Swing offers a ropes course with hanging nets, grapevines, and dangling bridges suspended up to 40 feet high. Nearby Anakeesta, in Gatlinburg, comprises 16 soaring sky bridges, and two ropes courses are housed within The Island shopping and entertainment complex.

Get Active

Ready to pick your Pigeon Forge itinerary? Check out the exclusive offers at Courtyard by Marriott Pigeon Forge and make sure you get the best rate.

The Great Smoky Mountains aren’t simply a great place to experience nature — they’re also an incredible cultural destination, with extensive history and rich traditions. Next time you visit, why not explore these different sides of the region at the same time? Below, we share local hiking trails that will lead you to historic landmarks, along with a handful of acclaimed local history museums you can reach without the trek.

Little Cataloochee Church

The Little Cataloochee Church is one of the largest relics of the historic Little Cataloochee “island community,” which occupied the area until the 1930s. Set in the Cataloochee Valley, also home to a thriving elk population, it’s accessible via an eight-mile round-trip walk that also passes by log cabins and lush fields. 

East Tennessee Historical Society

The Tennessee Historical Society boasts 24 Smoky Mountain landscape paintings by Jim Gray — valued at more than $1,000,000 — as well as extensive permanent exhibitions on the local culture and temporary exhibitions on topics from local quilting traditions to basket-weaving techniques.

Noah Ogle Place

Noah “Bud” Ogle Place — also known as the Junglebrook Historic District — houses a former homestead on the National Register of Historic Places. One of TripAdvisor’s top 20 attractions in the Smokies, it is known for charming foliage and scenery, as well as nineteenth-century architecture, given its location near LeConte Creek, in the West Fork of the Little Pigeon River.

Little River Railroad Museum

Another engaging stop for history buffs is the Little River Railroad Museum. Here you’ll learn about the namesake river’s role in the daily lives of Native Americans, pioneers, farmers, and loggers — as well as the Little River Railroad & Lumber Company, whose main investor once owned much of today’s national park.

Palmer Chapel

The Palmer Chapel is known for playing an important role in Methodist religious revivals. You’ll reach it by taking what happens to be one of the steepest and most challenging trails in the park, along steep rocks and a cemetery.

*Note that hiking poles are highly recommended for this one, as the path can be slippery. 

The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center

If you’re interested in learning more about the local history, without the hike, don’t miss the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center. The museum holds collections devoted to five National Parks, the local Native American tribes, and the history of local transportation. Quilts and cannons are among the artifacts on display.

Mingus Mill

Roughly a half mile north of the Oconaluftee Visitors Center, Mingus Mill is one of just a handful of living-history destinations throughout the Smokies. It comprises a historic grist mill with a water-powered turbine, which you can learn about from an on-site miller, and shares its grounds with several other historic properties.

View this post on Instagram

The rain rolls out later today and then the forecast calls for several days of sunny weather with chilly nights. It will be the perfect time to explore the Smokies during our last week or two of fall colors. Photo is from a prior year although we will be out photographing the Smokies in the coming days to show you the current conditions. 📍the mill race at #MingusMill, Great Smoky Mountains National Park by @zack_knudsen. #greatsmokies #gsmnp #greatsmokymountainsnationalpark #smokymountains #naturalnorthcarolina #ncmountains #greatsmokymountains #beautifuldestinations #visitnc #appalachian_explorers #landscape_captures #sltravels #greatsmokeymountains #romanticasheville #onlyinnorthcarolina #ourstatemag #ourstate #discover_carolinas #adventureappalachia #wnc #outaboutnc #explorecarolina #wnc #friendsofthesmokies #ashevilletrails #ncoutdoors #open828 #ncoutdoor_inc #travelentrepreneur ***Use the hashtag #brysoncity for a chance to be featured on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Check us out on GreatSmokies.com!

A post shared by Visit Bryson City NC (@brysoncity) on

 

 

It’s hard to think of a better family travel destination than the Great Smoky Mountains. After all, not only do the mountains themselves boast zip-lining courses and hiking trails for all ages, but the legendary Dollywood theme park, the historic Old Mill District, and numerous interactive museums are located within the region. Read our below guide for details on these and other venues for family-friendly activities.

Museums

There are so many unique and family-friendly museums throughout the Smokies, from the Titanic Museum to a gallery housing the world’s largest collection of salt-and-pepper shakers. Children especially enjoy some of the more interactive venues, like Medieval-themed attraction MagiQuest and indoor theme park-meets-science museum WonderWorks.

Zip-Lining Courses

It’s truly thrilling to view the Smokies from a zip-line hundreds of feet in the air, and as Pigeon Forge’s Adventure Park Ziplines company boasts, this is a great activity “for ages three to 103.” Sail through the peaks on courses running up to two full miles, or with Gatlinburg’s CLIMB Works — managing the top-rated zip line in all of Tennessee.

Hiking Trails

There are more than eighty hiking trails in the Smokies, and roughly a third of them are considered beginner-friendly. Round up the gang and head out on treks such as Abram’s Falls, the Little River Trail, the Kephart Prong Trail, or the Schoolhouse Gap Trail, all of which are fairly flat and run four miles or under.

Family-Style Meals

Your family vacation is a great excuse to indulge in family-style meals at top Smokies restaurants. Sit down for country breakfasts at Log Cabin Pancake House and Pancake Pantry, or dive into pulled-pork ribs and hickory-smoked chicken at Deep South Smokehouse, Delauder’s Smoky Mountain BBQ, and Tony Gore’s.

View this post on Instagram

Surf n turf bbq style! #bbqshrimp #gatlinburgbbq

A post shared by delauders bbq (@delaudersbbq) on

Historic Old Mill District

For a more historic family experience, stop by the Old Mill District. Even when it’s not hosting demonstrations with artisans like quilters, woodcarvers, and soapmakers, it’s home to an impressive nineteenth-century gristmill and a general store selling fudge and taffy that youngsters love. 

Field School

For a truly memorable family adventure, sign up for a session with the Junior Ranger Program, or better yet, the Smoky Mountain Field School. You can brush up on skills like nature photography and orienteering, or sign up for a multi-day tour around nature trails, lookouts, and waterfalls.

Dinner Theaters

Dinner shows are a huge part of Pigeon Forge culture, and nearly all of them are family-friendly, from the Hatfield and McCoy Feud to performances at the Sweet Fanny Adams musical-comedy theater. A favorite among locals is the Comedy Barn show, blending comedy, country music, juggling, magic, and ventriloquy.

Dollywood

Dollywood is positively bursting with family-friendly attractions. Admire the vistas from the Ferris wheel, experience the flying-elephants ride, watch a traditional bluegrass performance, learn about Dolly’s own childhood, and when the weather permits, jump over to the adjacent Splash Country water park.

 

In a country with nearly 800 theme parks, Dollywood has consistently managed to land top-10 rankings from publications such as USA Today, and it’s easy to see why. Not only was this amusement complex created with the same joyful, fun-loving spirit that made Dolly Parton herself a household name, but it offers record-setting rides, award-winning food, and some of the most dazzling live entertainment in the world. Here’s our guide of the best things to do in Dollywood.

 

 

Ten Themed Villages

There are 10 Dollywood themed areas in total, and you’ll probably want to visit at least three or four. Start with Rivertown Junction, whose whitewater-rafting river caters to adventurous and nature-loving guests, and the nostalgic Country Fair section (complete with a Dumbo-style flying-elephant ride). Another village of note is Timber Canyon, which references the history of the Smokies’ logging industry.

 

Dollywood Express

The Dollywood Express heritage trains have been in operation since World War II, before Dolly Parton was even born, and so along with taking you among the Smokies scenery, they offer quite a bit of history. Wave to fellow park-goers waiting alongside the tracks, enjoy the fresh mountain air, and take in picturesque views of the woods surrounding Dollywood on this attraction that is just as iconic as the various villages.

 

*Please note that the train pumps out coal smoke and visitors may get soot in their eyes.

 

Live Entertainment

As you would expect from a theme park inspired by an exuberant, over-the-top country-music superstar, Dollywood offers a staggering amount of entertainment. Among the numerous music, dance, and cinema venues are the Heartsong Theater, which takes you on a multi-sensory video journey of the Smokies; the Pines Theater, hosting the nostalgic Dreamland Drive-In spectacular; and the Showstreet Gazebo, featuring Dollywood’s own resident string band.

 

Record-Setting Rides

 

Have you ever heard of a wing coaster? A ride where seats are placed on either side of the tracks, as if suspended in mid-air, rather than directly atop the tracks themselves? If you haven’t, it’s because there’s only one such coaster in the U.S., located at — you guessed it — Dollywood. And the Wild Eagle is just one of many record-breaking rides at Dolly’s theme park, which also houses the world’s largest wooden coaster (the Lightning Rod) and a steel coaster shaped like a butterfly.

 

Southern Gospel and Chasing Rainbow Museums

As the name suggests, the on-site Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame celebrates pioneers of the namesake music genre and displays artifacts from many of their lives and careers, making for yet another fascinating Dollywood stop. The second museum at Dollywood, however, the Chasing Rainbows Museum, is just as destination-worthy, showcasing artifacts from Dolly’s own life and career.

 

Dining-and-Drinking Outlets

The culinary offerings at Dollywood are arguably as enticing as those throughout surrounding Pigeon Forge. From Dippin’ Dots outposts to funnel cake to fudge and popcorn from the fully operational gristmill, there’s something for everyone at Dollywood’s 25 food-and-drink venues, which received their own Golden Ticket from Amusement Today magazine.

 

In Pigeon Forge, autumn is a truly spectacular season —  the Smokies turn red, green, and gold; Dollywood transforms into a larger-than-life pumpkin patch; and Southern wineries and distilleries release limited-edition bottles. Here’s our guide to the best autumnal happenings in this Tennessee resort town.

 

Old Mill Heritage Day

Old Mill Square was built around, and named for, a 19th-century gristmill, and autumn is the season when the plaza celebrates its history. September brings Old Mill Heritage Day, where you can watch moonshine- and sorghum-making demonstrations, catch bluegrass performances, take part in old-fashioned games and square dances, make arts and crafts, and learn about Pigeon Forge pioneers.

September 28; http://oldmillheritageday.com

 

Seasonal Wine-and-Spirit Tastings

Though Smith Creek Moonshine’s Pigeon Forge outpost and the Rocky Top Wine Trail organization’s wineries are popular year round, both offer enticing autumn-specific offerings that you’ll want to add to your Pigeon Forge itinerary. Smith Creek Moonshine releases a seasonal apple-pie flavor, and the Rocky Top Wineries host the “Chocolate Wine Trail” event, pairing wines with handmade desserts and wine-themed souvenirs.

October 26; https://www.rockytopwineries.com/event/chocolate-wine-trail-3/

 

Dollywood Harvest Festival and Great Pumpkin LumiNights

Each autumn, Dolly Parton’s famous theme park takes a cue from the singer’s flamboyant, over-the-top style by hosting its annual Harvest Festival. The event transforms Dollywood into a larger-than-life pumpkin patch, with pumpkin-picking activities, an after-hours “LumiNights” jack-o-lantern spectacular, more than 500 gospel performances, and demos by local artisans, including glass painters, Appalachian woodworkers, and even fiddle-makers.

September 27-November 2; https://www.dollywood.com/themepark/Festivals/Harvest-Festival and https://www.dollywood.com/themepark/Entertainment/GreatPumpkinLuminights

 

Chalkfest

The Island shopping and entertainment complex features hundreds of square feet of bare concrete (alongside its famous Ferris wheel), and this particular Pigeon Forge venue honors autumn with a celebration known as Chalkfest. For one afternoon every October, dozens of artists take to the park’s grounds, drafting larger-than-life chalk illustrations of Tony the Tiger, the Mona Lisa, and more.

October 5; https://islandinpigeonforge.com/event/chalkfest/

 

Colorful Smoky Foliage

If there’s one truly iconic Pigeon Forge autumn experience, it’s a hike or drive around the surrounding Smokies themselves, a sub-range of the Appalachian Mountains. Take in sweeping views of the colorful landscape from lookouts atop Clingman’s Dome, Charlie’s Bunion, Andrew’s Bald, Cades Cove Road, or Newfound Gap Road. For something a little more exciting, visit Legacy Mountain Ziplines, where you can zoom through the trees at up to 50 miles per hour on one of seven ziplines.