Four things to do in the Great Smoky Mountains for first-time visitors

Jagged mountain vistas, cascading waterfalls, lush green forests, and verdant valleys pave the path for the best adventures in the Great Smoky Mountains.

These mountains are as majestic as the blue mist that adds grandeur to its peaks. The views are awe-inspiring, from a sea of clouds over the greenery to the canopy of overhanging trees covering the promenade.

The Smokys are the perfect getaway destination for people who wish to seek adventures. Whether you want to explore the history, hit the trails, unwind in the serene environment, or enjoy action-packed outdoor activities, The Great Smoky Mountains offer something for every visitor. Its beauty is perhaps one reason why nearly 14 million visitors flock to The Smokys every year.

Due to the staggering area of The Smokys, many first-time visitors are at a loss and find it hard to decide which place to explore first. However, no need to fret. In this article, we’ve rounded up things that should end up on the bucket list of every first-time visitor.

1) Try water sports 

What can be more exhilarating than whitewater rafting on untamed rivers in The Great Smoky Mountains? And with intense class III and IV rapids, this water sports activity gets much more exciting. All you need to do is decide who you will enjoy white water rafting with and where.

Gatlinburg, a Sevier County city that serves as a gateway to The Great Smoky Mountains, is the perfect place to ride with the rapids. So, experience white water rafting in Gatlinburg to unplug in the outdoors and soak in the magnificent scenic views up close. 

You can enjoy the sports at the upper and lower Pigeon River, a dam-controlled river conveniently situated near Gatlinburg, with kids as young as three years old and even the elderly. Raft the lower Pigeon River if you wish to test the gentle rapids. And if intense rapids are your thing, opt for the upper Pigeon River to get a good adrenaline rush. 

No matter which rafting trip you choose, this water sports activity will add an element of fun and adventure to The Great Smoky Mountains vacation.

2) Tour Cades Cove

Cades Cove, an enchanting broad valley with sprouting greenery, is just an hour away from downtown Gatlinburg. This gorgeous Townsend valley allows you to step back in time and take a peek into the past. Once known as a flourishing settlement, you can now find historical buildings such as rustic homes, old gristmills, churches, and pioneer log cabins in the picturesque valley.

The perfect way to take in and appreciate the views of Cades Cove is by going on a leisurely drive on an 11-mile smooth paved one-way road, which passes by significant landmarks. The beautiful mist at the crack of dawn unveils the greenery at the base of The Great Smoky Mountains. Not only this, but this trail also offers some mesmerizing views of the alpine meadows.

Besides, the incredible valley is a thriving habitat for a diverse array of wildlife; you can spot black bears and wild turkeys. Oh, and you would want to watch out for raccoons, coyotes, beavers, and white-tailed deer.

3) Spend a day at Dollywood

A trip to The Smokys is incomplete without visiting the world-class theme park, Dollywood. Situated in the foothills of The Great Smoky Mountains and spread across 150 acres, this attraction offers endless fun opportunities for its visitors.

If you are a thrill-seeker, you can experience Wildwood Groove, Dollywood Express, and The Scrambler rides. But if you are in quest of more fun and want to feel the adrenaline surge, try the rollercoaster rides. Tennessee Tornado, Wild Eagle, and Thunderhead are some of the ones sure to make you scream and leave your heart pounding.

Once you have got your fill of fun and adventures, you can experience one of the festivals the park hosts all year round. The Harvest Festival kicks off during the early fall and has Dollywood bedecked with whimsical-themed decorations and lanterns. 

And if you visit The Great Smoky Mountains in summer, you can enjoy the seasonal fun at The Flower and Food Festival. The best part? The 30 minutes long seasonal entertainment features drones dancing in sync with choreographed music and fireworks, leaving you wonderstruck.

4) Drive through Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Located on the outskirts of Gatlinburg and along the northern boundary of The Great Smoky Mountains is the gorgeous auto trail, i.e., the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This one-way loop road stretches 5.5 miles with tight turns, gentle lifts, and serene nature. It allows you beautiful views of the cascading waterfalls, hardwood forests, and famous trails.

Take your time to slowly cruise along the narrow pathway and enjoy the park’s scenic views. You can also stop at the Noah “Bud” Ogle Farmstead for a sightseeing tour. Fetch the booklet for a small fee at the beginning of the trail to learn about the significant stops and hit the road to tour the tub mill, cabin, and barn of Noah Ogle Place. However, be sure to keep your pace slow, or else you might miss the majestic views of mountain streams.

And with luck on your side, you might also witness the beautiful Place of a Thousand Drips, which goes down the mountainside, runs through the roads, and finally into the Indian Camp Branch.

Enjoy your trip to the Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains are undeniably one of the most magnificent and spectacular destinations in the US. Snow-capped peaks, rocky canyons, hilly regions, and lush green valleys are a sight to behold. Alpine meadows are sure to leave you in awe, as are the other marvels of nature, such as beautiful waterfalls and exquisite landscapes.

And once you have thoroughly enjoyed the natural wonders and want to experience some fun, the national park offers countless opportunities. From historical museums and dinner shows to artisan craft demonstrations and magic events, all attraction spots promise full-blown entertainment. So pack your bags and head out for the perfect trip to The Smokys!

Photo by Chris Ried