The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the ultimate outdoor adventurer’s dream destination with ancient mountains, glorious waterfalls, and magnificent sights. Established in 1926, the Great Smoky National Park, with its endless ridges of forests, a soft blue early morning fog, and the world’s largest biodiverse park, is nestled comfortably on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee.
If you enjoy admiring the beauty of ancient mountains and want to brush your knowledge on the history of southern Appalachian mountain culture and witness the abundant wildlife, head over to the Smokys. For an ultimate fun-filled trip, plan your visit around the fall. The pleasant weather and the cascading shades of brown, orange, and red, will only add to the charm of your vacation in the mountains. So if you are ready to paddle, hike and drive, here are some activities to indulge in:
1. Splash through the Smoky Mountains
White water rafting is one of the most thrilling experiences, which leaves your clothes soaked and your heart racing with enthusiasm. The Smokys has numerous rivers on elevated platforms, making them ideal for rafting. White water rafting involves riding a raft over rough, dangerous parts of a fast-flowing river. But don’t worry, if you have no experience fighting the current, you can still participate.
Locals organize rafting adventures for you. By looking up white water rafting Smoky Mountains on the internet, you can get details on the most suitable river, tours, and deals. Depending on your skill level, you can cruise down gentle rivers or lower yourself for the ride of your life.
To give you an idea, you can catch Class III to Class IV rapids down the upper pigeon river. But this rafting adventure requires your strength and resilience to battle the current. The entire route is two hours long, so brace yourself for the ultimate test of your skills. But, if you don’t want the fast-flowing water carrying you away, the lower pigeon trip is a much better choice. On this route, you will float over Class I and II rapids. Even though the lower pigeon trip is two hours long, the water body is far tamer. Instead of exercising your agility, you can kick back and relax.
2. Load up the car
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park stretches over 500,000 acres, with more than 400 miles of roads weaving through the park and trails about 800 miles long. Therefore, fill up the glass, get your seat warmers out and open the sunroof to prepare yourself for a scenic drive. The two most gorgeous routes you need to check out on your trip are the Cades Cove Loop Road and the Newfound Gap. Here’s why:
- Cades Cove Loop Road. Before the 1820s, before European settlement and the park’s establishment, Cades Cove was a hunting ground for the Cherokee people. Currently, it is the largest valley in Tennessee, with a diverse population of wildlife calling it home.
On your 11 miles long one-way journey, you will get a chance to glimpse historic buildings such as churches, mills, and homes. In addition, the meadows, canopied trees, and shadowed peaks of the mountains do a perfect job of showcasing nature’s bounty in its complete glory. Animals like the wild turkey, white-tailed deer, coyotes, and black bears will also be frolicking in the area. Despite how cute and cuddly they look, try not to approach them. Cades Cove also gets many tourists with some cycling alongside cars. If you like partying with a crowd, you can spend an entire day exploring the area with your new friends.
- Newfound Gap Road. A gap is what the people of the southeast call a low point in the ridge on a mountain. So, if you get on the Newfound gap, your car will ride at an elevation of about 5,000 feet, making it the shortest and easiest route to pass through the mountains. The scenic 30 miles long US route 441 of the Newfound Gap goes to the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg. Make a quick pit stop here and visit the local shops to get unique handmade crafts that make for a perfect gift.
If you have extra time on your hands, you can also view a free twenty minutes film about the park and walk-through exhibits of natural history. From the Sugarlands Visitor Center, speed your way to the town of Cherokee, North Carolina. On the way, attractions like the Mingus Mill and the Smokemont Campground make for a picturesque moment.
3. Build your knowledge of the Appalachian culture
Cultural attractions are a great way to spark your curiosity and ignite your inner explorer. The Appalachian heritage is worth learning about, from how the Cherokee Indians lived to look at the park’s old cabins.
The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is an excellent place to start. The tour is a complete sensory experience with interactive videos, beautiful displays of the Cherokee culture, and stories of their livelihoods, all compiled to help you learn about the tribal system that kept the Cherokee united. Your second step includes going to the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center, where you can enjoy indoor exhibits, listen to live Appalachian music and participate in various festivals.
4. Hike the Clingman’s Dome
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Smokys, standing at a dominating height of over 6,600 feet. Your trip down the Appalachians is not complete unless you get a chance to break into your hiking boots. You will find yourself on the top of this summit by climbing through a steep paved path that stretches about 1 mile from the parking lot.
Reaching the top of any impressive structure is no less than an accomplishment. You should also take time to enjoy the high altitude, inhale the fresh air, tune out the noise of the life below you, and meditate for an added effect. The gorgeous 360-degree of the park makes for an unforgettable view.
However, because this dome gets considerable rain, expect cold breezes and wet ground at the peak. You can also carry on climbing for seven more miles and explore the Clingman’s observatory. But the path to the observatory may be foggy and cold, so prepare yourself accordingly. Most restaurants are within a 10-mile radius of Clingman’s dome. Therefore, stock up on water and snacks before starting your ascent.
5. Chase waterfalls
Unlike TLC’s 1994 hit, “Don’t go chasing waterfalls,” you have to make your way to the waterfalls when you’re in the Smokys. The Great Smoky Mountains National park has many majestic waterfalls flowing through it. Since this region gets so much rain, almost hitting 85 inches annually, the Smokys have a constant supply of water to add to the rivers and the falls. At the same time, you can admire a waterfall on every hike trial. There are two waterfalls worth mentioning:
- Laurel Falls. Laurel Falls is the most popular fall in the park out of all the waterfalls. To catch a breathtaking glimpse of the falls, you need to hike to the top. The round trip to and from the waterfall is roughly 2.6 miles, so bring your A-game to the trail. Laurel Falls is about 80 feet tall and divided into two sections with a footbridge. While you stand on the bridge, take a moment to listen to the sounds of water crashing and the smell of fresh grass filling your senses.
- Grotto Falls. Located in the old-growth Hemlock forest lies the 25 foot tall Grotto waterfall. The entire round hiking trip is roughly 2.6 miles like Laurel falls. The cold water feels incredibly refreshing, especially if you’re visiting in the summers. After a successful hike, the fall’s top feels cold, misty, and pleasant. There are also abundant wildflowers near the fall, so sun your fingers through the soft petals and enjoy the sweet-smelling fragrance that takes over your senses.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has always been a hub for tourists. You should also add yourself to the count once you make your way to the Tennessee and North Carolina border. You should get your sense of adventure on. Try white water rafting if you’re all about battling fast-moving currents and putting your body’s agility to the test.
The scenic views and the smooth routes of the Appalachians are begging for a drive, so take your car out for a spin and enjoy the diverse wildlife which inhabits Cades Cove and the Newfound Gaps. Your journey is incomplete unless you learn about the native Cherokee and their cultural roots embedded within the history of this park.
Looking for a challenging hike? Climb to the top of the Clingman’s Dome. Finally, you can’t culminate your trip unless you witness the glorious waterfalls of the Smokys. So be sure to capture an image of the magnificent Laurel and Grotto Falls.