Travel Talk

5 Reasons to Visit the Great Smoky Mountains

If it isn’t already, the Great Smoky Mountains should be on your travel bucket list. Stretched across Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina, this majestic Appalachian subrange  sees over 14 million visitors every year!

On one hand, there is a spectacular side of nature to witness inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with its lush forests, crystalline streams, and delightful wildlife. On the other hand, there is also a wealth of entertainment and culture to discover in the small mountain communities. These outdoor activities in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge attractions for kids offer plenty of opportunities for both rest and recreation.


Countless Family-Friendly Attractions

One of the best aspects of the Smoky Mountains region is the diversity of interactive attractions for all ages. For instance, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is an incredible opportunity to explore an underwater world of exotic creatures.

Learn about thousands of animal species and their natural habitats as you stroll through exhibits like Ocean Realm and Tropical Rainforest. Plus, the guided, hands-on activities with stingrays and penguins are sure to be exhilarating experiences for young kids and adults alike!

Additionally, you’ll find at least ten mini-golf courses from Sevierville to Gatlinburg. That said, Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure Golf offers a truly unique twist on the game. First, you’ll take a mining train up the mountain.

Afterward, you’ll decide whether to venture through caves and volcanoes or past a real pirate ship to find the lost gold and diamonds. As you compete to get the highest score, the 18-hole course will take you along on a fantastical adventure following in the footsteps of quirky archaeologist and paleontologist Professor Hacker!

Best Amusement Rides in the South

Legendary country singer and philanthropist Dolly Parton put her humble hometown on the map thanks to her fame and her investment in an amusement park. Though it has the same humble Smoky Mountain origins as its namesake, Dollywood has since become a favorite among thrillseekers all over the South. 

As soon as you step foot in the gates, you can feel the excitement in the air and hear laughter coming from over 40 amusement rides and attractions. Experience 20 stories in height and a 165-foot drop on the Lightning Rod roller coaster.

Follow it up with the electrifying 1,800-foot high-speed venture through pitch darkness on Mystery Mine. Extreme rides like these plus roundabout-style rides suited for the little ones will keep the whole family immersed in fun all day. When you’re searching for the thrill of a lifetime, there’s no better place in the South to go than Dollywood!

Unique Outdoor Adventures

If your craving for thrills isn’t yet satiated, the extreme outdoor adventures of the Smokies are all you need. At CLIMB Works Zipline, you’ll find all the windswept sensationalism you crave between their 6 different zip lines, 4 sky bridges, controlled rappel, and ATV ride to start. If whitewater rafting is more your speed, Smoky Mountain Outdoors can take you on an adrenaline-pumping journey down the Pigeon River with Class I, II, III and IV rapids

For a more relaxed way to get some outside time in the beautiful mountains, find a new friend in one of Jayell Ranch’s horses. Their 1-hour horseback riding tour covers an impressive 260 acres with incredible views of Shield’s Mountain Fort and Mount LeConte. The ranch also has 2 miles of ziplining, a 12-mile guided ATV tour, extreme mountain tubing, and more unique outdoor attractions.

World-Class Dinner Theater

What’s better than watching a theatrical show with world-class performers, special effects, and fantastical storytelling? How about watching it over a four-course feast? Pigeon Forge is known for its dinner theaters, where you can kick back and enjoy the spectacle over a mouth-watering Southern homestyle dinner.

From the hilarious antics at Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Feud to the fatal intrigue at Murder Myster Dinner Show, the Pigeon Forge theaters put on a diversity of genres. However, there is one you cannot miss. 

Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show distinguishes itself with jaw-dropping acrobatics, full-sized pirate ships set in an indoor lagoon, and exotic animal appearances throughout the show. Join the Sapphire and Crimson crews as they battle skeletons from the deep to recover the long-lost Davy Jones’ treasure. Complete with a feast of fried chicken, sugar-cured ham, creamy vegetable soup, and more homestyle sides, this dinner theater will leave you feeling both full and wowed.

Artisan-Made Shopping Experiences

Once the home of the Cherokee tribe and Scots-Irish immigrants, the Smokies have a long and rich cultural heritage. The mountain folk have passed down their craft traditions for generations. As a result, you can still find artisanal products like stone-ground grits, hand-woven baskets, and genuine Tennessee whisky. If you delight in getting to know the local culture of your travel destinations, you’ll want to save time for a few shopping trips. 

Head out to Gatlinburg to explore the 8-mile loop known as the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community. This strip of galleries and shops features the handiwork of over 100 local artisans specializing in crafts like ceramics, glass-blowing, candle-making, textile weaving, photography, sculpture, blacksmithing, jewelry-making, and more. It’s the best place to find unique gifts and souvenirs reminiscent of the folksy Smoky Mountain culture.

The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge is another great place to stop for a window into Smoky Mountain history. Once a meeting place for regional farmers, this water-powered mill on the Little Pigeon River is to thank for the evolution of the surrounding town. Today, this mill is still operational, and you can purchase the freshly ground corn, grits, flour, and other food products at the General Store.

Finally, it’s not a true Smoky Mountain shopping experience without a pit stop at a local distillery. If you visit the Old Mill, pop over to Old Forge Distillery next door. Located in a 100-year-old timber building, this whisky distillery uses stone-ground grain from the Old Mill and authentic 200-year-old recipes. Make sure to take home a bottle of their bourbon whiskey or flavored moonshine before you leave town!

In Conclusion

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park can treat you to some much-needed tranquility amid stunning mountain views. Yet, the fun doesn’t stop as soon as you leave the park premises. From interactive dinner shows and roller coasters to ziplining and shopping, all-ages activities are a dime a dozen in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Regardless of how you choose to spend your Smoky Mountain vacation, you can be sure to get your fill of relaxation and playtime by the end.

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