We go on vacation for different reasons. Some of us like to hang out and read a book while looking at the view, with occasional trips to the bathtub for a long soak. Others enjoy gallivanting around to cooking classes and wine tastings. Still others are cut from more adventurous cloth, looking to rack up unique experiences that they can take home with them.
No matter which type you are, the Smoky Mountains can accommodate you. The gorgeous alpine area formed about 500 million years ago from sediment deposited into what was once an enormous ocean basin in the area. Today, this subrange of the Blue Ridge Mountain System rises to more than 6,600 feet and stretches more than 50 miles from Tennessee into North Carolina.
It is covered with trees, river systems and wildlife. From flaming summer adventure to flaming fall color to winter snow, there’s always something for a hiker or road-tripper to see.
Boasting more than half a million acres and over 850 miles of trails, there’s no end of outdoor experiences to have, either. If you want the most unusual, the most memorable, the most enduring ones though … you’ll have to look a little harder.
Or you could just let us do the work for you! Read on for seven of the most unique experiences in the Smoky Mountains, and how to get them.
1. Zorbing at Outdoor Gravity Park
Have you ever felt jealous of hamsters in their balls? The joy, the freedom, of wheeling around the house on fast-moving little paws, all within the safety of those transparent plastic walls? It’s okay, this is a safe space … you can admit it.
Luckily, some enterprising soul finally did what we’ve been advising for years and developed a ball big enough for humans. You can enjoy it at Gatlinburg’s Outdoor Gravity Park, where the hamster balls are large and the family fun is larger. Go in solo or take a ride with your Special Someone or entire family. Just make sure to bring a bathing suit!
2. Smoky Mountain Guides
One of the best ways to enjoy the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is with Smoky Mountain Guides! Their guided adventures and hikes are curated for your group with a certified wilderness first responder who is extremely knowledgeable of the area and sure to create an experience that you will never forget.
3. Synchronous Firefly Viewing
There are many species of fireflies in the world, and the Great Smokies play host to quite a few of them. Several of them are synchronous, which means they flash in tandem. Scientists believe this is to help the males of the species advertise themselves to the females, and thus avoid other flashing fireflies, which are predatory.
Whatever the case, it’s a mighty show. If you want to see it, make note of the lottery application dates to figure out if they fall during your trip, and throw your hat in the ring. For those that get the chance, it is always an unforgettable evening.
4. Soar Away at Lookout Mountain Flight Park
Have you ever wanted to fly like a bird? It’s basically the opposite of a hamster ball experience, but no less amazing. At Lookout Mountain Flight Park, you can paraglide, hang glide or even hitch a ride behind an airplane. If you have the time, you might even consider taking a full course to learn to Do The Thing yourself.
5. Climbing School with Fox Mountain Guides
Have you always wanted to learn how to rock climb? Fox Mountain Guides is here to help, with one-day adventures for those who have a few hours to spare, or multi-day courses that teach you how to become a climber for real.
Whether you’re a beginner or intermediate, you’ll find the gear and support you need to have a great adventure here. Check rock climbing off your bucket list for good, or let this be the jumping-off point for a life of ever-greater adventure.
6. Ride the Wave at Wild Bear Falls Water Park
Want to get your thrills closer to the ground? Check out Wild Bear Falls Water Park, which will offer the same adrenaline rush minus the crampons. Billing itself as the best water park in Tennessee – and with good reason – you’ll find the whole kit and kaboodle here. Swimming-wise, anyway.
From water slides to splash pools, restaurants to waterside seating, it’s the ideal way to spend the day as a family. You can easily break for lunch to avoid the grumpies, or even get dinner there since the park is open until 7 PM every day. Just make sure to call ahead and ensure they aren’t performing maintenance during your trip dates.
7. Visit the Village
One of the most unique activities you’ll do in the Smoky Mountains, The Village makes you feel like you’ve somehow transported from 21st-century America to 16th-century Germany (except for the witch trials and plague, thank goodness).
We feel safe saying that The Village is the photo op in Gatlinburg, with medieval-style storefronts and seasonal decorations year-round. Enjoy a stroll on its old-timey pathways and dip into its many shops for socks, games, donuts, candles and other oddities.
Stay in Rustic Luxury
No matter which adventure you choose, you’re going to need somewhere to stay. Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Dollywood … you’ll be within arms reach of them all when you choose from a list of beautiful, reputable rentals.
Opt for cabins or condos with a range of special amenities, like hot tubs, mountain views or pet accommodations. Stay close to the attractions or head out into the countryside for slow mornings unbroken by anything but birdsong and the smell of coffee. Plus, we’ll help you find the best restaurants, coffee, trails and drives as well.