Do you want to experience the beauty of the Smokies but prefer to skip the hike? If so, you’re in luck. With over 522,000 acres to explore, there are endless things to do in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Not sure where to start? That’s okay! Just use this guide to find your favorite activities and start planning your itinerary.
Take Panoramic Photos at Clingman’s Dome Observation Tower
Want to capture photos of a lifetime? If so, all you have to do is break out the camera and get on over to Clingman’s Dome Observation Tower. Standing at 6,543 feet in elevation, this 45-foot high tower gives you a 100-mile view of the surrounding landscape, setting the stage for phenomenal panoramic photos. Just be sure to arrive on a clear day since fog and clouds tend to hide the scenery.
Cruise in Style Along the Roaring Fork Motor Trail
If you’d like to see the beauty of the Smokies without the hike, you can get a close-up view by taking a cruise along the Roaring Fork Motor Trail. On this 5.5-mile loop, you’ll see historic buildings set against gorgeous mountain landscape features, like old-growth forests and rushing streams. If you arrive on a rainy day, the roadside low-flow waterfall, dubbed the Place of a Thousand Drips, will serve as the grand finale for your journey.
Peep the Leaves Along the Foothills Parkway
For a long leisurely trip through the wondrous foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, you just have to follow Foothills Parkway. At 72 miles long, this highway lets you enjoy all the fall colors to the fullest, although it’s plenty beautiful all throughout the rest of the year as well. Stop at the overlooks along the center “Missing Link” section for photo ops galore if you’d like to take home a memento of your trip.
Join a Guided Trip Through the Park on Horseback
A guided tour on horseback lets you experience all the best trails in the Smokies without sweating up a storm. From March through November, you can sign up for a ride at one of the four riding stables, including in the ever-popular Cades Cove area. Your ride can last just 45 minutes or go on for several hours if you wish. Want to take an even more magical trip? Go on a carriage or wagon ride instead.
Explore Cataract Falls and the Creek Beyond
Cataract Falls is just a peaceful 10-minute walk through the forest, starting at the trailhead next to the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Featuring a short but sweet 25-foot drop, the low-flow waterfall is a true sight to behold and serves as a wonderful backdrop for your photos. You’ll definitely want to take the time to appreciate the babble of Fighting Creek as well while walking back to your car.
Go On an Exciting Tour of the Elkmont Ghost Town
If you like to keep things a bit spooky, you’re going to love a trip through the Elkmont Ghost Town. The sheer stillness of the atmosphere is ultra-chilling, while the remnants of the town prove wholly interesting to explore. Although the park service tore down most buildings, they restored 19 for your visiting pleasure, including the famous Levi Trentham cabin. So, take a journey through history with a stroll through each one plus stop by the Troll Bridge for lots of photos.
Check Out the Stunning Forbidden Caverns
You haven’t truly seen the Great Smoky Mountains until you go on a trip deep underground into its Forbidden Caverns. On this 55-minute tour, you’ll get to explore grottos, streams, and geological formations, including tons of rare cave onyx. Bring along a picnic lunch to enjoy in the outside pavilion once you’re done exploring because you’ll undoubtedly work up a big appetite. Just don’t forget to stop by the souvenir shop for a couple of trinkets at the end of your visit.
Have Lunch at One of the Many Picnic Areas
If you want to have a delicious breakfast, lunch, or dinner in the heart of the Smokies, you cannot go wrong with a trip to one of the many dedicated picnic areas in the park. If you’d like to bring a big group, you can rent a pavilion up to a year in advance at Metcalf Bottoms, Twin Creeks, Deep Creek, Greenbrier, Cosby, or Collins Creek. The rest of the picnic areas are first-come, first-serve, and feature picnic tables, grills, and much more.
Go Fishing for Trout and More in LeConte Creek
You’re welcome to fish year-round all across the streams in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at LeConte Creek. As you cast your line, you have the chance to reel in trout, smallmouth bass, and much other tasty fish that’ll undoubtedly put up a good fight. Just make sure that you meet the fishing license requirements and follow all daily bag and possession limits to stay on the right side of the law.
Hit Up the Visitor Centers for Learning Experiences Galore
Located at Oconaluftee, Clingmans Dome, Sugarlands, and Cades Cove, the four visitor centers in the park offer ample opportunities to learn about the adventures ahead. You can chat with rangers, buy helpful guides, and even read the park newspaper to learn about all the nearby sights. While at the Cades Cove and Oconaluftee visitor centers, spend some time exploring the cable- and water-powered grist mills to see an interesting demonstration of how they mill corn into cornmeal.
While you might have to take a little bit of a walk to enjoy these 10 awesome activities in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, no actual hiking is required. You can just lace up your walking shoes and go on a leisurely stroll through all the sights. Before you know it, the magic of the Smokies will win you over and get you planning your next trip well before you even head out of the park.