The Great Smoky Mountains has an abundance of top attractions. The best attractions are the ones that make lasting memories. Often vacation time is limited, so plan ahead and choose those attractions that are fun to do and will include everyone in your group. Then if there is time left, take in those attractions that come up while visiting an area or one that an individual wants to explore on their own.
Did you know this National Park is the most visited park in the U.S. and America’s favorite? Over 11 million people visited in 2018, which showed a huge jump from the years prior. More people visit the Great Smoky Mountains than do the Grand Canyon. So here are the top 10 Smoky Mountain Attractions we have on our list for you.
1) Gatlinburg Sky Lift
In the heart of Gatlinburg you can ride a gentle, gliding chairlift that takes you up to the most spectacular view of the Great Smoky Mountains. It is very quiet and peaceful as you pass over forests up the mountainside. This chairlift takes you to the top of Crockett Mountain and back down again. Relax as your chair makes a slow turn around the top wheel and soon you’ll be on your way down for the incredible, picturesque view and exhilarating ride back down a 1,200 vertical drop. You are surrounded on three sides by the forests of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the sights of the town of Gatlinburg in front. Gatlinburg Sky Lift is a top Smoky Mountain attraction that you won’t ever forget doing together. There are lots of time to take and send selfies to your friends back home.
What’s the best way to enjoy nature and the outdoors in the Smokies? Reserve a hike with pack llamas on scenic mountain trails! All the llamas at Smoky Mountain Llama Treks are sweet and lovable, (by the way they DON’T spit). Children and adults alike will enjoy these gentle animals. Your llama will carry all of your food and gear for a short hike, a day of hiking or two day treks overnight. This is a memorable way to enjoy the scenic Smoky Mountain trails accompanied by an experienced guide and friendly, fluffy, professionally trained, pack-llamas. Choose your trek from leisurely nature walks to trails for the adventurous trekker, you’ll find that Smoky Mountain Llama Treks has the perfect outdoor adventure for you and your family.
In the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains is one of the world’s best theme parks located in Pigeon Forge. You may need to plan one or two full days to take in all the fun at Dollywood. Dollywood has over 40 ride attractions, including favorites as the Thunderhead wooden coaster, Mystery Mine, the Firechaser Express, Daredevil Falls, and Wild Eagle. Dollywood hosts award-winning entertainment and shows, festivals, and concerts which feature country, bluegrass, Southern gospel, Appalachian and classic rock music.
Everyone will enjoy the daily demonstrations by local master craftsmen who preserve this area’s artistry and heritage. For example, you can watch how wagons were built and how the wheels were made. Restaurants with authentic Southern-style food are scattered throughout the park, no one will go hungry. Shopping is a glorious activity just by itself! Dollywood Theme Park is over 150 acres, constantly expanding with more shopping and crafts that you can every imagine in just one place.
The Dollywood theme park borders with a walkway a bald eagle sanctuary built into the mountainside called Eagle Mountain Sanctuary, where visitors can view the largest exhibit of non-releasable, injured Bald Eagles in the United States. These eagles are all permanently disabled and would not be able to survive in the wild. Mated pairs of eagles are visible and with successful breeding, any eaglets that are hatched are eventually released back into the wild.
You’ll find lots of family fun all year round at Ober Gatlinburg. Ride the 1800 ft. twin track Alpine Slide or the exciting Ski Mountain Coaster where you control the speed through the trees. Put on a pair of skates at the massive indoor skating rink, it doesn’t matter what season. Other amusement activities in the park include Water Raft Rides, Mini-Golf, a Carousel, Kiddie Rides in Kiddie Land, and Amaze n’ Maze. The Wildlife Encounter area provides a close-up view of the well-known animals of the Great Smoky Mountains including black bears.
Wintertime is the all-time fun season on the slopes at Ober Gatlinburg. With 10 ski and snowboard trails of various degrees of difficulty, they are perfect for beginners up to the experts. Anyone who would like to have fun in the snow may enjoy the thrill of tubing down a 400 ft snow covered lane in the Tubing Park. To access all of Ober Gatlinburg’s family activities in every season, ride up on the Aerial Tramway from Downtown Gatlinburg.
If you have never visited an aquarium, try stopping by Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. Conveniently located on the Parkway, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies provides an incredible visual experience by walking through its underwater tunnels, where you will see giant sharks, stingrays, penguins playing and a giant sea turtle. The brilliant colors of thousands of exotic sea creatures are breathtaking to watch.
The open water stingray pool allows for human touch of these fascinating sea creatures. Periodically, you can catch Dive/Feeding shows where swarms of fish eat out of the hands of the divers. It is certainly worth the visit and perfect for family fun in the Smokies. You may want to plan your visit to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies ahead of time to find the best deals for your group.
Plan to take an exciting whitewater rafting adventure while visiting the Great Smoky Mountains. Rafting is a very popular attraction from March until September when the season provides plenty of water. Families can go on a leisurely trip down the lower portion of the river, or individuals can try an adventurous one on the upper river. This is a great way to experience the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains as you float down the Pigeon River surrounded by beautiful forest and mountains.
The Upper Pigeon River is the most popular trip and is the most family-friendly activity as this trip is one and a half hours on the river and you will experience some rapids. The Lower Pigeon raft trip takes you through a mellow flowing scenic section of the river and is perfect for children 3 years and older and those wanting to enjoy a cool relaxing float down the river. There are more adventurous trips available as well. Each raft is headed by an experienced guide who will keep everyone entertained. Rip Roaring Adventures Rafting is family-owned and their goal is to offer the absolute best and most affordable whitewater rafting the Smoky Mountains have to offer.
This is the newest Gatlinburg attraction so if you haven’t been to the Great Smoky Mountains in a long while you may want to plan a visit to the Anakeesta Theme Park. This is a unique outdoor experience, visitors will enjoy immediately the beauty of the great outdoors no matter what age group. Your adventure begins with a scenic ride up to the top of Anakeesta Mountain on the Chondola. At the top you arrive at Firefly Village, with spectacular view no matter where you look of Mt. LeConte and Gatlinburg. Firefly Village has lovely gift shops to explore such as The Great Outdoor Trading Company, Catching Fireflies, and Adventure Outpost, casual dining of all types, Anakeesta’s Smokehouse, Cliff Top Grill & Bar, and an ice cream parlor at Pearl’s Pie in the Sky. Watch the sunset at Cliff Top Grill and Bar off their dining pavilion, a mountaintop dining experience to remember.
Walk the 16 bridge Tree Canopy Walk 40’–60’ feet above the forest floor, and the kids will discover the Tree House Village Playground. Many opportunities abound with walks through Memorial Forest Walk highlighting the November 2016 fire and a botanical garden along Vista Gardens, with trails wandering through beautiful gardens of native plants and flowers. Or race side by side on the Dueling Zipline adventure over 125 feet above the ground. Ride the Rail Runner, a single rail mountain coaster down the mountainside for more excitement. Anakeesta is a magical mountain adventure to remember.
8) Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community
In the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains more than 100 artists and craftsmen’ studios, shops, eateries, bed and breakfasts and homes are located on an 8 miles loop road that’s designated a Tennessee Heritage Arts & Crafts Trail. You can drive or reach The Arts & Crafts Community via the Yellow Trolley from downtown Gatlinburg. Since the community is only 3 1/2 miles east of downtown Gatlinburg plan to get away from the hustle and bustle of Gatlinburg and meet firsthand many of the artisans of this special mountain region. The Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community (aka Great Smoky A&CC) is the largest independent organization of artisans in the United States. There is a huge diversity of crafts and art, from dulcimers to ceramics, from stuffed bears to handmade jewelry. You will meet the artist and have an opportunity to learn the history of their individual craft. Every shop offers plenty of free parking. You will need to plan significant time to enjoy this attraction, there are many stops along the loop that you won’t want to miss.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park Nature Guide Service offers an opportunity for a unique adventure with nature. Naturalists, Vesna Plakanis, who owns the outfitter A Walk in the Woods with her husband, Erik, has been compared as a modern-day “John Muir” of the Smokies. Take a hiking or backpacking vacation, complete with shuttle service and a full time guide service to learn the history of the Great Smoky Mountains and experience a peaceful encounter with nature and the ecology of the area. Your trip to the Smoky Mountains will be fun and rewarding. They offer a large selection of hikes starting from interpretive guided nature walks, salamander and birding treks to camping and backpacking guided trips. Take one of their classes or seminars to help make the Great Smoky Mountains come alive for you.
Are you looking for time away from a hectic daily life? Would you like to create special family memories without the interference of social media? Stay at Camp Atagahi with all the comforts of home, complete with roomy tents decorated with rugs, lamps, tables and comfy cots with air mattresses. Gourmet camp meals will be tailored to your group, cooked in their commercial Eco kitchen. You’ll drink and bathe in refreshing, pure mountain spring water in their bath house. Explore hidden trails in the National Park, or play on a zip line or raft on the Nantahala river. Plan your customized adventure at Camp Atagahi and get ready to meet new friends.
The last on the list of Top 10 Smoky Mountain Attractions needs to be Gatlin’s Mini Golf which is this area’s largest miniature golf destination. Winning all the awards for the best, including The City of Gatlinburg’s “Best Attraction in Landscaping”, your family or group will enjoy a playtime adventure together starting with challenging and fun Hillside Mini Golf trails with famous places in the Great Smoky Mountains. Choose between Old Mountain Trail for a nature experience or Old Town Square while you learn about the area through local trivia during your game. Many visitors purchase the “Unlimited Golf” package which allows you to golf anytime you want, as much as you want at Gatlin’s Mini Golf during your vacation.
Ready to visit the Great Smoky Mountains?
Anytime of year is a wonderful time to plan a visit. Many visitors feel the best time to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surrounding region are the Summer months of June, July and August. July is usually the busiest time of the year for vacations and even the Fall tends to have higher traffic on the road and more visitors in search of the spectacular autumn foliage. But don’t forget the holidays, winter wonderland and the flowers in springtime for their special beauty. Try to plan early and make your arrangements to stay in one of the many Smoky Mountain cabin rentals for a true mountain getaway.