The Best Things to See and Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park | © dconvertini / Flickr
Leena Kollar

There is so much to explore in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park besides hiking. These are the best things to see and do if you want to make the most of your time in the Smokies.

Loved by over 40s

Cool off by waterfalls

One of the ways to enjoy the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains is by cooling off next to one of its many waterfalls. There are several to marvel at, and visitors can easily reach them via hiking trails within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Laurel Falls is an 80-foot (24-meter) waterfall that sprays mist overhead and plunges into a narrow gorge at the bottom. Abrams Falls is a 20-foot (six-meter) waterfall with a 100-foot (30-meter) wide natural swimming pool that visitors often use to cool off during the hot Tennessee summers. Grotto Falls is a 25-foot (7.6-meter) waterfall that people can actually walk behind, and Ramsey Cascades, the tallest waterfall in the park, drops 100 feet (30.4 meters) over rocks and collects in a small pool often full of salamanders.

Laurel Falls

Tour Sugarlands Distilling Company

Distillery, Park

Tour Sugarlands Distilling Company

There’s an area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park known as “moonshiners’ paradise” where the Sugarlands Distilling Company sits. The locally owned distillery, which opened in 2014, offers free daily tours, distilling workshops, and tastings of various award-winning spirits. For those who want a more personal experience, there are premium tour options, which offer behind-the-scenes experiences where people can enjoy the distillery’s signature Sugarlands Shine in a private setting. Sugarlands Shine is available in a variety of flavors, and visitors can sample it at the Sippin’ Posts around the distillery.

Sugarlands Distilling Company, 805 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN, USA, +1 865 325 1355

Circle around Cades Cove

Church, Park

Circle around Cades Cove

Cades Cove is a gorgeous, verdant valley surrounded by mountains that motorists can circle to watch for wildlife and enjoy the breathtaking views of the Smokies. The one-way loop is 11 miles (18 kilometers) long and can take two to four hours to complete. Along the way, there are places to stop and hiking trails, as well as several buildings to explore that are representative of pioneer life in 19th-century Appalachia. These structures include The John Oliver Cabin, The Primitive Baptist Church, The Myers Barn, and The Carter Shields Cabin. The busiest times of year for Cades Cove are summer and fall, and weekends throughout the year.

Cades Cove, TN, USA

Go horseback riding

There are several horseback riding stables in the park that are available from mid-March through late November. Guided rides are done at a walking pace along scenic park trails and last from 45 minutes to several hours. About 550 miles (885 kilometers) of the park’s hiking trails are specifically designated for horse use. There are also five drive-in horse camps that provide access to backcountry horse trails. Guests will find the camps, which are open from April through October, at Cades Cove, Big Creek, Cataloochee, Round Bottom, and Towstring.

Horses in Cataloochee Valley, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Climb Clingmans Dome

At an elevation of 6,643 feet (2,025 meters), Clingmans Dome is the highest mountain in the Smokies and the highest point in Tennessee. It sits at the top of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, accessed via Newfound Gap. After taking the access road, there is a half-mile walk to the summit. At the top of the dome is the 45-foot (14-meter) concrete Clingmans Dome Observation Tower, built in 1959, that offers panoramic views up to 100 miles (161 kilometers) away. The observation tower is open year-round; however, the access road leading to it is closed from December 1st through March 31st.

Clingmans Dome Observation Tower, the Great Smoky Mountains

Watch for wildlife

If you’d like to see wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, your best bet is to go in the winter when the animals are more visible. Since a dense forest covers the land, the wildlife often hides behind tree branches, which lose their leaves during the winter. The six-mile (9.6-kilometer) Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a winding road that motorists can take and an area where wildlife sometimes roams. White-tailed deer, black bears, elk, and raccoons are some of the common animals found in the park. Since animals are most active at night, it’s a good idea to carry binoculars and look for them in the evening.

Elk in the Great Smokies

Explore historic buildings in Cataloochee

Cataloochee Valley was one of the largest and most prosperous settlements in the 1900s. Some 1,200 people lived in the valley, and most made their living by farming. Today, there are many preserved historic buildings, including two churches, a school, and several homes. You can tour these structures using a self-guiding auto tour booklet, and there is more to explore by walking a couple of miles to the 5.2-mile (8.4-kilometer) Little Cataloochee Trail. Visitors can find historical information and exhibits at the Palmer House.

Palmer Farm
culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.