15 Non-touristy Things To Do In Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Non-touristy Things To Do In The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Some of the best spots for a vacation are those that you are familiar with, as the knowledge you have will allow you to save time and money on figuring out what to do. If you live near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, then you’ll have quick and easy access to attractions that are perfect for nature lovers. The trails for hiking and biking allow you to get exercise and take photos of amazing sites along the way, and alternative sources of travel will be able to take you through the park via the water or the air. If you’re traveling from out of the country or out of state, you’ll find plenty of suitable accommodations, from family resorts close to the Smoky Mountains to Vrbo vacation rentals near the park. Check out the best non-touristy things to do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

1. Great Smoky Mountains Waterfall Adventure (from USD 499.0)

Sometimes going on a hike or taking a bike through the woods can be a bit boring if you’re doing so in the right setting. That won’t be a problem at the park’s Waterfall Adventure, as the waterfalls not only provide a great sight for taking a photo or recording a video, but the noise adds to the serenity of the area. The hike in this area usually takes around three hours and involves hopping rocks throughout the Appalachian mountains. You may be lucky enough to spot squirrels, birds, deer and other forms of wildlife to add to the photo collection.

Overnight Backpacking in the Smokies

Duration: 1 day 8 hours

89 reviews

2. Scenic Floats on the Lower Section of the Pigeon River (from USD 35.0)

While some days for a vacation should be reserved for thrilling activities, other days should be saved for taking it easy. If you want to enjoy the peace of nature, then take a boat or kayak out on the lower section of the Pigeon River. This is an opportunity to catch some fish to take photos of and show off to people at home, as well as work on your kayaking skills for the rougher waters on other days. A trip down this part of the river usually takes around an hour and a half, and the views of the mountains along the way makes it totally worth it. You may be lucky enough to spot an eagle fly down and catch a fish or deer stop by to take a drink.

Scenic Floats on the Pigeon River with Big Creek Expeditions

Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes

52 reviews

3. Explore a Simpler Time Smoky Mountain Tour (from USD 49.0)

Part of your visit to any national park should be spent relaxing so that you have the energy needed to embark on future adventures. This tour is a great option, especially if you want to learn a bit more about the history of the area. Guides will let you know how the Cherokee worked and lived in the mountains, as well as what plants and animals that have and currently inhabited the area. Trails in this tour aim to provide an easy walk, and visitors will be able to explore a 19th-century barn, spring-house and restored cabin in case you get bored with the woods.

Explore a Simpler Time Smoky Mountain Tour

Duration: 3 hours

22 reviews

4. Ridge Runner Smoky Mountain Helicopter Tour (from USD 126.0)

There are very few ways for people to explore and see an entire area in a short period of time, but the Ridge Runner Helicopter Tour makes it possible to take a ride through the air and see the entirety of the Smoky Mountains. This 15-minute ride will allow you to see the Bluff Mountain, Chilhowee Mountain Range and Sugarloaf Mountain instead of taking hours to hike up them, as well as Tennessee Valley, downtown Sevierville and the outskirts of Pigeon Forge. The headsets help you and the pilot communicate about spots that you may not have visited yet. Enjoy seeing the beautiful Smoky Mountains from up high on this tour.

Ridge Runner Smoky Mountain Helicopter Tour

Duration: 15 minutes

109 reviews

5. Upper Pigeon Smoky Mountain River Rafting (from USD 45.0)

If you’re looking for other extra sources of thrills that a hike or bike ride can’t provide, then we recommend rafting in the upper section of Pigeon River. This attraction allows for kids, eight years old and up to join, which works if you’re kids are old and enough so that the whole family can take a ride in the water. Guides are available in case this is your first time doing some rafting, and group options allow you to go with both friends and family. All of the necessary equipment is provided so that you are ready for the toughest conditions that rafting has to offer.

The Best Whitewater Rafting

Duration: 2 hours

422 reviews

The following content is contributed by Trip101 writer, Anne

6. Enjoy a meal in the fresh air at Chimneys Picnic Area

Picnic area
Source: PxFuel

Photo is only for illustrative purposes

If you’re looking for non-touristy things to do in Gatlinburg during the summer, Chimneys Picnic Area is a great option. It’s one of several locations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where you can enjoy a tasty picnic out in nature. Others include Big Creek, Cades Cove, Greenbrier, Metcalf Bottoms, and Twin Creeks, among others. Chimneys is only open during the summer months. Visitors can enjoy the use of picnic tables and benches, as well as a barbeque grill. The national park warns visitors to correctly dispose of their garbage. Not only is garbage unsightly, but food attracts black bears in the park. Experts say that if bears get used to regularly eating human food, this will endanger their lives, as they might become active during the day and could be injured. Visitors should clean the picnic area, including the grill, thoroughly after enjoying their meal.

Chimneys Picnic Area

Address: Chimneys Picnic Area #1, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN 37738

7. Experience the view at Meigs Falls

Meigs Falls, Great Smokies
Source: Photo by Flickr user daveynin used under CC BY 2.0

There are a number of picturesque waterfalls throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Some require a long hike to reach, while others are more easily accessible by road. This is the case with the pretty Meigs Falls, which is tucked away on the far side of Little River. The falls are close to Little River Road and are 13 mi (21 km) west of Sugarlands Visitor Center and 7 mi (11 km) east of Townsend. While Meigs Falls are easily accessible from the road, visitors are warned that they can easily be missed while driving. Drive slowly and watch out for the pull-off.

Meigs Falls

Address: Old State Hwy 73 Scenic, Townsend, Tennessee, USA

8. Hike the Ramsey Cascades Trail

03 2011 - Ramsey Cascades, Hiking Trail Article
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user ZachN 0421 used under CC BY-SA 4.0

A famous Gatlinburg attraction that’s off the beaten path is Ramsey Cascades. The trail to reach the tallest waterfall in the park is one of the more strenuous ones. It starts at Ramsey Cascades Trailhead in Greenbrier. There has been some controversy over the name of the trail, as some spell it “Ramsay”. However, Ramsey is the correct spelling as the cascades were named for the Ramsey family who once lived in the area. This is an 8-mi (13-km) trail and is considered to be steep and strenuous, with rugged terrain towards the end of the trail. The waterfall itself is worth the effort and is a popular destination in the area.

Ramsey Cascades Trail

Address: Ramsey Prong Rd, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA

9. Gaze at Baskins Creek Falls

Baskins Creek Falls, November 2012
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user ZachN 0421 used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Baskins Creek Falls Trailhead is located just outside of Gatlinburg. Also known as Baskins Falls, the trail starts with a short but easy climb before leveling out. In the winter or spring, it offers beautiful views of the mountains and the city of Gatlinburg. Hikers are warned that these views are less likely in the summer months due to the foliage. The last section of the trail down to Baskins Creek Falls is a little steep but is worth the effort. The 40-ft (12-m) waterfall is a beautiful sight. This is also a great place to relax with a picnic, but visitors are urged to pick up all their garbage before leaving the area.

Baskins Creek Falls

Address: Baskins Creek Trail Trailhead, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN 37738

10. Spend time in Cataloochee Valley

Cataloochee Valley-27527
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Ken Thomas used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

Cataloochee Valley is a beautifully scenic spot in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The valley is surrounded by towering peaks and is the largest settlement in the park. A number of historic buildings can be seen in the valley, including a school, two churches, and a number of homes and farm buildings, with some dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Activities here include wildlife watching - visitors might see deer, turkey, elk, and more. Mornings and early evenings are the best time of the day to spot wildlife here. Fishing for wild trout is popular in Cataloochee Creek. Hiking the valley is another option, and there are trails that take visitors through a forest or past historic buildings. Camping is available at 27 campsites in the valley.

Cataloochee Valley

Address: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina, USA

11. Walk the trail to Andrews Bald

Andrews Bald with Sign
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Scott Basford used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Andrews Bald trailhead begins at Clingmans Dome parking lot. From here, the trail descends until it levels out on a broad ridge. Towards the end of the trail, hikers head through a forest to a grassy area known as Andrews Bald. The spot is named for Andres Thompson, a cattle herder who brought his livestock through the area way back in the 1840s. The hike is a beautiful nature walk and, at certain times of the year, hikers will see a blue wildflower known as innocence or Quaker ladies. They will also encounter patches of raspberries and blackberries along the way. Do note that pets are not allowed on this trail.

Andrews Bald

Address: Newfound Gap Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN

12. Explore Alum Cave Trail

Alum Cave Trail, Great Smokies
Source: Photo by Flickr user daveynin used under CC BY 2.0

When starting Alum Cave Trail, hikers cross log bridges on Walker Camp Prong and Alum Cave Creek. This takes them into an old-growth forest. One of the highlights of the hike is Arch Rock, a narrow tunnel. The trail heads up to Peregrine Peak, where beautiful scenes of rhododendron and mountain laurel can be seen. Part of the trail is Alum Cave Bluffs, after which the trail heads up to the summit of Mount Le Conte. The trail ends at the rocky outcrop named Inspiration Point, which offers beautiful views over the valley, backed by the rugged mountains. Hikers should note that no pets are allowed on this trail.

Alum Cave Trail

Address: Newfound Gap Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN

13. Marvel at the House of the Fairies

Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing

This spot in Great Smoky Mountains National Park was owned by one Louis E. Voorheis, who developed the lands in the 1920s. His wish was for this area to become a mountain retreat. There are two creeks running through this land, so he built a water-powered mill. He also created gardens with water features and a pool and springhouse, which has been named the House of the Fairies. Hikers have to access Twin Creeks Trail to reach the House of the Fairies. The trail goes alongside the creek, where several buildings from the Voorheis Estate can be seen and explored. Hikers can also visit the watermill on LeConte Creek. A variety of wildlife can be seen while hiking the trail, including bears and snakes, so be on the lookout.

The House of the Fairies

Address: From Twin Creeks Trail, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA

14. Set out for Mt. Cammerer Fire Tower

Mount Cammerer at the Lookout Tower
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Jrmichae used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Mount Cammerer is a trail located in Greenbrier and Cosby. It passes through a scenic area with panoramic views as well as interesting historic sites. Hikers will enjoy views of Sutton Ridge Overlook, where ridgetop hiking is possible. The trail ends at the Mount Cammerer Fire Tower. This old lookout building was created to overlook nature and keep the area safe. Nowadays, the tower is the perfect place for a rest from the reasonably strenuous hike, with beautiful views over the surrounding countryside. There are a number of trailheads for accessing this hike. It is recommended to use the one between the campground road and the river. This is a little less strenuous and well worth the views along the way.

Mt. Cammerer Fire Tower

Address: From Cosby Campground, Cosby, Tennessee, USA

15. Have fun at Whiteoak Sinks

White oak sinks
Source: Photo by Flickr user aecole2010 used under CC BY 2.0

Whiteoak Sinks is located halfway between Cades Cove and Townsend in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Steep hills surround this small basin, and it is one of many sinkholes in the area. In the immediate vicinity of Whiteoak Sinks are four caves, including one with a waterfall tumbling through it. Before the creation of the national park, the area was once inhabited by homesteaders. Evidence of this can be seen by the rock walls and collapsed chimney, as well as the root cellar and metal cogs. Hikers are urged to keep to the footpaths during spring to respect the beautiful flora. They are also warned that it is illegal to enter the caves. The hike is 4.4 mi (7.1 km) in length and can be accessed off Schoolhouse Gap Trail.

Whiteoak Sinks

Address: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Townsend, Tennessee, USA

Explore the Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Amart007 used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Knowing your way around nearby vacation spots makes it easy for you to experience as much fun as possible. Those who live near the Great Smoky Mountains will be able to tour through the national park via several options, whether it’s a rafting trip in the river or a helicopter tour that shows you a view of the entire area. The mountains, valleys, waterfalls and rivers provide great scenery for the trails you use for hiking, biking and rafting, as well as act as great photo and video ops to show off to people at home. Put these options of non-touristy things to do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park for your visit here.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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John Nassivera is a freelance writer and former news editor who's interests include traveling, science, fitness and lifestyle. He has visited several countries in Europe and traveled across the...Read more

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