As the gateway town to the country’s most popular national park, Gatlinburg is a great place to start exploring the area in and around Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The ancient Smoky Mountains are endlessly rolling and captivating to the gaze, and whether you’re looking for some beautiful creations of nature or some human-made entertainment, you’ll find some of the best scenic attractions in the area listed here to help you get started in finding some great sights.
Before you even leave town there are some stunning views available from the surroundings, like the ones from SkyLift Park, with the SkyLift running from downtown up the mountain to an oasis of fun, and the country’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge, for unforgettable memories. Or, take the Tramway up to Ober Gatlinburg year-round for mountain fun and amazing views. Finally, Anakeesta offers the chondola ride up from downtown to the mountain, with a magical world awaiting and, of course, stunning views.
If you like the thrill of speed, hills and curves, there are no less than six different coaster rides in the area – and that’s before you hit Dollywood! The Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster is open day and night, providing you with fast but safe options as you control descent speed in your own car, with the Anakeesta Rail Runner Coaster also working well with the age-3 and up crowd. For the more adventurous, Rowdy Bear Mountain, Goats on the Roof and Rocky Top Mountain Coaster all provide thrills and chills, while Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster retains its position as the first alpine coaster in the region. See more on local mountain coasters.
Part of the reason why the Smoky Mountains are such a popular vacation destination is the sheer beauty of the surrounding area. With several beautiful drives in the area, why not take a morning or afternoon to simply take in the sights? The park and surrounding area have over 400 miles of scenic roadways, and three popular overlooks give you an option to get out and stretch your legs. Just remember to slow down, start early, keep your eyes open for the variety of wildlife in the area and enjoy the ride. See more about Scenic Drives in the Park and in the area.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the nation’s most visited national park, open year-round and with free admission. The park is a UN-designated unique biosphere with an astonishing diversity of tree, plant and wild life, as well as a repository of Appalachian history and culture. Check out old-time homesteads, some with working grain mills for some down-home ingenuity and mechanics. Hit some of the hiking trails for outdoor exercise combined with wonderment, while seeing the more remote areas of the park that can’t be seen from the roadway. Easy hikes and walks abound, because rangers have worked tirelessly to open the park’s natural features up to its guests, making it easier for people of all abilities to get out into nature and enjoy what the park has to offer.
One of the top destinations within Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cades Cove is a lovely mountain valley approaching 7,000 acres in size. With the mountains all around, the Cove offers a remarkable sense of spacious quiet. A wildlife haven, it’s a great place to catch a sight of some of the park’s many animals. A long loop road allows you to see the entire cove without having to do a lot of walking, while one of the park’s four visitor centers is stationed in the cove. Its many historic structures, artifacts and tools make it an easy way to get a solid grasp of how people lived traditionally in the area, and perhaps what they experienced and felt.
With over 2,000 miles of running water in the national park alone, abundant rainfall combined with sharp changes in elevation, waterfalls abound in the national park. Often requiring at least a short hike, ranging from easy to strenuous, these waterfalls provide a beautiful natural setting for picnics, photography or simply exploring. Some have great swimming holes – and like many trails in the park, the access trail will make it smart to carry dry socks with you – but water safety is something to keep clearly in mind when exploring these mountain features. Two waterfalls, Meigs Falls and Place of a Thousand Drips, are actually visible from the roadway, a boon for those with small children, pets or physical limitations.