A Family’s Guide to Outdoor Adventures in the Great Smoky Mountains

Elaine Richardson

Updated on:

Embarking on a family vacation in the Smokies presents a unique opportunity to bond, unwind, and immerse in the great outdoors. Amidst our fast-paced, screen-dominated lives, setting aside time to engage in physical activities within nature’s embrace does wonders. It’s not just about breaking away from the routine; it’s about creating lasting memories, strengthening bonds, and promoting a healthy, active lifestyle. From the crisp mountain air to the lush greenery, the Smoky Mountains offer a perfect backdrop for adventure, exploration, and relaxation. Whether you’re hiking through dense forests, rafting down vigorous rivers, or simply enjoying the peace of the wilderness, the Smokies provide an ideal setting for a family vacation that combines fun with the refreshing benefits of nature.

1. Hiking the Trails of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

One of the best ways to experience the beauty of the Smokies is by hitting its numerous trails. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers over 800 miles of trails ranging from easy strolls to challenging hikes. Families can choose paths like the Laurel Falls Trail, an easy 2.6-mile round trip to a stunning waterfall, or the Clingmans Dome Trail, leading to the highest peak in the park. These hikes not only provide a chance to witness the diverse flora and fauna but also offer breathtaking views that make the effort utterly worthwhile. Remember to pack water, snacks, and a camera to capture the picturesque scenes.

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2. Camping in Pigeon Forge, TN

For families looking to blend outdoor adventure with the comforts of home, camping in Pigeon Forge is an excellent choice. You can find campgrounds in Pigeon Forge TN, that offer amenities from tent to RV camping and even cabin rentals. Moreover, by setting up your base at places such as the Greenbrier Campground, you’re not just surrounded by nature, but you’re also a short drive away from attractions like Dollywood and downtown Gatlinburg. This means after a day of hiking or exploring the wilderness, you can enjoy the entertainment and dining options these spots provide.

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3. Whitewater Rafting on the Pigeon River        

For families with a taste for adventure, whitewater rafting on the Pigeon River offers an exhilarating experience. With options ranging from gentle floats to exciting Class III and IV rapids, it’s an activity that caters to all ages and experience levels. Local outfitters, such as Smoky Mountain Outdoors, provide all necessary equipment and safety briefings, ensuring a fun and safe adventure for everyone. Rafting not only promises a thrilling ride through stunning landscapes but also offers a unique way to connect with each other and nature.

4. Discovering Cades Cove

Cades Cove offers a serene escape into wildlife, history, and breathtaking scenery. This broad, lush green valley, surrounded by mountains, is one of the park’s most popular destinations. Visitors can explore the area via a scenic loop road, which provides opportunities to spot white-tailed deer, black bears, and other wildlife. Families can also visit historic buildings, including log houses, churches, and a working grist mill, offering a glimpse into the life of early settlers.

5. Ziplining Through the Tree Canopies

Ziplining is an exhilarating way to view the Smokies from a different perspective. Gliding through the forest canopy, you’ll experience breathtaking views and an adrenaline rush like no other. Some companies offer family-friendly zipline tours that ensure safety and fun for all ages. Their knowledgeable guides not only provide a thrilling experience but also educate on the local ecology. It’s an exciting way to bond as a family while taking in the stunning vistas of the Smoky Mountains.

6. Biking the Gatlinburg Trail

Exploring the Smokies on two wheels offers a fresh and exhilarating perspective of its natural beauty. The Gatlinburg Trail[a] is one of the few biking-friendly paths in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, providing a relatively easy ride for families. Stretching for nearly 2 miles, this trail connects Gatlinburg to the Sugarlands Visitor Center, offering picturesque views of the Little Pigeon River along the way. Biking here allows families to enjoy the outdoors at their own pace, with plenty of opportunities for picnicking, wildlife spotting, and enjoying the tranquil river sounds. It’s an ideal activity for those looking to combine physical activity with the serene beauty of the Smokies.

7. Fishing in the Mountain Streams

Fishing with your family in the Smokies is a peaceful activity. The region’s streams are teeming with trout, making it a prime fishing destination for both beginners and seasoned anglers. Whether fly fishing in the rushing streams or casting a line in one of the quiet creeks, families can enjoy the tranquility of the park while waiting for a bite. Licenses are required for fishing in the national park, but they’re easily obtainable, and many local outfitters offer guided trips and rental equipment. It’s not just about the catch; it’s about the experience, the gentle rhythm of the water, and the thrill of possibly catching your dinner!

8. Horseback Riding Through Scenic Trails

Horseback riding in the Smokies is another fantastic way to explore the vast beauty of the area. Various stables around the park offer guided tours on gentle trails suitable for all skill levels. Riding through lush forests and across mountain streams, families can experience the majestic Smokies from a unique vantage point. It’s a chance to learn about the local flora and fauna from knowledgeable guides while enjoying the leisurely pace of horseback travel.

9. Take a Scenic Drive on Newfound Gap Road

For families who prefer to take in the sights from the comfort of their car, Newfound Gap Road offers one of the most stunning drives in the American South. Spanning 31 miles and crossing the park, this road ascends to Newfound Gap, where visitors can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the mountains. Along the way, there are numerous pull-offs and viewpoints where families can stop to admire the scenery, take photos, or even spot wildlife. The drive also leads to various trailheads and attractions, making it easy to combine a scenic drive with other outdoor activities.


The Great Smoky Mountains provide a playground vast enough to cater to every family’s adventure dreams. Whether you’re exploring the vast wilderness of the national park, camping under the stars in Pigeon Forge, or seeking thrills on a whitewater rafting expedition, your family is sure to leave with cherished memories and a renewed sense of togetherness. As the sun sets on your Smoky Mountain adventure, it’s not just the end of the day but the beginning of many stories and traditions, beckoning you back to these mountains time and time again.