Our recommendations for planning your outdoor activities in Gatlinburg and the Smokies
There is a huge variety of outdoor activities around Gatlinburg, both in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and in the surrounding area. These are some of our recommendations for activities that we have enjoyed.
See all of our recommendations in our guide for Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains!
- Horseback riding
- Mountain coasters
- Scenic lifts and gondolas
- Snow sports
- Zip lines
- Whitewater rafting
- Pools and water parks
- Swimming in natural waters
- Done all that... what next?
Sugarlands Riding Stables
Conveniently located a bit before the Sugarlands Visitors Center, this stable is licensed for horseback riding tours in the national park.
Address: 1409 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Phone: (865) 436-3535
Cades Cove Riding Stables
This stable is located over in Cades Cove, so it's a bit of a drive, but is worth the trip if you have already taken the guided rides from the Sugarlands Riding Stables. Unlike Sugarlands, they also offer both carriage rides and hay rides, in case that is of interest for your group.
Address:10018 Campground Dr, Townsend, TN 37882
Phone: (865) 448-9009
Big Rock Dude Ranch
If your group has a wider range of riding skills, or if some have no interest in or are too young to ride a horse, the Big Rock Dude Ranch is a great option. Although they don't do trails in the park, they have their own 3.5-mile mountain trail for riding with views of the Smokies. They also have a fishing pond, gem mining, petting zoo, and a small museum.
Address: 909 Little Cove Rd, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
Phone: (865) 428-9398
There are many "mountain coasters" in and around Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Unlike a normal roller coaster (apart from being built on a mountainside!) you control your own speed so you can either make it a thrilling fast ride or a more leisurely ride to enjoy the scenery. So it can be a fun activity for the whole family. Try out one of the coasters, and if you like the experience, check out the others. Here are some of our recommendations.
Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster
The Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster is right next door to downtown Gatlinburg and is a good one to try out first. It has a silent track design to make it feel like you're swooshing through the trees.
Address: 306 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Phone: (865) 430-5577
Rail Runner (at Anakeesta)
Another easily accessible mountain coaster is the Rail Runner at Anakeesta in downtown Gatlinburg. It has a single-track design that allows you to ride closer to the ground.
Address: 576 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Ski Mountain Coaster (at Ober Gatlinburg)
This mountain coaster up at Ober Gatlinburg has some amazing views – if you are looking for a scenic ride, go for this one.
Address: 1406 Tyrolea Ct, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster
This one is a bit more of a drive from Gatlinburg, over towards Wears Valley. But if you go there, you will be rewarded with the longest downhill ride in the United States, with over 1 mile of track.
Address: 867 Wears Valley Rd, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
Phone: (865) 365-5000
Scenic lifts and gondolas
The Gatlinburg SkyLift is the original lift attraction – it's a three-seat chairlift (newly re-built in 2017) that goes from downtown Gatlinburg up to Crockett Mountain where you'll have fantastic views of Mt LeConte and the Smokies from the SkyDeck. You can also access the SkyBridge from up there – the longest suspension pedestrian bridge in North America (with a 20-ft section made of see-thru glass at its highest point – we recommend not even attempting it if you suffer from any degree of vertigo!)
Address: 765 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Phone: (865) 436-4307
Ober Gatlinburg Scenic Chairlift
Placed inside the Ober Gatlinburg park, this is a chairlift that takes you way up high to the peak of Mount Harrison. If the weather is clear, you'll be able to see all the way to Douglas Lake, as well as incredible views of Mt LeConte.
Address: 1310 Ski Mountain Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
The "Chondola" - offering a choice between gondola "eggs" and chairlifts takes you from downtown Gatlinburg up to the Anakeesta park.
Address: 576 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway
If you don't want to drive up to Ober Gatlinburg, just take the Aerial Tramway from downtown Gatlinburg. It can be a bit crowded so you may not always get the best views (which you however will if you continue onwards on the Ober Scenic Chairlift).
Address: 1001 Parkway #2, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Phone: (865) 436-5423
Ober Gatlinburg is a great place for both beginners and for more advanced skiers and snowboarders. It's the only ski area in Tennessee and arguably the best one in all of the Southeast.
Either take the Ober Aerial Tramway from downtown Gatlinburg or drive up (note that you have to pay for entrance at the tollbooth before entering Ober Gatlinburg).
If you are not bringing your own equipment, you can rent skis and boots, as well as snow pants, ski jackets, and helmets.
While most famous for the ski slopes, there is no lack of things to do year-round at Ober Gatlinburg. Other activities include the alpine slide, ice bumper cars, and ice skating. There is and in the summer there is the Ski Mountain Coaster, the Ober Scenic Chairlift, climbing wall, as well as shopping and restaurants.
Address: 1339 Ski Mountain Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Phone: (865) 436-5423
Cataloochee Ski Area
If you've come for the skiing and feel you need some variation from Ober Gatlinburg, head over to Cataloochee in North Carolina for a day. It's just a 90-minute drive, so it's suitable for a day trip. While the system is a bit smaller than Ober Gatlinburg, it will offer you some new slopes and different views of the Smokies!
Address: 1080 Ski Lodge Rd, Maggie Valley, NC 28751
Phone: (828) 926-0285
Zip lines have you go down the mountainside through the treetops suspended from a metal cable. There are quite a few of them around in the Gatlinburg area – most of which will be very enjoyable and provide interesting views – but these are our top picks. Cost is normally around $80-100 for a tour, lasting 1-2 hours.
CLIMB Works Smoky Mountains
We think the best ziplining in Gatlinburg is CLIMB Works. Just go on the East Parkway in the direction away from Gatlinburg for a few minutes. Located right on the edge of the park, it offers stunning views in its tours and they have very professional guides.
Address: 155 Branam Hollow Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Phone: (865) 325-8116
Foxfire Mountain Adventure Park
Foxfire Mountain is a large adventure park with both a gentler zip lining tour with views over waterfalls and a more extreme one for the more adventurous.
If not everyone can or want to do ziplining, they can also just pay the entrance to explore the park and its other activities.
Address: 3757 Thomas Ln, Sevierville, TN 37876
Phone: (865) 505-2995
Depending on where you want to fish, you will need a Tennessee and/or a Gatlinburg fishing license. No license is needed for those 13 and under.
You can easily buy your license online at https://license.gooutdoorstennessee.com – you need to create an account and can then purchase the licenses. You can also purchase licenses at a number of locations, including Gatlinburg City Hall, Old Smoky Outfitters, and Smoky Mountain Angler.
If you wish to fish in the Smoky Mountains National Park, you will need a Tennessee fishing license. There is no trout sticker needed in the park. Note that the license is also valid in the parts of the park located in North Carolina (and if you hold a North Carolina fishing license, it is also valid in Tennessee).
If you wish to fish within Gatlinburg city limits, you need either an add-on license to your Tennessee license, or a stand-alone license.
The relevant licenses are:
077: TN 3-day license ($20 + fees)
079: TN 10-day license ($30 + fees)
099: Gatlinburg 1-day add-on license ($3 + fees)
096: Gatlinburg 3-day add-on license ($9 + fees)
097: Gatlinburg 1-day stand-alone license – no TN license required ($11 + fees)
Fish limits in the National Park
The daily limits, which are strictly enforced, are five brook trout, rainbow trout, brown trout and small-mouth bass permitted per person. Twenty rock bass are also allowed per day. These limits are subject to change and we recommend checking with a Wildlife and Game officer prior to fishing to ensure you are within limits.
The Smoky Mountain Angler
The best place to go for equipment rental and purchase, as well as information about fishing in Gatlinburg and in the National Park. They are located directly on the East Parkway.
They also organize guided fishing tours for small groups – read more on their website.
Address: 469 Brookside Village Way, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Phone: (865) 436-8746
For rafting on the Pigeon River, we recommend booking your trip with NOC Gatlinburg (it's also the best outdoor gear shop in the area).
You can find their available trips here: https://noc.com/pigeon-river-tn/
Address: 1138 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Phone: (865) 277-8209
Pools and water parks
While the cabin is not in a resort with a pool, there are several good options for swimming around, whether you like swimming indoors or outdoors (in the summer).
Gatlinburg Community Center
You'll find the beautiful Gatlinburg Community Center in town – a complex with indoor swimming pool, basketball court, ping pong, bowling alley, weight room, and showers, with very reasonable fees for access. The pool at the Community Center is great and is just $3 for adults (13 and older).
Address: 156 Proffitt Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Phone: (865) 436-4990
Wild Bear Falls Water Park
There is a themed waterpark a bit further away on the 321 - the Wild Bear Falls Water Park with both indoor and outdoor swimming.
Address: 915 Westgate Resorts Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Phone: (865) 430-4800
Dollywood's Splash Country
While somewhat pricy, Dollywood's Splash Country is quite an experience, with its 35-acre water park on the theme of swimming in the rivers of the Great Smoky Mountains. Open May-September.
Address: 2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
Phone: (865) 365-5996
Swimming in natural waters
There is something special about being able to cool off on a warm summer day in the waters of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Just be sure to be careful – the national park states that it is dangerous for people to swim in the streams and rivers in the Smokies.
When planning your excursion, stay safe and think about the following:
- Wear water shoes or sneakers to protect your feet and help keep your balance on the rocks
- Watch the weather – water levels and currents can change drastically in the event of rainstorms.
- Avoid areas of rivers with strong currents
- Watch for snakes – the few poisonous snakes that live in the Smokies will do their best to avoid meeting you but just look before you take a step or place your hand for a handhold when climbing the riverbanks. Snakes typically like sunny spots or brambles along the river's edge.
By the lesser-known Greenbrier entrance to the National Park, you will find your closest swimming holes. On the Greenbrier Road after you've entered the park, find a place to park on the side of the road and follow the paths down to the river. The best swimming spots are located on the left side of the road before the ranger station.
Address: Greenbrier Rd, Tennessee 37738
A nice spot on the Little River where a waterfall falls into a large pool.
Address: Old State Hwy 73 Scenic, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
By the Metcalf Bottoms picnic area, you'll find several shallow swimming holes that you can combine with a picnic.
Address: Wear Cove Gap Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
The Townsend Wye
A popular swimming hole over by Cades Cove. Nice and calm and about 30 feet wide, it's suitable also for those who are worried about having to climb down rocks to the water in "wilder" swimming holes.
Address: Laurel Creek Rd & Little River Road, Townsend, TN 37882
Le Conte Creek at Alum Cave Trail
The Alum Cave Trail is a popular hike up to Mt LeConte and has some nice, shady swimming spots along the Le Conte Creek, in particular in the first mile and a half of the trail. As it's close to the creek's springs, these are cool even in the middle of summer.
Address: Le Conte Creek, Tennessee 37738
Wild Laurel Golf Club
Although it is a little bit of drive from Gatlinburg, the Wild Laurel Golf Course over in Townsend is our favorite course – well-maintained, beautiful views, and usually not crowded.
Address: 702 Country Club Dr, Townsend, TN 37882
Phone: (865) 738-3134
Gatlinburg Golf Course
Despite its name, the Gatlinburg Golf Course is located at the edge of Pigeon Forge. Very scenic and challenging course. Note that there is no driving range for warming up. As there are no water stations, make sure you bring enough if playing in the summer months.
Address: 520 Dollywood Ln, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
Phone: (865) 453-3912
Sevierville Golf Club
With two courses, you have a choice of terrain: the Highlands course is laid out among the Smokies foothills, while the River course is winding its way down along the Pigeon River. Nicely maintained, but on the expensive side.
Address: 1444 Old Knoxville Hwy, Sevierville, TN 37876
Phone: (865) 429-4223
Bent Creek Golf Course
Beautiful scenery in this golf course designed by Gary Player, with the front nine on flatter terrain and more challenging hilly terrain for the back. There are, however, currently some upkeep issues on this course, so don't expect a flawless experience.
Address: 3919 East Pkwy, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Phone: (865) 436-3947
I've done all that... what next?
Outdoor Gravity Park (Zorbing)
Try Zorbing at the only Zorbing park in the United States. This rather odd-sounding activity was invented in New Zealand – you roll down a hill in a giant inflatable ball.
Save money by pre-purchasing your ticket here.
Address: 203 Sugar Hollow Rd, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
Phone: (865) 366-2687