Gatlinburg is the ideal vacation destination if you love the outdoors. Located at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the area is bursting with activities. Take in the scenic panorama of Newfound Gap Road, hike to Rainbow Falls, zipline over lush wilderness. And that’s just the beginning. To help you discover all the area offers, add these top Gatlinburg outdoor activities to your to-do list. It will be a fun list to check-off, and you’ll make memories doing so!

gatlinburg outdoor activities

Great Smoky Mountains National Park features hiking trails with waterfalls, wildflowers and incredible vistas.

1) Go for a Hike

With over 800 miles of trails, it’s easy to get up-close to nature. The Smoky Mountains have a diverse selection of hikes, from two-mile loops to 10-mile treks. Stop by a visitor center, like Sugarlands Visitor Center, to pick up a few maps and guides. Where to hike can be a difficult question, so it’s nice to have a few suggestions in mind. The aforementioned Rainbow Falls, Abrams Falls, Laurel Falls and Rocky Top Trail are some of my favorite, promising cascading waterfalls and endless views.

2) Cycle in the Smokies

Cades Cove, one of the most picturesque places in the Smokies, allows bicycle traffic until 10:00 a.m. every Saturday and Wednesday morning from early May until late September. If you didn’t pack your bike, don’t worry. You can rent a bike at the Cades Cove Campground Store. Rates are $7.50/adults and $4.50/children. Cruise through the historic area, and marvel at its peacefulness. This is one of the only times Cades Cove isn’t filled with sightseeing motorists.

gatlinburg outdoor activities

The Smoky Mountains provide the perfect backdrop for a horseback ride.

3) Saddle Up Partner!

Hop on a horse to explore the area as settlers once did. Two trusted outfitters – Smoky Mountain Riding Stables and Sugarlands Riding Stables – take guests on guided backcountry excursions. Prices are reasonable, too, rates starting at $30/hour. The beautiful horseback riding trails inside the Great Smoky Mountains allow access to sweeping vistas, wooded forests and lovely valleys.

4) Zip through the Sky

On the edge of the national park, there are several Gatlinburg ziplines. At locations like Zipping in the Smokies and Adventure America Ziplines, you can zip pass waterfalls and over green forests, all at speeds around 50mph. It’s a total rush and fun for the whole family!

5) Reel in the Big Catch

gatlinburg outdoor activities

Gatlinburg is an ideal place to stream or creek fish.

The creeks flowing through Gatlinburg are famous for their mountain trout. Reel one in on one of the over 2,000 miles of streams in and outside the National Park. The Little Pigeon River flows right through downtown Gatlinburg. Plus, there fishing outfitters and guides are available to help you catch the picture-perfect fish.

Gatlinburg Outdoor Activities Equal Adventure

These five things Gatlinburg outdoor activities are just the start of the natural things to do in the Smoky Mountains. Vacation here to explore this pristine slice of nature on your own time, and in your own way.

Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting Gatlinburg to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information. With over 10 years of experience in first-hand-travel adventures, she shares her stories, advice, and current events to help you stay in the know.

When you visit Gatlinburg, Tennessee you’re going to want to explore The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The best way to do so is to lace up your hiking shoes and hit the trails.  To help you on your way, put this concise list of Gatlinburg hiking tips to use.  Read on to learn the need-to-know basics about Gatlinburg hikes.

Gatlinburg Hiking Tips (Hiking_465912421)

5 Helpful Gatlinburg Hiking Tips

1) Bring Plenty of Water
I suggest a minimum of two quarts per person per day.  Never drink out of local streams.  Seriously.  You might think those mountain streams will quench your thirsts but they’ll only delay your further days of exploration.

2) Wear Appropriate Footwear
Hiking shoes or boots are recommended, but even sturdy sneakers will work for short hikes.  Whatever you do, don’t wear flip flops or sandals.  You’ll slip and slide across the terrain and might end up hurting yourself.  Not a fun thing to do on vacation!

3) Dress in Layers
This is especially true when you hike trails with elevation gains, as the weather can cool down unexpectedly.  Wear layers that can be easily removed or added, so you can be comfortable throughout the duration of your Gatlinburg hike.  Packing a light rain jacked is helpful, too, as you never know when a Smoky Mountain rain shower might pop up.

4) Bring a Backpack
Fill it with some of the above items such as water and rain gear, but be sure to pack snacks, sunscreen, bug repellent, a camera, a first aid kit and even a flashlight so you’re fully prepared for your day of discovery.

5) Stop by a Visitor Center
Visitor center’s are useful resources for anyone planning a an outdoor trek in Gatlinburg. For instance, you can pick up a trail guide at locations like Sugarlands Visitor Center.  Trust me, it’ll be useful.  If you’re like me, you’re dependent upon your cellphone for information in everyday life.  On the trails of the Smoky Mountains, though, you will not get reception.  Plan accordingly.

Follow these hiking tips and you’re sure to have an enjoyable experience in the Smoky Mountains.

Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting Gatlinburg to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information. With over 10 years of experience in first-hand-travel adventures, she shares her stories, advice, and current events to help you stay in the know.

Are you one of the many people who’ve set their sights on a vacation in Gatlinburg? Millions of visitors flock to this mountain hamlet to explore The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, quirky downtown Gatlinburg and neighboring towns such as Pigeon Forge. If you’re short on time, though, and only have a weekend in Gatlinburg, I’m here to help.

Follow this guide touting what to do and where to go for a memorable weekend in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Happy male traveler showing thumb up in summer mountains at sunset, point of view shot

Day 1

Explore the National Park

My absolute favorite thing to do in the Smoky Mountains? Explore the great Outdoors. With the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Gatlinburg’s doorstep, it’s a prime location for doing just that.

IMG_3296 Crockett Camp RSZ

Breakfast: Start your day with breakfast Crockett’s Breakfast Camp. This restaurant serves hearty portions sure to fuel your day of activity.

I recommend stopping by the Sugarlands Visitor Center to pick up any hiking maps and auto-tour guides (and maybe a souvenir or two!). Afterwards, it’s time to begin exploring.

Auto-Touring: At over 800 square miles, there’s a lot of ground to cover in the Smoky Mountains National Park. Accordingly, auto-touring is one of the best ways to see the sights. There are plenty of overlooks to stop at, providing pristine views of the park. Below are a few of the most popular auto-touring routes.

  • Cades Cove Loop Road
  • Cataloochee Valley
  • Newfound Gap Road
  • Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail


Dawn in the Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, USA.

Lunch: While you’re out exploring the National Park, there aren’t many places to stop for a bite to eat. I recommend picking up a to-go lunch so you’re not lost in the woods without a snack. Calhoun’s Restaurant will box up barbeque to-go. Alternatively, you can also stop by the local grocery for sandwich fixings, or hit up Subway.

Hiking: So many trails, so little time. This is always my struggle while at the National Park, as I want to do it all. When you only have a weekend in Gatlinburg, I’m sure you’ll think the struggle is real too. So, to make the most of your time I’ve highlighted a few of the most rewarding hikes in the Smoky Mountains.


Dinner: After a busy day of exploring, your belly will be rumbling. Treat yourself to one of the finest dinners in Gatlinburg at the Peddler Steakhouse. The food is superb, and the scenery is sublime.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA townscape in the Smoky Mountains.

Day 2

Experience Gatlinburg Attractions

On day 2 of your weekend in Gatlinburg, it’s time to experience some of Gatlinburg’s best attractions.

Breakfast: A visit to Gatlinburg isn’t complete without a pancake pit stop. For breakfast, dine at the Pancake Pantry. Just be prepared for a wait, as this place is very popular.

people are going on horse through forest

Horseback Riding: Sugarlands Riding Stables hosts guided trail rides through the Smoky Mountains, which is a unique way to see the sights just like the early settlers did.

Gatlinburg Sky Lift: For a bird-eye-view of the scenery, take an open air chair lift ride with Gatlinburg Sky Lift. As you ascend 1,800 feet to the top of Crockett Mountain, you’ll gain access to some of the most breathtaking views of Downtown Gatlinburg.

Lunch: For a quick and delicious lunch, you can’t beat the Smoky Mountain Brewery. From calzones to burgers, this Alpine lodge-style eatery will win your taste buds over. Likewise, if you didn’t pick up a to-go lunch from Calhoun’s the day before, you should stop in for lunch today.

Gatlinburg Sky Lift RSZ (11)

Ripley’s Aquarium: Home to a variety of exhibits exploring life under the sea, families can spend hours viewing tropical fish, coral reefs and interactive displays. There’s even penguins living here!

Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster: Up next is a ride aboard the Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster. Relatively new to the Gatlinburg attraction scene, this mountain coaster puts you in the driver seat—literally. You control how fast you go on this silent track, which twists and turns through scenic forests and wilderness.

Loco Burro Facebook RSZ

Loco Burro Fresh Mex Cantina/Facebook

Dinner: Loco Burro is a lively place to eat at night, especially if you can score a table on the rooftop. Twinkling lights, fire pits, live music and views of the Parkway set the scene. Of course, the large portions of fresh Mex and strong margaritas are a big draw too!

After dinner, be sure to visit a distillery or two for samples of moonshine. Ole Smoky Moonshine and Sugarlands Distillery serve some of the finest ‘shine this side of the Mississippi! Then, finish the night by going to the top of the Gatlinburg Space Needle. From it’s vantage point, the entire hamlet of Gatlinburg twinkles.

Pigeon Burg Work Trip (1021)

Day 3

If you’re lucky enough to have a 3 day weekend in Gatlinburg, it’s worth taking some time to hop over to nearby Pigeon Forge. The towns, while similar, offer different ways to experience Appalachian culture. Highlights of Pigeon Forge include:

The Island: Home to the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, Margaritaville, Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen and over 30 other rides and attractions.

Dollywood: A family-friendly theme park with over 40 rides and attractions.

The Old Mill: A fully operational 1830s grist mill anchors the Old Mill, which is home to multiple shops and a one-of-a-kind homestyle restaurant.


Where to Stay

During your weekend in Gatlinburg, I recommend staying near the Parkway. This way, you’ll never be far from all the fun! Below are some of the best places to stay in Downtown Gatlinburg.

  • Bearskin Lodge on the River
  • Old Creek Lodge
  • Hilton Garden Inn

Get Ready for a Wonderful Weekend in Gatlinburg

With this helpful guide detailing what to see and do in Gatlinburg, you’re ready for an action-packed weekend in Gatlinburg. Be sure to check out our events calendar to take advantage of seasonal events and festivities. You never know what might be brewing in the Smokies!

Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting Gatlinburg to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information. With over 10 years of experience in first-hand-travel adventures, she shares her stories, advice, and current events to help you stay in the know.

For panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains, hike Charlies Bunion Trail. Along the way to stone outcropping known as Charlies Bunion, you’ll traverse part of the famous Appalachian Trail and enjoy breathtaking mountain views.

Important trail information:

  • Trail Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Trail Length: 8 miles roundtrip
  • Trail Location: Newfound Gap


To reach the trailhead from Gatlinburg, you’ll drive 13 miles south of the Sugarlands Visitor Center on Newfound Gap Road. The trailhead is left of the overlook, at the end of the parking lot. The Appalachian Trail heads out in two directions from this point. You’ll want to head eastbound to reach Charlies Bunion.


The first two miles of the trail steadily climbs uphill, rewarding you with views of the Smokies. At mile 1.7, stop and take the spectacular views of Mt. LeConte and Myrtle Points towards the northwest. Elevation gains during the hike reach 6,000 feet ant several areas. The hike, which largely follows a mountain ridge, offers continuous views of a sprawling mountain rage. It’s one of the biggest rewards of the Charlies Bunion hike.

About a further mile down the trail, at mile 2.7, the Boulevard Trail forks to the left. Continue going straight on the trail to reach Charlies Bunion. You’ll soon pass the Icewater Spring Shelter then about a mile more you’ll reach a short spur trail to left. Follow this trail to reach Charlies Bunion. Once there you’ll see the rock cropping for which the trail is named as well as panoramic vistas of the mountains. It’s a truly pristine sight to take in, transporting you to a time where the wilderness was wild.

The rock outcropping known as Charlies Bunion was once known as Fodderstack. It received its current name when Charlie Connor hiked to the location with Horace Kephart, an early proponent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They stopped at the outcropping to enjoying the views. While resting, Connor took his boots and socks off and remarked how the rocks looked like a bunion on his feet. The rest, as they say, is history.

Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting Gatlinburg to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information. With over 10 years of experience in first-hand-travel adventures, she shares her stories, advice, and current events to help you stay in the know.

Gatlinburg’s biggest attraction is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Covering over 800 square miles of unspoiled Appalachian countryside, the park is the nation’s most visited and for good reason. Wondrous panoramic views, cascading streams and waterfalls, magnificent mountains, historic homesteads and wildlife abound, revealing a bounty of outdoor treasures. Gatlinburg, Tennessee is located at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park so you can easily access all of the scenic sights and natural wonders of Appalachia.

Highlights of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park include:

Newfound Gap Road 462399331Scenic Drives

There are 400 miles of roads through the National Park, each winding its ways past numerous scenic sights. An auto tour of the park allows you to see the best of the Smoky Mountains from the comfort of your car. Many of these scenic roads offer pull off stops perfect for snapping photos and taking in the view. Keep your eyes open for wildlife too.  Bears share these roads. They can create quite the traffic jam, with everyone eager to get a view of these locals.  Along the way you’ll also spot waterfalls, towering forests and ‘meandering creeks.  Need a scenic drive suggestion?  Three of the most popular scenic drives are Cades Cove Loop Road, Newfound Gap Road and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.


In the Great Smoky Mountains of Gatlinburg you can choose from 800 miles of trails. These range from easy walks to strenuous treks, each offering a unique insight into the great outdoors. Hiking in Gatlinburg is the best way to experience the Smokies like the original settlers did as you can immerse yourself in untouched, unspoiled outdoor splendor. Choose which sights you’d like to see, then choose how long you’d like to hike. Some of the most sought after sights include waterfalls, historic buildings and mountain tops with sweeping vistas. From the original Appalachian Trail to wildflower walks to waterfall excursions, there is a hike for every person and season of the Smokies. In fact, there are 150 trails to choose from which can be daunting. A few favorite trails include Laurel Falls, Abrams Falls, Rainbow Falls, Andrews Bald, Chimney Tops, Alum Cave and Porters Creek.

Smoky Mountain BearWildlife & Nature

The mountains and valleys of the National Park is a haven for wildlife. During your days of exploring keep your eyes peeled for elk, birds, white-tailed deer, turkeys and black bears. The park is a thriving natural habitat for black bears, so there’s a good chance you’ll see one on vacation. Elk were successfully reintroduced to the park in 2001, while white-tailed deer have continued to prosper throughout the Smokies. Birdwatchers love the Smoky Mountains as over 200 species call the National Park home. Bring your binoculars and see which avian species your can spot. Of course, all of the wildlife is complimented by the forests, flowers and fauna of the Park. There are over 100 species of trees, and just as many varieties of shrubs. Add over 1,600 species of wildflowers, including mountain laurel, azaleas and rhododendron, and it’s easy to see why the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an outdoor wonderland.

Cabin Cades Cove 140272614History & Heritage

Gatlinburg and its surrounding towns are rich in heritage. Settlers first arrived on these lands in just before the turn of the 19th century, and over 80 preserved log structures are still standing in the Park. Learn all there is to know about Appalachian culture, with educational opportunities at old homesteads, mills and schoolhouses. Five of the most famous historical sites include John Oliver’s Cabin, Cade Cove’s first and oldest cabin; Noah “Bud” Ogle’s Homestead, located on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, features one of the last existing operational tub mills; Little Greenbrier School, a classic one-room 1800s schoolhouse; John Cable’s Mill, a classic waterwheel-powered mill in Cades Cove; and Mingus Mill, a turbine mill built in 1886 that is still operational today.

Cades Cove BikeOutdoor Activities

Along with the varied landscapes of the Smokies comes a variety of outdoor activities to experience. Try your hand at fishing in the Smokies. Anglers can cast their line in over 700 fishable streams in the park, and see if the trout are biting. Want to gallop through the countryside the way early settlers did? Go for a horseback ride on the hundred miles of horse trails. There are four stables offering guided rides so you can easily saddle up in the Smokies. Bicycling is another option. Cades Cove is perhaps the most popular place to ride, but other suitable areas include the roads in Greenbrier and Tremont as well as the Cataloochee Valley. Park trails open to bicyclists are limited, but you can bike on the Gatlinburg Trail, Oconaluftee River Trail and lower Deep Creek Trail.