Families planning a vacation can often run into a budget crunch.  Mom and Dad’s everywhere want to get the most of their hard-earned money, which is all the more reason a vacation in Gatlinburg, Tennessee makes sense.  Both economical and entertaining, the Smoky Mountains can be the place where you get away from it all without having to spend it all. I’ve outlined some budget friendly Gatlinburg vacation tips to help you save while you play.

Gatlinburg vacation tips

1) Arrive Late at Dollywood

The first of our five Gatlinburg vacation tips features Dollywood. At this Smoky Mountain theme park you can spend two days for the price of one.  How to take advantage of this benefit? Simply enter the park after 3pm and you can come back the next day with the same ticket for no additional charge.  This is a great way to fully explore Dollywood, especially if you want to see all the unique shows performed at the park.

2) Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Free

America’s most visited National Park is absolutely free to visit!  In fact, families can easily spend several day in the Smokies and only spend money on gas and picnic supplies.  Plus, the National Park Service frequently hosts free programs and activities.  Be sure to stop by one of the visitor centers, such as the Sugarlands Visitor Center, for a schedule of things to do during your vacation.

3) Take the Trolley for Cheap Travel

The price of gas seems to always get in the way of vacation fun.  All the more reason to take the Gatlinburg Trolley. It offers free rides during the summer and only a 50 cent regular fare.  As a result, it’s super budget-friendly to hop aboard to travel from one Gatlinburg attraction to the next.  Plus, there is a connection between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg making each destination easily accessible.

4) Take Advantage of Direct Deals

Reserve your show and attraction tickets in advance on Reserve Gatlinburg for exclusive savings.  Many things to do in Gatlinburg offer discounts so you can save while you play putt-putt, visit interesting museums and even whitewater rafting.  Be sure to check out the Gatlinburg Direct Deals page for the latest money-saving deals. As far as Gatlinburg vacation tips go, this one is sure to stretch your budget.

5) Rent a Cabin

You may think a cabin cost more than you can afford.  However, when you break down the price you can actually save money by doing so. One reason being you can stock up on snacks and food instead of constantly needing to dine out.  Many people don’t necessarily want to cook on their vacation, but if you’re a family traveling its can be a real money-saver to have a kitchen on hand.  Plus, most Gatlinburg cabins have grills so you can barbeque, relax in your cabin’s hot tub and truly have a relaxing night in the Smoky Mountains.

Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting Gatlinbug 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.

Autumn is one of the most scenic times of year to hike in the Smoky Mountains.  The bright colors of fall are painted across mountains and valleys, creating a setting that beckons one to explore.  With over 500,000 acres comprising the Great Smoky Mountains National Park choosing where to hike and sight see can be a bit overwhelming.  Use this helpful list of the best fall hikes in the Smoky Mountains to get a head start on your journey.

Best Smoky Mountain Hikes to See Fall Foliage

Albright Grove Loop Trail
Trail Location – Cosby
Distance – 7 miles roundtrip
Difficulty – Strenuous

An excellent example of a hardwood forest, Albright Grove is one of the most diverse forests in America. Hiking here during the fall offers a rich blend of different colors and foliage. Plus, come of the oldest and tallest trees in the Smokies are found along the way.

Alum Cave Flickr CC hikes in the smoky mountains

Alum Cave Trail: Flickr/Daveynin

Alum Cave Trail
Trail Location – Gatlinburg
Distance – 5 miles roundtrip
Difficulty – Moderately Strenuous

Hikes in the Smoky Mountains don’t get much better than Alum Cave Trail. With an elevation of almost 5,000 feet, Alum Cave Trail offers outstanding views of the Smoky Mountains. Sweeping views of Little Duck Hawk Ridge to the west and Myrtle Point to the Northeast give hikers quite the reward.

1280px-Leaf-Colors-at-Newfound-Gap-NPS1 RSZ hikes in the smoky mountains

View from the Appalchian Trail

Appalachian Trail
Trail Location – Clingmans Dome or Newfound Gap Road
Distance – Varies
Difficulty – Moderate

I recommend hiking the 7.5 mile section of the Appalachian Trail located from Clingman’s Dome to Newfound Gap.  Canvassed with color, the peaks and valleys you pass through are a true highlight this time of year.

Roaring Fork 163730579 RSZ

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a favorite route for fall color

Baskins Creek Falls
Trail Location – Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Distance – 3 miles roundtrip
Difficulty – Easy

Hike to Baskins Creek Falls to enjoy a canopy of fall foliage complemented by a two-tiered, 40 foot waterfall.

639px-Littleriver Wiki hikes in the smoky mountains

The Little River Trail follows the river of the same name: By Brian Stansberry via Wikimedia Commons

Little River Trail
Trail location – Elkmont
Distance – 4.9 miles roundtrip
Difficulty – Moderate

History and outdoor beauty combine at the Little River Trail. The entire length of the trail hugs a river of the same name, with a slow elevation gain making it an easy climb.

1024px-Sterling-from-cammerer-nc1 hikes in the smoky mountains

Mount Sterling, looking south from the Mount Cammerer lookout: By Brian Stansberry via Wikimedia Commons

Mt. Cammerer
Trail Location – Cosby
Distance – 12 miles roundtrip
Difficulty – Strenuous

If you’re up for a challenge the 12 mile roundtrip hike to the summit of Mt. Cammerer is a fantastic fall hike. The summit offers exceptional views of peaks and valleys; Some say they’re the best in the National Park.

Mountain ridges glow with autumn color, Great Smoky Mountains National Park hikes in the smoky mountains

Mountain ridges glow with autumn color, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Mt. LeConte
Trail Location – Newfound Gap Road
Distance – 11 miles roundtrip
Difficulty – Strenuous

Mt. LeConte rises 6,593 feet, making it the third highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains. The reward at the top are endless views. In addition, the hike can be combined with Alum Cave so you get two experiences in one.

Fall 001 Pixabay RSZ

A walk through the woods doesn’t get prettier than this!

Old Settlers Trail
Trail Location – Greenbrier
Distance – 17 miles one way
Difficulty – Moderate

Old homesteads and a diverse collection of flora and fauna make the Old Settlers Trail a unique fall hike.

Porters Creek Trail Facebook hikes in the smoky mountains

An old homestead on Porters Creek Trail: Robyn Barbee Malone/Facebook

Porters Creek Trail
Trail Location – Greenbrier
Distance – 4 miles roundtrip
Difficulty – Moderate

A variety of scenery, including historic sites, waterfalls and a meandering stream, create an easy yet rewarding Smoky Mountain hike.


Even driving to the best hikes in the Smoky Mountains is beautiful

Sugarland Mountain Trail
Trail Location – Clingmans Dome Road
Distance – 7 miles roundtrip
Difficulty – Moderate

The Sugarland Mountain Trail follows the ridge between Clingmans Dome and Little River Road. Peaceful and pristine, the forest here features a wonderful walk through the bright leaves of fall.

The Mountains are Calling

Get outside this autumn and see the splendor of Mother Nature.  The entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is just minutes away from Gatlinburg, so you can easily access the best fall hikes in the Smoky Mountains.

Be sure to headquarter yourself in Gatlinburg, Tennessee for easy access to all trails.  River Terrace Resort, Glenstone Lodge, Old Creek Lodge and Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort are a few nearby lodging options.

Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting Pigeon Forge 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.

Autumn in the Great Smoky Mountains is a beautiful time of year.  The mountains and valleys are painted with stunning colors that light up the Smokies.  Curious about when you should visit Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge to see the magnificent Fall colors?  Follow this guide to find the best time to see Smoky Mountain fall colors. 

Smoky Mountain Fall Colors

When Do Fall Colors Peak?

Fall in the Smokies begins in September, with the emerging changes occurring above 4,000 feet. Red, orange and yellow colors can be seen on sourwood, dogwood, maple, sassafras and birch trees.  Drives recommended for September viewing are Parsons Branch Road, Newfound Gap Road and Clingmans Dome Road.

Smoky Mountain Fall Colors
Early October
Be the beginning of October the mountains of the Smokies are awash in brilliant color.  To see the bold yellows of the American beech and yellow birch to the rich reds on mountain ash, pin cherry and mountain maple trees, the viewing is best on roads including Newfound Gap Road, Heintooga Ridge Road, Foothills Parkway and Rich Mountain Road in Cades Cove. 
In mid-October, the Great Smoky Mountains are about a week away from peak color of the lower elevations.  However, the valleys and higher elevations are at a peak.  They are painted with bold reds from black gum, dogwoods, sumac and sourwood trees and golds from the tulip tree, black walnut, birch, beech and hickories.   Recommended scenic drives include Cove Creek Road, Balsam Mountain Road, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Foothills Parkway and Newfound Gap Road.
Smoky Mountain Fall Colors
Late October
The peak colors are very impressive in late October.   From low to high elevations, the marvelous colors of fall are on full display across the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Generally speaking, it is not unusual to see autumn color last through the mid-November.  Suggested drives are Blue Ridge Parkway, Foothills Parkway and Heintooga Ridge Road to Balsam Mountain. 

Experience Smoky Mountain Fall Colors

Reserve a Smoky Mountain vacation today to experience autumn in the Smokies. There are a wide range of Gatlinburg vacation packages available or you can create your own package.  Either option allows you to see the splendor of the Smokies in all their beauty. 

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.

Hiking is one of the best ways to see the sights of the Smoky Mountains.  Visitors on a Gatlinburg vacation will find a variety of trails to hike, all of which explore a different region of the National Park.  Some of the most-travelled Gatlinburg hikes are also fairly long, which might not be ideal.  Therefore, I’ve compiled a list of the best easy hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Lace up your hiking boots and discover these trails.

Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls

1) Laurel Falls
This hike is a popular one as the trail is paved is only 2.3 miles roundtrip. Even though you must hike uphill to reach the falls, the elevation gain is gradual and there are several places to stop if needed.  You’re rewarded with a gorgeous 80-foot waterfall.  Snap some keepsake photos and stop to soak up the scenery.  Then, the hike back is a breeze as its all downhill.

Andrews Bald CC

Andrews Bald/The Great Smokies

2) Andrews Bald
At only 1.7 miles in length (one-way), this hike is one of the shortest in the National Park that also features fantastic views of the Southern Smoky Mountains.  Due to improvements to the trail, it is far less rugged than it used to be meaning families with kids can enjoy the hike too.  Once you reach the top, there are several acres of open, grassy meadow – also known as balds in Appalachia country.  Sit down, relax, and take in the panoramic vistas surrounding you.

Grotto Falls

Grotto Falls

3) Grotto Falls
Grotto Falls is choice Gatlinburg hike as it is home to the only waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that a person can actually walk behind.  The 2.6 mile roundtrip trail is a wide, gentle path easy for all ranges of hikers.  Plus, once you reach the falls you can cool off in the mist of the Grotto!

Indian Creek Falls

Indian Creek Falls

4) Indian Creek Falls
Hikers are in for a real treat as not only do they get to see the 45-foot waterfall Indian Creek Falls on this hike, but they’ll also pass by the 80-foot Toms Branch Falls along the way.  This trail is also historic, as it is one of the first constructed in the early 1930s.  At only 1.9 miles roundtrip, and a very minimal elevation gain, this is one of the easiest hikes in the Smokies.

Little River Trail

Little River Trail: Wikipedia/Brian Stansberry

5) Little River Trail
The length of this 4.9 mile roundtrip hike is a gentle climb along an old gravel road paralleling the Little River.  This makes for beautiful sights, like cascading streams and several waterfalls.  It is also an excellent hike for wildflower viewing in the spring.  Add sights like historic cabins to the scenery and it’s easy to see why this hike is popular.

Walker Sisters Cabin on Little Brier Gap Trail

Walker Sisters Cabin on Little Brier Gap Trail

6) Little Brier Gap Trail (Walkers Sisters Place)
You can hike and get a history lesson on this hike.  The Walker Sisters were some of the last holdouts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park takeover.  They refused to sell their 123-acre farm to the national park, and were able to maintain their traditional mountain life into the 1960s.  This trail, which is relatively short at 2.6 miles, follows the Little Brier Branch stream and is a wide, mostly flat hike.  Plus, you’ll see a historic schoolhouse and old homestead.   

Abrams Falls At Cades Cove In The Great Smoky Mountain National Park taken with a slow shutter speed to blur the water motion

Abrams Falls

7) Abrams Falls
Even though this hike is 5 miles roundtrip, it is also one of the most popular as its elevations gains are gradual and the end sight – Abrams Falls – is a sweet reward.  The trail to the falls traverses pine-oak forest on the ridges and hemlock and rhododendron forest along the creek.  The actual falls is famous for its large volume of water, which more than makes up for its lack of height (20 feet).

These easy hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains will give you great access to scenic sights, from waterfalls to vistas to historic cabins. When you’re ready to hit the trails, now you know where to go!

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 the outdoorsy type? I most certainly am. When I visit a destination like Gatlinburg, the first thing I pack are my hiking shoes. With over 800 miles of hiking trails available, the best way to see the Great Smoky Mountains is hitting the trails and experiencing their beauty yourself. The area offers a variety of trail types to, from easy to strenuous, so you’re sure to find one that will fit your activity level. 

I recommend stopping by the Sugarlands Visitor Center before your hike to pick up a hiking map. It’ll give you an overview of the different trails available, as well as a quick overview of the trail type, distance and what to expect on your hike. Plus, the maps are only $1 which is incredibly cheap for all of the information they provide.

After a quick visit there, I decided Rainbow Falls was the perfect addition to my September vacation in Gatlinburg. Here’s what you need to know about hiking at Rainbow Falls:

Distance: 5.6 miles roundtrip
Type of Hike: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 3,820 feet

Trailhead: From the parkway in Gatlinburg, turn at traffic light #8 and follow Historic Nature Trail/Airport Road. Follow this road .7 miles until you reach Cherokee Orchard Road. You’ll travel about 2.2 miles on Cherokee Orchard Road, going past the Noah “Bud” Ogle homesite to the Rainbow Falls parking area, with the trailhead at the edge of the main parking area. If the main parking area is full, there is a second parking area .1 miles down the road.

Overview: The first part of the hike will surround you with lush foliage and the shady canopy of the forests. The boulder-strewn pathway makes the uphill hike strenuous at times, but the sights and sound of trickling LeConte Creek, which cascades down the mountain ridge, makes the effort more than worth it. Crisscrossing up the mountain, you’ll traverse the creek several times by way of log foot bridges, which are great photo opportunities. These log foot bridges are located at mile 1.7 and mile 2.4. The Rainbow Falls hike follows a series of switchbacks that are highlighted by wildflowers, endlessly tall trees and views of the Great Smoky Mountains. At times, you feel like you aren’t covering much ground but as you cross LeConte Creek for the third time Rainbow Falls comes into complete view. I had to get an up-close look at the waterfall, which receives its name from the rainbows produced from its mist on sunny afternoons, so I navigated the rocks for a closer vantage point. There were also some great photo opportunities with a closer perspective. Rainbow Falls is the highest single-drop waterfall in the Smokies and well worth the hike.

Time: The journey down the mountain was much easier and went by much quicker than the journey to Rainbow Falls. All in all, though, allows yourself around three hours for the hike.

Note: The temperatures do get cooler as you reach higher elevation. During my September visit, it was also very humid which created a damp environment. Be sure to check the weather the day of your hike and layer your clothes appropriately. Bring water with you as well. You will NEED it.

If you’re ready for more once you reach Rainbow Falls, you can continue your hike onward to Mt. LeConte. It is an additional 3.8 miles (one way) so only add this to your hike if you have planned your outing in advance. There is a lodge at Mt. LeConte, but it requires reservations, and can be sold out several months in advance.

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, Tennessee is a beautiful vacation spot, whether you have a few days or an entire week to explore. The natural, refreshing outdoor activities combined with the great restaurants and shops create an exciting yet relaxing trip for those of all ages. Wondering what things to do in the Smoky Mountains that should be on your itinerary? Read on.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is wondrous outdoor mecca providing a myriad of activities for those who enjoy long hikes or short hikes, picturesque views, wildlife watching, waterfalls and the occasional bear sighting.

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The Sinks

1) The Sinks
On my recent trip to the Smokies, I ventured to The Sinks, a waterfall that can be spotted from Little River Road. This waterfall is easily accessible for viewing and allows for visitors to explore the waterworks up close and personally. The road The Sinks is located on is also a great connector road, leading to U.S. 441, which goes directly through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park as well as to Cades Cove, a nature loop that’s very popular.

2) Meigs Falls
Meigs Falls is located very close to The Sinks, and is also easily accessible. This waterfall is created by Meigs Creek joining the Little River. The dramatic combination creates a plunging water source perfect for those who enjoy waterfalls but are unable to hike for long amounts of time.

Smoky Mountain Road Auto ThinkstockPhotos-187923417 RSZ

Auto-touring US Hwy 441

3) Auto-Touring
US Highway 441 is a beautiful road to travel, as it goes directly through the Smoky Mountains. This is a perfect time to slow down, relax and enjoy the picturesque setting that surrounds you. There are plenty of scenic overlooks, nature trails and quiet walkways to explore. This highway also offers the occasional wildlife discovery. On my trip through, I spotted a black bear roaming through the connecting forest. Many cars were able to pull over and capture this unusual moment.

4) Newfound Gap Overlook

Newfound Gap Overlook is also located on this stretch of highway. It offers the roads highest viewing point, with an elevation of 5,048 feet. A stop here allows visitors to peer into Tennessee as well as North Carolina’s Oconaluftee Valley.

Clingman's Dome

Clingman’s Dome

5) Clingman’s Dome
Clingman’s Dome is the parks highest point, with an elevation of 6,643 feet. The 7 mile stretch of road leading to the hike entrance gradually climbs the dome, with the resulting hike being a very steep but short half mile. The uphill hike offers amazing views along the way, as well as a spectacular 360 degree panoramic view of the Smoky Mountains. Whether in a hazy mist or on clear day, the sights are beautiful and well worth the hike.

6) Mingus Mill
Traveling on US Highway 441 will lead visitors to the town of Cherokee, North Carolina. Approximately 2 miles outside of this Indian town, is Mingus Mill. It was originally built in 1886 and the turbine mill ground corn into meal and wheat into flour for over fifty years for the mountain community near Mingus Creek. The historical structure was restored when the National Park was created and is an interesting look back in time.

Mingus Mill

Mingus Mill

7) Cherokee, NC
Once you arrive in Cherokee, NC there are several areas to explore. There is an 18th Century replica of an Indian Village as well as unique shops. This area also has several outdoor activities to take advantage of, such as tubing, horseback riding and fishing.

8) Mingo Falls
Located near the Cherokee area is Mingo Falls. This waterfall is approximately 120 feet high, making it one of the tallest and most spectacular in the southern Appalachians. The hike to the waterfall is only a half-mile but is considered moderate in difficulty due to the steep set of stairs required and the earthy terrain that leads directly to the falls overlook. This breathtaking waterfall is a great picture opportunity and is also well worth the climb.

Tom Branch Falls

Tom Branch Falls

9) Three Falls Loop
From Cherokee, you can easily access the Three Falls loop. Comprised of Tom Branch Falls, Juneywhank Falls and Indian Creek Falls, this area provides three fabulous waterfalls. The hikes to Tom Branch and Indian Creek Falls are combined and easy in difficulty. Juneywhank Falls is moderate in difficulty, but at a height of 90 feet, is about 60 feet taller than either of its nearby counterparts.

10) Look Rock Tower
There are plenty more scenic opportunities in and around the dam. The Foothills Parkway leads to Thunderhead Mountain, the highest point in this section of the park, and provides beautiful vistas. Look Rock Tower does as well, and it is a perfect place to view sunsets as well as panoramic views of the Smokies.

Fontana Lake

Fontana Lake

11) Fontana Lake
Fontana Lake was a wonderful discovery that provided beautiful mountain scenery while also being home to the clearest emerald green waters I’ve frequented in recent years. This mountain lake was a water haven, especially with the easily rentable boats offered at Fontana Marina. The opportunity to cruise this lake as well as swim its fresh waters was a welcomed one! The Fontana Lake area also offers several spectacular scenic spots. The dam itself offers great picture taking opportunities and is the tallest concrete dam east of the Rocky Mountains. The road leading west from the dam takes visitors through Deals Gap. The stretch, which is largely in Tennessee, is roughly 11 miles in length and contains 318 curves, making it one of the curviest roads in the nation. Located on the southwestern corner of the Park, the area is largely forested with several scenic overlooks and pull-off points.

Cades Cove

Cades Cove

12) Cades Cove
Cades Cove, a popular nature touring area, is located near the Townsend area and is a great place to unwind and wrap-up your Smoky Mountain Experience. Cades Cove offers the widest variety of historic buildings of any area in the national park. Scattered along the loop road are three churches, a working grist mill, barns, log houses, and many other faithfully restored eighteenth and nineteenth century structures. Cades Cove also offers some of the best wildlife viewing in the Park. White tailed deer and turkey are often seen, with the occasional black bear sighting also possible.

There are so many things to do in the Smoky Mountains, it is impossible to cover all of the waterfalls, hikes, scenic drives and outdoor activities in one trip. The Smoky Mountain experience, however, can be accomplished in a matter of days. I was only able to explore for three days and still experienced all that is listed above. A trip to the Smoky Mountains, near Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, is a must for all outdoor enthusiasts as well as those who have an explorer’s spirit. The breathtaking views, the enthralling scenery, the flowing waters…it’s all at your doorstep when you enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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.

Hen Wallow Falls is a relatively pleasant hike through hemlock and rhododendron forests leading to a 90-foot waterfall. The hike to the falls is 4.4 miles roundtrip and considered moderate in difficulty.  Located in the Cosby section of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Hen Wallow Falls is located off the Gabes Mountain Trail. 

Hen Wallow Falls CC1_OPT

Hen Wallow Falls
Photo Credit: joevare/flickr

Trailhead: Park in the designated hiker parking area at Cosby Picnic Area (near the entrance to Cosby Campground). Then backtrack on foot approximately 100 yards along the road to the signed start of the Gabes Mountain Trail.
Once you hit the trail you’ll start ascending towards the northern section of Snake Den Mountain.  The trail, which is rugged at times, passes through beautiful forests, with hemlocks and yellow poplars creating a nice, shady canopy.  After passing over Rock Creek, hikers will reach Messer Gap.  From here continue heading straight, but just past this junction look to your left.  An old rock wall from a homestead can be seen.
Hen Wallow Falls_CC

Hen Wallow Falls
Photo Credit: Brian Stansberry

Around the 2 mile mark you will begin the descent on a side trail which leads to the base of Hen Wallow Falls.  A wooden sign is posted at the turn of the side trail, making it easy to find.  Hen Wallow Falls is only two feet wide at the top but expands to almost 20 feet at its base.

At 90 feet, Hen Wallow Falls ranks among the tallest in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Only Ramsey Cascades and Mingo Falls are higher.

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.

This summer you can experience a true wonder of nature in the Smoky Mountains of Gatlinburg. For one week only, June 2-9, 2015, a rare species of synchronous fireflies blink in unison, creating quite the light show. The viewing are is located at Elkmont and the show begins around 9:30pm.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of only two places in the world where you can witness this phenomenon. It is an extremely popular event, so Elkmont pedestrian and vehicle traffic is prohibited from 5pm June 2-9. 2015. In order to view the fireflies you’ll need to ride the Gatlinburg Trolley service. For a $1 roundtrip, the trolley will pick you up from the Sugarlands Visitor Center, nightly from 7pm-9pm, and return guests after the show. The last trolley return time will be 11pm.

If you plan on attending the Synchronous Fireflies event in the Smokies, keep in mind:

  • Cover flashlights with red or blue cellophane as to not distract or disrupt the fireflies or other visitors.
  • Lawn chairs, blankets, food and water is allowed.
  • Cooler, pets and alcoholic beverages are NOT allowed.
  • Cameras are permitted but please turn your flash off.


Experience the beauty of this natural wonder in June. It’s sure to be a highlight of the summer!

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.