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.

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.

Saddle up in the Smoky Mountains for a horseback ride adventure.  Get back to nature atop a trusty steed as you ride through trails that nobody knows how old in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Breathtaking scenery and beautiful wildlife await you.

Horse 83163383_optThere are two stables in Gatlinburg offering horseback rides.  Both offer guided excursions for kids and adults creating a fun, family activity. 

Smoky Mountain Stables:  Located inside the National Park, Smoky Mountain Stables offers one hour and two hours trips through wooded trails and mountain streams.   They have 40 well trained and experienced mountain trail horses that make for a fantastic ride.  Cost is $30 for one hour and $60 for two hour trail ride.

Sugarlands Riding Stables:  Trot along on scenic wilderness trails and mountain streams with Sugarlands Riding Stables, also located inside the National Park.   One hour, One and ½ hour, and two hour trips are available.  Cost is $30 for one hour, $45 for 1 and ½ hour, and $60 for two hour trail ride.  Whether you are a novice, or an experienced rider, you are guaranteed a great horseback ride with Sugarlands Riding Stables.

Plan a horseback ride in the Smoky Mountains for your Gatlinburg vacation.  You’ll get to experience the scenic beauty of the area at its finest!

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.