Best Outdoor Activities in the Great Smoky Mountains

Stretching out through eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains are a must-visit for lovers of the great outdoors. With rivers and rapids and hilly forests, there’s so much to explore in this mountain range.

Excited to be reunited with my family and being passionate about the wilderness, I was thrilled to pack my bags for this trip. My boyfriend, Aaron, and I touched down in McGhee Tyson Airport in Alcoa, Tennessee (just south of Knoxville) early on a Monday and were welcomed to a whole new world of adventure. Along with my family, we drove 45 minutes to our rental home for the week — a beautiful, spacious cabin located in Sevierville, Tennessee.

Cabin Living

Up on a mountain of spiraling roads, our two-story cabin included four bedrooms, four bathrooms, a kitchen, living room, game room, and two porches in the back with mountain views as far as the eye could see. After dinner and multiple rounds of air hockey and pool, it was peaceful to sit outside and watch the moon rise above the mountain tops. In the morning, it was refreshing to be present in nature and listen to the birds sing. See and hear what I mean in the video below.

For a glimpse of the cabin life, check out this video of the game room where some fun competition was had.

Outdoor Activities in the Great Smoky Mountains

While the mountain views from the porch are incredible, there’s more to being in the Smokies than sitting around in a cabin. From zipping through green trees to paddling along a rushing river, there are so many outdoor activities to take on.

River Tubing

Our first activity was tubing down Little River in Townsend, thanks to raft trip outfitter, River Rat. Dogs included, we splashed through calm water and small rapids while enjoying the mountain views. It took two hours to make our way down the river, and overall, it was a relaxing float (but beware of getting your tube stuck on a rock!).

Whitewater Rafting

Whitewater rafting was the most intense activity of the trip, but it wasn’t as extreme as I was expecting. For this experience, we went to River Rat in Hartford and took a bus up the mountain to our entry point in Pigeon River. My brothers, brother’s girlfriend, and I met our knowledgeable instructer, Crash, who set us up in the raft and got us started in class II rapids. The calm rapids quickly turned into class III rapids, and we even navigated class IV rapids like pros, thanks to Crash shouting instuctions at us from the back of the raft.

My brothers, brother’s girlfriend, and I with our guide as we navigated the rapids of Pigeon River.

Throughout our whitewater journey, we avoided rocks, surfed a wave, one of my brothers got to sit at the nose of the raft, and we even got to take a dip in the water. Rafting with the River Rat crew was so fun and completely safe. I highly recommend it and wish I had a GoPro strapped to my head.

The Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster

If you’re up for an adrenaline rush that won’t leave you soaked, the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster will give you a thrill. In fact, it’s the longest downhill roller coaster track in the U.S. Located in Pigeon Forge, the ride takes eight minutes to complete (seven if you’re a speed demon) and you get to control your speed and your brakes. My family and I chose to “ride the hill,” as they say, at night, since the entire track is lit up in colorful lights. It was an exciting experience, but one downside is the wait to get on the coaster. We waited a little over an hour before we got on the ride, but it was totally worth it! Apparently, it doesn’t get as crowded during the daytime.


The last activity of the week was ziplining. Although it wasn’t like soaring at 1,246 feet in Puerto Rico, completing seven courses with Adventure Park Ziplines in Sevierville left me with good memories. My favorite part was when I got to race the person next to me on the double zipline. I lost, but only by a little bit! Our two instructors were entertaining and I found the park — which also offers horseback riding and go-karting — to be very family-friendly.

There’s Something For Everyone in the Great Smoky Mountains

If you’re looking for a fun adventure close to nature, exploring all the Great Smoky Mountains has to offer will do you good. Whether you want to relax on the back porch of a cabin and take in the sights, or are looking to have the time of your life whitewater rafting and riding night coasters, the Sevierville, Tennessee area has something for everyone.

My family and I enjoying the sights of the Great Smoky Mountains.

PS: Here’s a bonus bear video. We came across a mother black bear and her cub while driving through the mountains one morning. Check out the cub in the video below. Note: This should go without saying, but never approach a bear of any size.

Have you ever been to the Great Smoky Mountains? Leave a comment below!


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