There are amazing places to see in the Great Smoky Mountains and this is a great place to visit any time of the year. The Smoky Mountains are in Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina, so it is not a far drive from the East Coast, Midwest, or Southern parts of the United States. It is a great place to be outdoors and take in the many wonders of nature. There are many different hiking trails, waterfalls, caves, scenic drives, whitewater rafting adventures, roller coasters on the side of the mountains, and beautiful views to see. Here are some places to see in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Surrounded by mountains, Cades Cove is a broad valley and can be seen from the 11-mile loop drive. It is a popular destination with tourists because of the beautiful views and opportunities to see wildlife in their natural habitat. Some of the wildlife that can be seen include white-tailed deer, black bear, and wild turkey. These are the same animals we saw during our visit. And you can see all of this from your car if you choose or you can stop at different points along the way. I was happy that I saw the black bear from the car from a safe distance! Because it is a popular destination, the drive can get packed with cars, so it is recommended to get there early and allow 2 to 4 hours or longer if you plan to walk around some of the trails.
Black Bear in Cades Cove
Cable Mill at Cades Cove
Abrams Falls is a hiking trail in Cades Cove. The trail is 5 miles round trip and is moderately difficult. It takes about 3-4 hours to hike. The trail does have a lot of rocks and roots to step over, so you do need to watch your step. The waterfall was very wide and is extremely high powered with lots of water gushing. There is a great place to stand on the side of the waterfall if you want to take pictures in front of it.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Another great scenic driving trail is the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This driving trail is 5.5 miles and you can access this trail right outside of Gatlinburg. There are many walking trails to check out along the way or you can just simply drive around if you choose. The driving trail is one-way and does get a little narrow at times, so go slow and enjoy the views. We drove around in the rain, but even in the rain, it was one of our favorite places to see in the Great Smoky Mountains!
Beautiful views from Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
This is one of the hiking trails along the way on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This trail was probably one of the best that we hiked in terms of the smoothness of the trail. It was well maintained, but there are still rocks to step over, so always watch your step. The trail is 2.8 miles roundtrip and is moderately difficult. Another great thing about this waterfall is that you can walk behind the waterfall! You may get a little wet from the water spray. We did this hike at the end of a busy day and then it rained on the way back. One thing I learned about hiking in the Smokies is to bring a poncho or raincoat, especially if hiking at the end of June/early July.
A small waterfall along Grotto Falls trail
The lovely trail up to Grotto Falls
Rainbow Falls is a scenic hike with lots of creeks, smaller waterfalls, and a nicely maintained trail. It is also the longest hike we did on this visit to the Great Smoky Mountains at 5.4 miles roundtrip. It is also moderately difficult and is mostly uphill on the way to the waterfall, so it is good to bring snacks and water. The waterfall is called Rainbow Falls due to the rainbow that appears from the mist on sunny days. Unfortunately, it was cloudy when we got to it, so we did not see the rainbow…but it is still impressive due to the height. It is 80-feet tall! Another hike in which it rained on the way back. I am grateful for the waterproof hat I had on, but the rest of me was soaked!
Creek along the way to Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls trail
These caverns are known as the “Greatest Site Under the Smokies”. The guided tour takes you to look at different formations and rooms in the cavern. There is even an underground waterfall. In addition, you may see some of the animals that live in the caverns such as salamanders and bats. The temperature stays the same all year round at 58 degrees Fahrenheit, which felt nice after being outside in the humid, warm temperatures.
Inside Tuckaleechee Cave
Hanging out in Tuckaleechee Cave
This town is known as the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains. It a great place to stay while visiting the Smokies because of the proximity to trails. Also, there is plenty to do for adults and children right in town. The main streets are pedestrian-friendly with many restaurants, distilleries, and shops. Other attractions include the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, Gatlinburg SkyLift Park, and Hillbilly Golf. We stayed in the neighboring town, Pigeon Forge, which is only a 10-minute drive away. With great dinner options in Gatlinburg such as Howard’s Restaurant and the Smoky Mountain Brewery, we were there every night.
Laurel Falls was the first hiking trail we visited in the Smokies. This is a nice family-friendly trail as it is paved and only 2.6 miles round trip. Views are beautiful as you hike up towards the waterfall, but it is a popular, busy trail. So, it is best to get there early if you want to avoid some of the crowds. Laurel Falls itself is 80-feet tall and a great waterfall to take pictures of with the water cascading down the rocks. This waterfall is a must-see!
Clingmans Dome is likely one of the most popular places to see in the Great Smoky Mountains as it is the highest point in this national park at an elevation of 6,643 feet. There is a steep half-mile walk from the parking lot to the observation tower. But once you are there, you can see over 100 miles on a clear day. There is a 10 to 20-degree temperature difference at the top of Clingmans Dome, so a jacket may come in handy, even if it is a warm sunny day. As we drove up the mountain, we noticed the temperature drop from 89 degrees to 69 degrees! This popular site was our last stop on this trip, but it was worth the wait.
View of Clingmans Dome
Stunning views from Clingmans Dome
If you like this post, please be sure to check out some of my other travel destination posts such as 5 Things to Do in New York City and 7 Things to Do in Germany!
To find out the latest information and travel alerts about the Great Smoky Mountains or any of the National Parks, check out their website here.