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When the weather heats up, there are plenty of ways to cool off in Tennessee and The Great Smoky Mountains. There are swimming holes for splashing; rivers to wade in and laze about, kayak, canoe, fish or raft; cool caves to explore; and a giant water park for even more adventures.

Cool off this summer in the Smokies

Local Swimming Holes

Great Smoky Mountains National Park has more than 2,100 miles of flowing water to cool you off.


The Greenbrier section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a local favorite.  It’s easy to access, too, only 7 short miles outside of Gatlinburg. When you reach the entrance, the first two large parking areas are the most popular spots to park and hop right into the river.  With plenty of large boulders scattered throughout the water, there are lots of places to soak up a little sunshine as well. After you’ve splashed the day away in the West Branch of the Pigeon River, head back a few more miles into the park to the first-come, first-served picnic area with 12 tables and grills.  Or, head across the street to Hungry Bear BBQ for a real feast.

Little River at the Sinks

The Sinks off Little River Road

One of the most well-known swimming holes in the Smokies is on Little River Road, approximately 12 miles from the Sugarlands Visitor Center. This spectacular place is known as The Sinks.  The roaring waterfall plunges into a giant pool that was created during the logging camp days that predated the park. Little River was a heavily used body of water to float logs out of the mountains down river.  Sometimes, logs jammed up. A large jam often was broken up by tossing a stick of dynamite at the logs. Local legend says this pool got its name after a logging train fell into the water and was never seen again. Fascinating!

While this pool is more than 10 feet deep and you’ll spot plenty of folk jumping off the higher rocks to cool off in the water below. Use caution here.  There are strong currents, and deaths have occurred.

Other locals’ swimming holes include Metcalf Bottoms, Townsend swimming hole and Chimney Top Trail.

Townsend Wye 

Located approximately 18 miles from Sugarlands Visitor Center, you’ll find the Townsend Wye (or Townsend Y).  This confluence of two steams has always been a popular picnic and swimming spot in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  There’s a large grassy area to spread out beach towels and relax in the sunshine, too! Little River is almost 30 feet wide at this point, and ranges from shallow to up to 6 feet deep toward the middle.  Whether you want to just splash around or want to get in a good swim, there’s plenty for the whole family here.

Metcalf Bottoms

The Metcalf Bottoms picnic area is considered by many to be the best picnic area in the national park.  There are 165 individual first-come, first-served picnic sites with grills here. Make a day of it and arrive early to get a site next to the river.  While Little River is more shallow here, Metcalf Bottoms is still a great place to play in a mountain stream. After splashing around and having a big picnic lunch, burn off those calories with a walk or two.  You can visit the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse or, if you’ve got energy to burn, take a stroll to the Walker Sister’s Cabin.

Heading Down the River

Getting on the water in the summer – whether in a kayak, a canoe, a raft or an innertube – can take a vacation from awesome to fabulous! Here are some of our favorite spots to cool off by creeking and tracking or just floating.

a man and a woman in red kayaks

Canoe or kayak at River John’s near Townsend, Tennessee – one of the sweetest towns you’ll ever visit. (Read more about Townsend, here.)

The Trip Down the Little River is about 7.5 miles. “For those who are set on paddling straight through the trip, you can make it in 3 to 3 and 1/2 hours. Most people take a little longer and enjoy stopping from time to time along the river. There are rope swings over the river in some spots (swing at your own risk).” Take a snack or lunch and stop to eat on the riverbank – be sure to bring your canoe up far enough and keep an eye on it or it could float away. Contact River John’s at 865-982-0793.

The Little River

The major portion of the river visitors will travel is calm and serene. There are occasional places on the river where small rapids can be “quite thrilling.” The pace on the river is a little slower and filled with picturesque enjoyment. The banks are covered with “flora and fauna, turtles, birds and the occasional glimpse of other wildlife.”

Paddle with Smoky Mountain Outdoors

A group of people enjoying white water rafting in the Smoky Mountains.

At Smoky Mountain Outdoorstake a trip down the river in an inflatable kayak in the Smoky Mountains. Drive yourself along the way, escorted by an expert rafting guide. Visitors will learn all types of spins, surfing and sliding techniques too. Ziplining also is available, and the company offers combo packages.

When you are finished, you can shower, change clothes, and get ready for more fun in the Smokies, whether that’s visiting another attraction, going out to dinner or heading back to the hot tub in your American Patriot Getaways cabin. Check out our blog on favorite lunch spots and romantic dinner locations in the area.

White Water Rafting with Smoky Mountain Outdoors is located at 3299 Hartford Road, Hartford, TN, 800-771-7238

Rafting with Big Creek Expeditions

At Big Creek Expeditions, white water rafting trips are available in Gatlinburg at 3541 Hartford Road, Hartford, TN – for ages 8 years or 70 pounds and up. Big Creek Expeditions also offers a Paddle & Saddle combo where you see the Smoky Mountains by land and water with a 6-mile horseback trail ride in Sevierville and a whitewater adventure on the Upper Section of the Pigeon River. The horseback tour includes 70 acres of scenic pioneer trails. Ride through mountain streams and take in mountain views – a romantic adventure or family fun. Contact Big Creek Expeditions at 877-642-7238.

White water rafting in the Smokies takes place on the Pigeon River, which is dam controlled, which means when the water is released from the dam, crashing waves and many rapids appear. The rapids have fun nicknames you’ll learn about on your tours such as Too Late, Vegamatic, Razor Blade, After Shave, and Lost Guide.

With the Great Smoky Mountains National ParkCherokee National ForestMartha Sundquist State Forest and the Appalachian Trail as the backdrop, the Pigeon River and its rocky riverbed through some of the most dramatic country in East Tennessee.

Hit the Waterpark 

Dollywood's Splash Country Bear Mountain Fire Tower

What better way to cool off this summer than by hitting a waterpark?

Dollywood’s Splash Country Water Park

Voted a Top 10 Outdoor Water Park by USA Today Readers, Dollywood’s Splash Country offers slides, splashes and hours of thrills and refreshing water on a hot day.

“Tucked into the mountainside, lush trees line the park and your adventure comes with beautiful mountain views!”

Fire Tower Falls is great for thrill seekers, while DownBound Float Trip is for a leisurely ride. There are “platinum award-winning” lifeguards on duty to make sure everyone has a safe day.

Cool off and explore Tennessee’s caves!

The average temperature in the caves in the Smokies is 58 degrees, so they make a great day trip for beating the heat and a perfect way to cool off. Tennessee has more than 8,350 caves! Two of the most interesting are in the Smokies.

Forbidden Caverns, Sevierville, TN

Forbidden Caverns

In Sevierville, check out Forbidden Caverns, where visitors are entertained and educated. Walk past sparkling formations, towering natural chimneys, several grottos and a crystal-clear stream. The 30-35 minute drive from Gatlinburg is picturesque with a beautiful view of the Mt. LeConte range and English Mountain. Primitive farmhouses, a quaint grist mill-museum and a trout farm are among the many points of interest along the route.

“Special lighting effects, a stereophonic sound presentation and well-trained tour guides combine to make this a most enjoyable experience. The trails are well-lighted, with handrails at all necessary points.

The average guided tour is 55 minutes. There’s free parking, a souvenir shop, refreshments and a picnic area. Current prices are $20 for those over 13, $12 for children 5-12 and free for kids 4 and under.

Tuckaleechee Caverns

Tuckaleechee Caverns in the lovely town of Townsend, TN are some of the highest rating Cave or Cavern of the Eastern United States, according to the non-profit National Caves Association.

“Carved inside the earth’s oldest mountain chain and estimated to be between twenty to thirty million years old, the Caverns are rich in history and lore.”

The “BigRoom” on one end of the 1.25 mile tour could almost fit a football stadium inside it. On the other half of the tour view Silver Falls – the tallest subterranean waterfall in the Eastern U.S. at 210 feet from top to bottom. Millions of formations are viewed along the walk.

Visit Townsend and the Tuckaleechee Caverns at 825 Cavern Road, (865) 448-2274

Ready to book your adventure in the Smoky Mountains?

A colorful sunset in the smoky mountains at all that jazz

Give American Patriot Getaways a call at 800-204-5169. Let our experts help you find the right cabin and all the right fun, food and entertainment.

You can also contact us online by searching our cabins in Gatlinburg and in Pigeon Forge.  Check out our Pinterest boards if you want a cabin close to the fun and the food! See our boards where to eat in Gatlinburg and where to eat in Pigeon Forge.

If you need more help planning your Smoky Mountain Vacation, be sure to check out all our vacation guides, and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Instagram!


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