If you are going to do something once, do it right and do it big. We have the five best one time adventures in the Great Smoky Mountains to do at least one time in your life.
One Time Adventures Hiking The Smokies
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a treasure trove of natural wonders, offering breathtaking mountain scenery, flowing rivers and streams, and ancient hardwood forests. The park provides a natural habitat for more than 10,000 species of plants, animals and invertebrates. In fact, it is a designated International Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site.
The Smokies are among the oldest mountains in the world. These mountains formed when drifting continents collided 200-300 million years ago. Encompassing 520,976 acres, these mountains are one of the largest protected land areas east of the Mississippi River.
The park welcomed a record 12.9 million visitors in 2022 and 14.1 million in 2021 – making it the most visited national park in the United States.
About 400,000 people hike the mountains each year. About 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail runs through the park, as well. Whether you want an easy hike or several days including camping, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has it all.
With elevations ranging from 875 feet to 6,643 feet, the Smokies are among the tallest mountains in the Appalachian chain. There are 16 peaks rising upwards from 5,000 feet. Clingman’s Dome is the park’s highest summit. This 6,643-foot peak is the third tallest peak east of the Mississippi River. Clingmans Dome is also the highest point of the Appalachian Trail.
The trail to the summit is paved, but steep. Additionally, there are a few trails which begin on the road and parking area.
The observation tower on the summit of Clingmans Dome offers spectacular 360° views of the Smokies and beyond for visitors willing to climb the steep half-mile walk to the tower at the top.
On clear days views expand more than 100 miles.
A classic hike, often defined as the most beautiful in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is the Alum Cave Trail to Mt. LeConte – total elevation gain 2,763 feet, highest elevation 6, 593 feet round trip hike – 11 miles. The Alum cave trail offers an unmatched combination of interesting geological features, history, adventure and stunning panoramic views. This is a strenuous trail so be prepared.
The Top 10 Peaks (elevation in feet)
1. Clingmans Dome – 6,643
2. Mount Guyot – 6,621
3. Mount Le Conte (High Top) – 6,593
4. Mount Buckley – 6,580
5. Mount Love – 6,420
6. Mount Chapman – 6,417
7. Old Black – 6,370
8. Luftee Knob – 6,234
9. Mount Kephart – 6,217
10. Mount Collins – 6,118
Wildflowers & Waterfalls
The park contains more than 4,000 plants and 140 species of trees. They include more than 1500 flowering plants – more than in any other North American national park – and they are some of the most beautiful in the world.
National Park Service offers suggestions for wildflower walks.
Hike to the waterfalls
Ample rainfall (85″+ per year) and elevation gradients in the Smokies are the perfect recipe for waterfalls. Sizes and flow can range from small trickles found on most streams, to cascades and waterfalls up to 100 feet high. Some of the most popular waterfalls are:
Check out more waterfalls and details on hikes here.
Hike to see animals
The park is home to some 65 species of mammals, 200 varieties of birds, 67 native fish species, and more than 80 kinds of reptiles and amphibians.
Among the mammals are about 1,500 bears that call the Smokies home.
The Black Bear
A symbol of the Smokies, the American Black Bear, is probably the park’s most famous resident. Great Smoky Mountains National Park provides the largest protected bear habitat in the eastern United States, according to the NPS. They live at all elevations in the park.
As pretty and sometimes cute as bears seem, don’t forget that they are wild animals and should be left alone. Don’t feed the bears and don’t try to get close to them or their cubs.
The white-tailed deer, groundhog, chipmunk, and some squirrel and bat species are the most seen among the mammals.
More than 200 species of birds are regularly sighted in the park.
More than 2100 miles of streams in the park support more than 50 native fish. Among them are the brook trout, the Smoky Madtom, Yellowfin Madtom, Spotfin Chub, and Duskytail Darter.
Where To See The Wild Animals
One of the best places to see wild animals in the park is in Cades Cove.
Cades Cove is a favorite destination for many people visiting the Smokies. In fact, if Cades Cove was its own National Park, it would be the third most visited national park in the country! With more than 11 million people coming through the Smokies each year, nearly 4 million of them choose a trip to Cades Cove.
The 11-mile, one-way road through Cades Cove makes a scenic drive through an amazing valley. There are designated accessible parking spaces are available in the campground/picnic area parking lot across from the ranger station. The Cades Cove Campground Store and adjacent restrooms are accessible.
The Hiking Cont…
There are terrific hiking trails around Cades Cove, which Located 27 miles from Gatlinburg and 9 miles from the lovely Townsend, TN.
Along the trails, which range from short and gentle to challenging, are waterfalls, caverns, monuments, a grist mill, and incredible natural life. Hikers might see white-tailed deer, black bear, coyote, ground hog, turkey, raccoon, skunk, and many other animals.
Many people see bear and deer and lots of other animals just driving the loop in their car.
Check out the top hiking trails in Cades Cove in our blog
One Time Adventures with Synchronized Fireflies
Each and every year in the Smoky Mountains, for a magical few nights in June, something spectacular happens. One of the 19 species of fireflies in our spectacular park, the Photinus carolinus, synchronize their flashing pattern. These synchronized fireflies are a true sight to behold and worth attempting to see. Read this post to see how your family can get the chance to see this spectacular natural light show.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
While the exact dates for 2023 haven’t been announced yet, the event typically occurs over the last week of May or first week of June. Folks entering the lottery are allowed to choose two nights that work best for their schedule. On nights where the temperature is below 50 degrees, it’s possible there won’t be much to see. On nights where there has been rain or fog during the day, it’s also possible the light show will be less dramatic or absent altogether.
One Time Adventures at The Gatlinburg Space Needle
The iconic Gatlinburg Space Needle landmark is a 407-foot observation tower that overlooks downtown Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains. Ride the glass elevators to the observation deck for a 360° view of the Great Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg.
Check out the Space Needle web cam here. Find the Space Needle at 115 Historic Nature Trail Gatlinburg, 865-436-4629.
Winterfest runs through Feb. 18, 2024 with more than 6 million lights to brighten the winter nights.
Winterfest One Time Adventures
Experience a true winter wonderland in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Sevierville when you visit during Winterfest! Millions of small, twinkling lights come together on streets throughout the mountain towns to form elaborate displays that will leave you in awe. A drive down the Pigeon Forge parkway will treat you to a view of the 12 Days of Christmas in lights. Head to Gatlinburg to see intricate displays of animals native to the Smoky Mountains. Pigeon Forge Winterfest takes the bite out of winter frost and transforms the area into a metropolis of winter fun.
- Walk the Gatlinburg Sky Bridge
Billed as North America’s largest pedestrian suspension bridge – Sky Bridge is 680 feet from tower to tower. There are long-term plans for some attractions on the other side, but for now, the bridge in Gatlinburg is an experience all its own – with fantastic views.
Gatlinburg Sky Trail, a scenic walkway connecting each end of the Gatlinburg SkyBridge that gives visitors the opportunity to take a leisurely hike in the mountains while enjoying new views of the now famous bridge. “At just over one-third of a mile in length, the SkyTrail is an enjoyable walk for adults, kids, and even dogs, offering three distinct sections.
The Tulip Tower is a 70′ steel tower set in the back of the ravine accessed by two rope bridges and features four elevated viewing platforms. Also, there is a special story behind the theme and story of this tower, with information on each level. At the top of the tower, enjoy a very unique view of the Smokies and the iconic SkyBridge. This is an adventure for all ages! The SkyBridge, billed as North America’s largest pedestrian suspension bridge, is 680 feet from tower to tower.
One Time Adventures Taking The Skylift
To get to the Sky Bridge, take the Skylift up to Skylift park. The lift takes visitors up and down the mountain for spectacular 360-degree views. Visitors get off at the new Skydeck, where they can sit outside, play outside. The SkyCenter at the SkyDeck overlooking Gatlinburg offers up “sweeping panoramic views” of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
No matter how you choose to explore the Smoky Mountains, having a beautiful cabin to come and go from, to sit and discuss plans and the days adventures is the best way to stay in mountains for your do-it-once experience! Book now for a future adventure. American Patriot Getaways has you covered with plenty of cabins to choose from in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.
Book Your Stay For One Time Adventures
Want to stay near Cades Cove? Book a cabin in Wears Valley and you are right there. Check out our great Wears Valley area cabins and find your perfect vacation destination!
No matter your group size or budget, American Patriot Getaways has a cabin for you!
Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram for all the latest area news and happenings. And check out our Smoky Mountain Travel Guide for more adventures. Be sure to look at all of our vacation guides for planning your Smoky Mountain getaway.
We’ll see you in the mountains!