Top 10 things to do in the Smokies this summer

Dollywoods Splash Country- SwiftWater Run 2
Dollywood Splash Country is a must-do in the Smokies (Dollywood media photo)

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Ah, summer – the kids are out of school, the temperature is hot and humid, and the mosquitos are out to play.

Families are packing up their minivans and attempting the impossible (trying to please everyone for the annual summer vacation).

But the good news is, if you’re heading to the Tennessee Smokies, you will have plenty of options for summertime fun the whole family can enjoy. Here’s a list of some of the top picks:

Dollywoods Splash Country Bear Mountain Fire Tower-Front View_small
If you’re going to be in the Smoky Mountains, you should experience at least one Dollywood attraction (Dollywood media photo)

#1 — Dollywood’s Splash Country

First and foremost, never end a trip to the Smokies without doing at least one Dollywood attraction.

While a day at Dollywood never disappoints, too much walking around in the heat can be taxing. That’s when Dollywood’s Splash Country comes to the rescue.

Kids (and “big” kids) will enjoy the play areas, wave pool and wide selection of slides, and those who want to chill can float in the lazy river or relax in the loungers.

The only downside – and this is a common problem with parks like this one – is that it can feel overly crowded at times, and that’s when a private retreat or canopy may come in handy.

Private retreats and canopies are extra, ranging from $50-$300, although with age I’ve learned to appreciate the true value of these reserved spaces.

Splash Country also has a great selection of my absolute favorite type of slides – the ones with the larger floats (which generally feel smoother) like the RiverRush, Big Bear Plunge or SwiftWater Run.

Overall, this park is top-notch and rated among the top ten outdoor water parks in USA Today’s Readers’ Choice 2018. It is also the largest water park in the state of Tennessee. 

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Location: 2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863

Hours: 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. or 10 a.m.-7 p.m. from late May to early Sept

Price Range: $49 for single day (2019); Combo discounts are available

Anakeesta Expansion
Anakeesta offers beautiful scenery (photo by Morgan Overholt/

#2 — Anakeesta

Anakeesta can be described as the getaway to your getaway. A fairly new attraction to the Smokies, it is a place where you can play, dine and really soak in those amazing mountain views.

Summertime is the perfect season to enjoy the partially covered deck at the Cliff Top Grill & Bar, sipping on craft beers and munching on some Tennessee barbecue.

The general admission price includes the Chondola ride to get you up the mountain, Ridge Rambler military vehicle ride, Treetop Skywalk, Treehouse Village Adventure, Overlook Event Area, Vista Gardens Walk, Memorial Forest Walk, and shopping and dining access.

For additional fees, they also have a mountain coaster and dueling ziplining.

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Location 576 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738

Hours: 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. weekdays or 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. on weekends, may vary by season

Price Range: $17.99-21.99 for admission; add-ons range from $12.99-29.99

#3 — Ziplining

And speaking of ziplining, there are no shortages of ways to zip through the Smoky Mountains. Climbworks Smoky Mountains is one of the highest rated in the area, offering two zipline tours.

They are located right across the street from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It’s a definite step out of the ol’ comfort zone, but each of the tours are guided and educational.

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Location: 155 Branam Hollow Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738

Hours: Mon.-Sat., 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Price Range: $89-99

Rowdy Bear Mountain Adventure Park takes a unique spin on “ziplining” and offers mountain gliding – a combination of free falling and hang gliding.

It may be an easier transition if you’re not ready for the full zipline experience yet. They also have an alpine coaster with combo passes available

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Location: 386 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738

Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. or 10 a.m.-11 p.m., may vary by season

Price Range: $18-30

Smoky Mountain Ziplines in Pigeon Forge is also highly rated and starts at just $69.99 for a zipline tour.

And if you’re looking for the pu pu platter of outdoor adventures, Foxfire Mountain in Sevierville has a whole adventure park with multiple ziplining tours as well as a challenge course, swinging bridges, ATV tours and white water rafting, with ziplining prices ranging from $69-99. And speaking of rafting …

#4 — Tubing/Rafting

Tubing down a river is one of my absolute favorite outdoor water activities. It has a way of forcing you to relax, appreciate nature and unplug – especially if you don’t want to lose your phone in the river.

(I’ve seen it happen, so you may want to leave the phones behind.) Tubing involves about 90 percent relaxation with 10 percent of excitement if you hit a rapid.

While it doesn’t require a lot of skill, I would still recommend going on a day when the current isn’t terribly strong. River Romp in Sevierville is one of the solid options in the area.

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Location: 1980 Pittman Center Road, Sevierville, TN 37876

Hours: 10 a.m.-4p.m.; may vary by season

Price Range: $14-17

There are a lot of options for white water rafting, but admittedly I have never attempted it. It sounds a little too rough for my taste, but my husband was brave enough to try it and highly recommends it.

There are a few options around the area, including Rafting in the Smokies, Smoky Mountain Outdoors, Big Bear Rafting and 5 Rivers Adventure.

The main season for tubing and rafting generally begins near Memorial Day and lasts until Labor Day, with limited hours in spring and fall. Bring sunscreen. And bug spray.

Price Range: $27-$49

#5 — Gatlinburg SkyBridge

The SkyBridge in Gatlinburg is the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America.

This one is probably not for anyone with a fear of heights – as the photos alone are enough to any acrophobic nervous. But, if you can handle it, it’s a great way to get a panoramic view of the Smokies.

The SkyBridge stretches 680 feet across a deep valley with a midpoint at 140 feet high and a glass-floor panel at your feet.

After that experience, relax on the SkyDeck and enjoy snacks and craft beer. General admission includes access to the SkyLift, SkyBridge and SkyDeck

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Location: 765 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738

Hours: Mon.-Sun. 9 a.m.-9p.m.

Price Range: $15.95-23.95 

Horseback riding is one of the many fun activities in the Smokies (stock photo)

#6 — Horseback Riding

If you would like to channel your inner cowboy or cowgirl, horseback riding can be a fun way to see the Smokies.

Big Rock Dude Ranch has a 3.5-mile trail around the Great Smoky Mountains, and loading ramps on and off the horses help make riding easier for any newbies.

The ranch also has gem mining, a private fishing pond (no license required), a small museum with Civil War relics, and more. 

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Location: 909 Little Cove Road, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863

Hours: Mon.-Sun., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Price Range: $29.95-38.95

Another option for horseback riding is the Smoky Mountain Deer Farm Exotic Petting Zoo and Riding Stables, Sevier County’s oldest and largest zoological park.

This one is a fun activity for younger kids since it is very interactive. Guests can get up close and personal with animals like deer, bull, ostriches, camels, reindeer, zebras, and of course, horses.

The trails here travel from ridge tops to valley and run along creek-side terrain.

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Location: 478 Happy Hollow Lane, Sevierville, TN 37876

Hours: Mon.-Sun., 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

Price Range: Zoo- $8.99-13; Riding: $22.99-28.99

And if animals are your thing…

#7 — Rainforest Adventures Zoo

If you have been to large zoos before, keep in mind this is a smaller indoor-outdoor zoo, with most guests reporting about an hour to get through it.

Again, this can be a fun exhibit for the younger crowd since they can pet some of the animals. It can also be good for just about any weather condition since a good part of the exhibit is inside.

Featured animals include frogs, ostriches, cotton-top tamarin monkeys, parrots, porcupines, servals and more. Perhaps best of all, there is also free parking.

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Location: 190 Collier Drive, Sevierville, TN 37862

Hours: Mon.-Sun., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Price Range: $7.99-12.99

#8 — Jeep/ATV tours

For some off-roading adventure, consider an ATV or jeep tour.

Bluff Mountain Adventures has guided ATV trail rides and over 6,000 acres of Smoky Mountain trails. Guests can cover rugged terrain while experiencing wildlife and scenic views. Must be at least 12 years old to ride.

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Location: 3152 Parkway, Ste 1B, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863

Hours: Mon.-Sat., 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Price Range: $55-195

If you want to ride around the Smokies but an ATV isn’t really your thing, you can still take in the sites with a professional guide and a Pink Jeep Tour.

These guided off-road mountain tours have four trails to choose from, some of which include waterfalls, historical sights and streams

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Location: 3152 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863

Hours: Mon.-Sun., 8 a.m.-11 p.m.

Price Range: $55-65

#9 — Kart Racing

Xtreme Racing boasts having the fastest karts in all of Pigeon Forge with their high-speed, European-style race karts.

They have three different courses to choose from, including one 1500-foot elevated track. Must be 11 years old to ride. 

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Location: 3144 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863

Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri. 10 a.m.-12 a.m.; Sat. 9 a.m.-12 a.m.; Sun. 9 a.m.-10 p.m.

Price Range: $10.99-29.99 

The Track in Pigeon Forge also has kart racing, along with a variety of other attractions such as arcade games, “blaster” boats, mini golf, bumper cars and more. This may be an option for those families who have a wide age group range in their party. 

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Location: 4061 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863

Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 10 a.m.-10 p.m.

Price Range: This park uses a pre-purchased point system

When you visit the Smokies, also be sure to check out the caverns (stock photo)

#10 — Explore caverns

There is a lot of nature to be experienced in the Smokies!

Did you know that Tennessee has the most caves in the United States, with more than 8,350 caves discovered to date?

The Forbidden Caverns lies under the Smokies and is a very educational, unique experience. You will learn fun facts – like this is where moonshine was made from the 20’s to the 40’s.

Here, you will see natural chimneys, grottos and a crystal clear stream. The average guided tour lasts about an hour, and again, free parking is available. 

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Location: 455 Blowing Cave Road, Sevierville, TN 37876

Hours: Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m., varies by season

Price Range: $10-16

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.

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