IHG Travel Blog

Outdoor adventures in Gatlinburg

Tennessee River, Gatlinburg, TN


It shouldn’t surprise you that the Great Smoky Mountains play host to the greatest outdoor adventures. Whether your idea of paradise is fishing in a cool stream or screaming down a zip line, Gatlinburg has just what you’re looking for. With the surrounding landscape of mountains, forests, lakes, and rivers, there’s no shortage of adventurous options.

Land adventures

The rolling Smoky Mountains provide the perfect backdrop to a plethora of adventures. Enjoy a day of hiking, biking, horseback riding, and golfing before retiring to your comfortable Gatlinburg hotel room.


The Great Smoky Mountains contain approximately 800 miles of hiking trails, many of which are accessible right from the city of Gatlinburg. No matter what your skill level, there are trails to suit all skills and any amount of time you’re looking to fill. An easy hike is the one to Grotto Falls. Hikers just need to take the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and they’re transported to a one-of-a-kind waterfall. At Grotto Falls, you can actually walk behind the rushing water and see the waterfall from a whole new perspective.

Image Source: AllieKF


If two wheels are more your style rather than two feet, bring or rent a bike and hit the bicycling trails in Gatlinburg. If you’re looking to rent a bicycle, the Cades Cove Campground Store is the perfect spot to pick one up. Here, you’ll be conveniently located by one the Great Smoky Mountain’s most popular bike trail, Cades Cove. The 11-mile trail loop is lined with countless natural wonders, like wildlife and breathtaking scenery. But what you might not expect to find are the numerous historic homesites that truly set the Cades Cove trail apart from the others.

Image Source: Lee Coursey

Horseback Riding

Trade in your own two feet for four hoofs with a Smoky Mountain equestrian excursion. Experiencing the Smokies on horseback is a whole new way to immerse yourself in the wildlife and landscape. While you might have to provide your own cowboy hat, there are numerous stables that will provide everything else you need for a day of horseback riding. The Smoky Mountain Riding Stables is one such provider, located inside the Smoky Mountain National Park. All of the horseback rides they offer are great whether you’re a beginner or advanced rider. Even better, the 40 horses at the stables are well-trained and experienced. Your first visit to the Smoky Mountain Riding Stables certainly won’t be your last!

Image Source: Anne Swoboda


If you don’t think golf qualifies as an adventure, you’ve never golfed in the Great Smoky Mountains. The Gatlinburg area is home to two public golf courses, including Gatlinburg Golf Course. This course was voted by Golf Digest as the best municipal golf course in all 50 states, which is quite the claim to fame for the Tennessee town! The combination of the Great Smoky Mountain scenery along with some of the most unique holes you’ll ever play, make Gatlinburg Golf Course worth bringing your own clubs for.

Winter Sports

Winter visitors to Gatlinburg would be seriously missing out without a trip to Ober Gatlinburg. Even though this Gatlinburg ski resort and theme park is open year-round, it really comes alive in the wintertime. Take one of its four lifts and enjoy a day skiing or snowboarding on the slopes. There’s even a place to corral the kids called Cubbies Snow Zone, where kids can run off some steam and play in the snow. If you’d rather slide down the mountain, Ober Gatlinburg offers a seriously amazing tubing experience. The 9-lane tubing snow slide will have you racing against friends and family to be the first to the bottom.

Water adventures

You aren’t limited to land when you’re looking for a Gatlinburg adventure! Roaring rapids and trickling streams create the perfect setting for whitewater rafting and fishing.

Whitewater Rafting

Even if you’ve never rafted before, you should consider heading out on one of Gatlinburg’s rivers. All that the rafting guides require is that you weigh at least 70 pounds, strap on a helmet and a life vest, and enjoy the ride. One of the favorites for visitors is the Big Pigeon River. The upper portion of the river is choppy and not for the faint of heart. While the lower portion is more akin to the lazy river at your favorite water park. There are several companies to choose from for your rafting trip, the city of Gatlinburg recommends Rafting In The Smokies, Nanthala Outdoor Center, and Smoky Mountain Outdoors. Head over to their websites to book your adventure.

Image Source: Jason and Kris Carter


Fly fishing near Gatlinburg is the closest thing to heaven on earth for seasoned anglers. Here, you’ll find some of the finest trout fishing in the entire country. Appoint a local guide to get the inside scoop on the best spots, or just head out on your own to the over 500 miles of fishable streams. Die-hard fly fisherman won’t leave Gatlinburg without visiting a handful of prime fishing spots. These include the west prong of the Little Pigeon River, Dudley Creek, Roaring Fork, and LeConte Creek. Even novice fly-fishermen can’t go wrong with a visit to the “Children’s Streams,” which are perfect for the kiddos. All of these streams are marked and easy to navigate; no matter how many fishermen you have in tow.

Image Source: John Coley

Air adventures

In Gatlinburg, you can soar above the Smoky Mountains on a 50 mph thrill ride or you can take a peak at the real experts in flight. Either way, you’re in for a real air adventure.

Zip Lining

After you’ve explored the city and the Great Smoky Mountains from the ground and water, take to the skies on one of the many zip lines in the area. You’ll get a whole new view of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park as you glide between the treetops. There are many zip lining outfitters and guides to choose from, some of the most popular are ZipGatlinburg and Climb Works Smoky Mountains. Both offer 9 thrilling zip line tours that will have you up in the air for over 2 hours! The whole family can enjoy this activity, as kids as young as 5 can have the time of their lives under the watchful eye of trained safety professionals.

Image Source: Climb Works Facebook

Bird Watching

Gatlinburg is considered to be one of the best bird-watching destinations in the America. Not only do 120 species call the Great Smoky Mountain home, you’ll see many more varieties as the mountains locations make them an annual migration stop. In a single day, you can spot the species native to the mountain tops, then travel down to the valleys and plains where birds skip from grass top to grass top. The National Park Service even offers a printable map of every bird you could possibly see in the park, and the likelihood that you’ll spot one.

Image Source: jclifton59

Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is the not-so-well-kept secret gem of the South. With so many land, water, and air adventures, you’ll have trouble fitting everything into one visit.

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