The Great Smoky Mountains aren’t simply a great place to experience nature — they’re also an incredible cultural destination, with extensive history and rich traditions. Next time you visit, why not explore these different sides of the region at the same time? Below, we share local hiking trails that will lead you to historic landmarks, along with a handful of acclaimed local history museums you can reach without the trek.

Little Cataloochee Church

The Little Cataloochee Church is one of the largest relics of the historic Little Cataloochee “island community,” which occupied the area until the 1930s. Set in the Cataloochee Valley, also home to a thriving elk population, it’s accessible via an eight-mile round-trip walk that also passes by log cabins and lush fields.

East Tennessee Historical Society

The Tennessee Historical Society boasts 24 Smoky Mountain landscape paintings by Jim Gray — valued at more than $1,000,000 — as well as extensive permanent exhibitions on the local culture and temporary exhibitions on topics from local quilting traditions to basket-weaving techniques.

Noah Ogle Place

Noah “Bud” Ogle Place — also known as the Junglebrook Historic District — houses a former homestead on the National Register of Historic Places. One of TripAdvisor’s top 20 attractions in the Smokies, it is known for charming foliage and scenery, as well as nineteenth-century architecture, given its location near LeConte Creek, in the West Fork of the Little Pigeon River.

Little River Railroad Museum

Another engaging stop for history buffs is the Little River Railroad Museum. Here you’ll learn about the namesake river’s role in the daily lives of Native Americans, pioneers, farmers, and loggers — as well as the Little River Railroad & Lumber Company, whose main investor once owned much of today’s national park.

Palmer Chapel

The Palmer Chapel is known for playing an important role in Methodist religious revivals. You’ll reach it by taking what happens to be one of the steepest and most challenging trails in the park, along steep rocks and a cemetery.

*Note that hiking poles are highly recommended for this one, as the path can be slippery.

The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center

If you’re interested in learning more about the local history, without the hike, don’t miss the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center. The museum holds collections devoted to five National Parks, the local Native American tribes, and the history of local transportation. Quilts and cannons are among the artifacts on display.

Mingus Mill

Roughly a half mile north of the Oconaluftee Visitors Center, Mingus Mill is one of just a handful of living-history destinations throughout the Smokies. It comprises a historic grist mill with a water-powered turbine, which you can learn about from an on-site miller, and shares its grounds with several other historic properties.



If it feels like there’s always something new and exciting happening in the Great Smokies — well, that’s because there is. Read on for a guide to the best festivals, sporting competitions, and other events you can look forward to in 2020.

Smoky Mountain Winterfest — January and February

Smoky Mountain Winterfest is the region’s winter light show, offering arts and crafts, shows, and more than 15 million glittering lights.

King of the Mountain — January

The region’s top technical and freestyle skiers compete during the annual “King of the Mountain” event at Ober Gatlinburg resort.

A Mountain Quiltfest — March

The 26th annual A Mountain Quiltfest brings regional quilters together for five days of classes, demonstrations, and shows.

Smoky Mountain Trout Tournament — April

Fishermen of all levels face off to catch trout from the Little Pigeon River.

Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage — April

The Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage invites locals and visitors to embark on bird-watching tours, insect walks, and photography workshops led by knowledgeable guides and instructors.

Dolly Homecoming Parade — May

Thousands of locals line up to welcome Dolly Parton back to town at the Dolly Homecoming Parade, featuring floats, marching bands, and local entertainers.

Gatlinburg Beans and Cornbread Festival — May

Heaping platters of the namesake dishes are served at the Gatlinburg Beans and Cornbread Festival, which is considered an “ode to the culinary past of Appalachia.”

Smoky Mountain Tunes and Tales — June, July, August

Musicians, actors, and storytellers take over downtown Gatlinburg during the summer Smoky Mountain Tunes and Tales event.

Summer Concert Series — June, July, August

As a part of the Summer Concert Series, bluegrass, rock, and country musicians perform at venues such as Ole Smoky and Sugarlands.

First Independence Day Parade in the Nation — July

Gatlinburg kicks off the Fourth of July right as the clock strikes midnight, with floats, bands, and military motorcades.

Old Mill Heritage Day — September

The Old Mill Heritage Day celebration sees Old Mill Square hosting interactive events and activities, such as square dances, sorghum-making demonstrations, and bluegrass performances.

Chalkfest at the Island — October

During the annual Chalkfest event, The Island shopping and entertainment complex transforms into a larger-than-life canvas for creative murals in chalk.

Dollywood Harvest Festival — October

The Dollywood Harvest Festival boasts a pumpkin patch, a jack-o’-lantern spectacular, and demonstrations by local artisans and musicians.

Titanic Thanksgiving Fireworks — November

The Titanic Museum rings in the holiday season with a festive fireworks show on the evening before Thanksgiving.

Dollywood Smoky Mountain Christmas Festival — December

Dollywood’s Christmas celebration includes gospel shows, musical performances inspired by “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and a nightly parade.