There’s so much to discover in the Great Smoky Mountains — America’s most visited national park — and surrounding East Tennessee. Get to know the region using our below guide to its day-trip destinations, from the cascades of Deep Creek’s Three Waterfalls Loop to the coasters of Dollywood.
Upper Pigeon River
The Upper Pigeon River is the Smokies’ whitewater-rafting capital, with lush riverbanks and class three and four rapids. Through companies such as Smoky Mountain Rafting and Rafting in the Smokies, you can explore them on tours of up to six and a half miles, providing a more adventurous kind of day trip.
Wildlife lovers can’t get enough of the Cattalloochee Valley, where the state re-introduced a herd of elk back in 2001. But this is also a popular destination among hikers and history enthusiasts, thanks to its horse camp, seven miles of nature trails, and nineteenth-century chapel.
The Deep Creek area is known for boasting many of the Smokies’ pretties waterfalls, which can be accessed on routes like the Three Waterfalls Loop and Deep Creek-Indian Creek loop. It also houses one of the area’s best mountain-biking trails, so it’s another great choice for active travelers.
While your car can take you along main roads through the mountains, you’ll need an ATV or UTV to visit the backroads. For this reason, many people sign up for a drive with one of the area’s off-roading outfits, such as Smoky Mountain Adventure Tours. You can also rent vehicles independently through groups like Mtn Trax.
Old Mill District
It’s definitely worth a visit to the Old Mill District, centered around a nineteenth-century gristmill. With charming shops, a general store, and a central square, the National Register of Historic Places-designated landmark is a fascinating place to learn about the area’s pioneer history.
One of Gatlinburg’s coolest day-trip spots is also one of its newest attractions: the 680-ft. SkyBridge, opened May 2019. If you’re looking to make a day just out of such unique and record-setting bridges, America’s longest swinging bridge is just 30 minutes away, in Sevierville.
For unbelievable views, you must visit Clingman’s Dome, which is among the highest mountains in the eastern U.S., and the highest in Tennessee. On a clear day, the lookout’s vistas sweep all the way over the surrounding coniferous rainforest and often more than 100 miles out.
*Note that the road to the lookout closes from December 1-March 31, and when weather conditions require.
Star of Knoxville
For a classic experience of not just Tennessee, but the American South, take a river cruise aboard the paddlewheeler The Star of Knoxville. Here, you can admire the tulips, dogwoods, or fall foliage along the banks, depending on the time of year, and sample hearty barbecue fare.