Stunning scenery is around every turn in the Smoky Mountains. Whether visiting a waterfall or walking along a mountain trail, you’ll see captivating scenic beauty. Choosing what to see and do in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a difficult task. Fortunately, we’ve compiled a list of the best attractions in the Smokies. When you’ve checked these off your list, you’ll know you’ve seen the best of everything worth seeing in one of America’s most popular national parks.
Photinus carolinus is the only synchronous firefly species in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They put on a dazzling display of synchronized flashing light patterns during mating season, usually between the end of May and the middle of June. The synchronized firefly population at the park is the greatest in the whole Western Hemisphere.
In late April, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website publishes the year’s firefly events schedule. Tickets to see the firefly events at designated viewing spots near the Elkmont Campground are available in advance (book early; they sell out quickly). Transportation shuttles run between the Sugarlands Visitor Center and Elkmont Campground. Moreover, you can explore the Smoky Mountain cabin rentals to find cabins for your stay.
Road to Nowhere
The “Road to Nowhere,” initially known as Lakeview Drive, was planned in the early 1940s to provide visitors with second access to Cades Cove from the North Carolina side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. However, the route was scrapped because of worries about its enormous cost and detrimental environmental effects. The Road to Nowhere is now a popular tourist attraction, with its six miles of the road offering views of the mountains, wildlife, and access to hiking trails like the Noland Creek Trail just beyond Bryson City. The Road to Nowhere ends at the mouth of a 1,200-foot tunnel.
Goats on the Roof
As the name suggests, actual goats wander around on the rooftop of this fascinating Great Smoky Mountains attraction! There’s a lot more to Goats on the Roof than just the opportunity to feed goats; the attraction also features a gem mine, a gift shop stocked with souvenirs, Amish treats, ice cream, homemade fudge, and more. You can take a ride on a thrilling mountain coaster that’s 4,375 feet long and travels at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. Keep in mind that the “Goats on the Roof” attraction is in no way a traditional petting zoo. Instead, visitors ride a “goat cycle” to transport the goat feed to the top.
Cades Cove Loop Road
Cades Cove, which was once a small town in a valley, is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s no mystery why; the area is a haven for those interested in history and nature because of its abundance of historic buildings, churches, mills, animals, and breathtaking peaks. You can stop at any of the convenient rest stops around the 11-mile loop route to learn about the area’s rich history and explore the area’s many hiking trails and historic sites, such as a working grist mill.
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!
Robert Ripley (1890-1949), often called the “modern Marco Polo,” visited 198 countries and acquired a remarkable assortment of curiosities. The three-story Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Odditorium in downtown Gatlinburg is home to hundreds of amazing artifacts, such as real shrunken heads and the world-famous Fiji Merman. Other Ripley’s attractions in Gatlinburg include the Moving Theater, the Haunted Adventure, the Marvelous Mirror Maze, the Aquarium of the Smokies, the Mini Golf Course, and the Guinness World Records Museum.
The view from Look Rock is one of the finest in the Smokies. It’s located in the middle of the Foothills Parkway’s western side. It’s the parkway’s highest vantage point. You can park at the lookout and then walk a short distance to a tower for a 360-degree view that includes Mount LeConte. The transformation of the foliage from green to yellow, red, and orange makes autumn a beautiful time to visit Look Rock.
Another famous Gatlinburg destination with stunning views is Anakeesta. The AnaVista Tower, the tallest structure in Gatlinburg, was recently added to the theme park, and you can see all of Gatlinburg and the surrounding mountains from there. If the sky is clear, you can see Kentucky! Two levels of the tower are made of transparent glass, providing a breathtaking view of the garden below, and there are also interpretive signs that name the various mountain ranges and peaks. And if you want to experience the Smokys from above, you can go ziplining or wander through the Vista Gardens, which are home to more than 3,000 different kinds of flowers.
Morton Overlook is a prime spot to watch the sunset over the Smoky Mountains. It is a beautiful lookout point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Morton Overlook is located at an altitude of 5,048 feet, providing visitors with a panoramic view of both North Carolina and Tennessee. With a beautiful night sky, you can even see the city lights of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg below. Morton Overlook is located on US 441.
The scenic beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is indeed breathtaking. It is easy to feel rejuvenated and alive when surrounded by green vistas and exhilarating hikes along park trails. The promise of fun experiences and entertainment at theme parks, theatrical performances, and comedy shows further enhance a great vacation. It may indeed take many days to see everything there is to see.
How can you see and experience as many of these natural wonders as you can? A long cabin vacation in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is a terrific way to cross some of these stunning locations off your bucket list. Some Gatlinburg cabins are conveniently located just outside the park entrance and provide a relaxing base from which to explore the Great Smoky Mountains.