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Smokies Bucket List

Here are some of the things that we recommend seeing and doing in the Smokey Mountains while on vacation.

How many of these are on your Smokies bucket list?



Dollywood is more than just a world class theme park. It’s the complete getaway for families looking to disconnect from the world’s distractions and reconnect with each other (and even some history!) while nestled in the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains.

What we liked about Dollyood is more warm, relaxed and less hurried atmosphere than that of a typical amusement park, nature setting, and of course, the Dollywood Express train ride. We have traveled to Alaska in 2015 and took a ride on a White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad train from Skagway, Alaska to White Pass. That narrow gauge railroad was built 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush. Guess what? Dollywood  Express  # 192 – iconic engine known as Klondike Katie – is one of the former WP&YR coal engines. She was built in 1943 for the army. Army turned the locomotive over to the White Pass in 1946. She operated there until 1958, but now runs in Dollywood. How’s that for a historic connection? See the video below of this awesome ride’s history and background. 


Dollywood Splash COUNTRY

A relaxing refuge during the hot Tennessee summers, Dollywood’s Splash Country Water Park has provided families with a fun place to cool down for more than 15 years. Featuring 35 acres of thrilling attractions, dining options, canopies and retreats, and beautiful scenery, our award-winning water park has something for everyone.

Clingsmans Dome – Highpoint of the Great Smoky Mountains

At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. If you are driving Rte 441 Newforun Gap Road to/from Cheokee NC, take a short side trip to see Smokies in all their glory. 

We found that best time to see the stunning Smokies from Clingmans Dome is not summer, but rather cooler times of the year. In summer, chances are the mountains will be obscured to clouds and fog (when they live up to the “smoky” name!). But early spring and late fall when humidity is lower yield the best chances to enjoy the stunning scenery. Temperatures at the dome can be 10 -20 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than in the surrounding lowlands. In fact, the cool, wet conditions on Clingmans Dome’s summit make the spruce-fir forest that grows there a coniferous rainforest. Although Clingmans Dome Observation Tower is open year-round, the road leading to it is closed from December 1 through March 31, and whenever weather conditions require.  

Tip: If visiting in Spring or Fall, bring a jacket! And call ahead (865) 436-1200 option 2 and 2 again to make sure the road is not closed. 

Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway

Departing regularly from downtown Gatlinburg, this cable car will take you on a breathtaking 2.1-mile ride up to the Ober Gatlinburg Amusement Park & Ski Area. The Aerial Tram station is located at Parkway and LeConte Street in downtown Gatlinburg (1001 Parkway). Of course, you can drive to Ober Gatlinburg Amusement park too, but we say: take the Tram, enjoy the beautiful view and save your transmission.  The two 120-passenger counter-balanced cars provide an experience for all ages, from the young to the young at heart. The best part? Until ski season starts (early to mid- December), Tram tickets are good for unlimited round trips for 2 consecutive days. Once you are at Ober Gatlinburg, there are activities of every kind and every season:  Ski mountain coaster, Alpine slide, indoor skating rink, plethora of shops. Visit Wildlife Encounter  where in addition to the bears there are animals native to the Great Smoky Mountains such as bobcats, river otters, opossums, raccoons, turtles, snakes, and flying squirrels. And of course, in winter – try snowboarding, skiing.. or snow tubing for those who like mellower activities. 

Tip:  From our cabins, take E Parkway to the City Hall where you can park for free and catch  fun and budget friendly Blue Gatlinburg Trolley to Downtown, and then take a short walk to the Tram station. 

Fun Fact: “Ober”, in German, means “upper” or “above” – indeed,  Ober is above Gatlinburg! 

Smoky Mountains Rafting

Located near Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, Pigeon River whitewater rafting is the most popular activity in the Smokies. This video shows the Upper (or the “Big”) Pigeon River, which offers exciting splashy class III-IV rapids for kids 8 and older. Expect big waves and fast moving water! NOC also rafts the Lower Pigeon River, which is a bit more tame. Kids as young as 3 years old are welcome on the Lower Pigeon float trips.
The river trip skirts the border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and is very close to the popular Big Creek picnic area. Rafters only need about two and a half hours for the whole experience, so it’s a very convenient fit for most vacations. We had the whole family participate, young and old, and all of us had  a total blast on a hot summer day!



Tour Cades Cove on a bicycle

Visiting Cades Cove is a must for your Smoky Mountains experience. The Cove is a broad valley surrounded by the mountains and is one of the most popular destinations in the Great Smokiy Mountains National Park. Some of the best opportunities for wildlife viewing in the park are found here. Motorists can tour the cove by a one-way loop road that circles the cove, sightseeing at a leisurely pace. Better yet, experience it up close and personal riding a bicycle. The full Cades Cove loop is 11 miles, but there are turnoffs at two different points if you’d prefer a shorter ride. Along the way, you’ll see numerous historic buildings – the homes, churches, and workplaces (like Cable Mill) of Cades Cove residents during the 19th and early 20th centuries. You’ll also have access to several hiking trailheads. 
The loop road is open to bicycle and foot traffic only until 10:00 a.m. every Saturday and Wednesday morning from early May until late September, so get there early! You can rent bikes here – they start renting at 7 AM. 

Directions: From Gatlinburg, just follow the main Parkway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After you see Sugarlands Visitor Center, you can take a right on Little River Road. You stay on Little River Road which is a winding road, and often busy, for a little over 20 miles. The scenery is beautiful on your way to Cades Cove, where you will dead end.

What’s on your Smokies Bucket List?

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