Seven Must-Do Outdoor Activities in the Smokies
Caves, trails, and rivers
Part of what makes the Smoky Mountains such an attraction is the incredible variety of outdoor activities available. Hundreds of miles of trails feature waterfalls, panoramic views, and hidden coves; rivers of all sizes and speeds are a rafter’s playground; massive labyrinthine caves promise adventure and discovery. Below are just a few of the Smokies’ best outdoor activities in summer:
#1. Hike to Mt. LeConte
Although the trek to Mt. LeConte is a challenge, it is well worth the effort and a must-do hike for anyone wanting true immersion in the Smokies. Hiking the Alum Cave Bluffs trail up to the Lodge is a treat for any hiker with its amazing biodiversity and stunning trail features, from a rushing river to a narrow rock pass to vast views of the mountains from the higher elevations. For a slightly longer hike, take the Rainbow Falls route instead and enjoy waterfalls along the way. The rustic, log-cabin Lodge at the top is a great oasis before the final push to the actual summit of LeConte, where the views are even better. Pick up a backpacker’s lunch or a cup of tea at the Lodge’s dining hall and chat with other brave souls when you’ve finished this rewarding climb.
#2. Experience the Lost Sea
If you are willing to drive out of the Smokies a bit, the Lost Sea should be on your itinerary. How many other caves in America feature a clean, deep underground lake and boat rides across the water? Wind your way through ancient cave rooms, study stalagmites and tiny waterfalls, and watch as your guide lures massive fish to the lake’s surface beneath eerie green lights. You won’t forget this experience. To learn more about the Lost Sea, look here:
#3. Raft the Little River, Townsend
Anyone who has stopped to admire the river at the Townsend “Y” just before the Park’s entrance has seen the rafters skimming the waters. Several venues just up the road offer river tours and will send you down these gentle cascades for a summertime adventure. Check out one of Townsend’s best rafting options here: http://www.smokymtnriverrat.com/.
#4. Hike the Middle Prong
If hauling up Mt. LeConte with a backpack is a bit too much for you, try a leisurely stroll along the Middle Prong Trail in Tremont in the National Park. This lush and musical trail stays close to the water and will take you past powerful cascades and perfect picnic spots. It is a photographer’s dream with its many wildflowers and clear waters.
#5. Camp at Cades Cove
Imagine camping at the base of the mountains, with a wide, wild valley just walking distance away and a million stars hovering over this gap in the hills. At night, fires flicker around you; in the morning, you can hike up Anthony Creek; in the heat of the day, you can enjoy an ice cream cone from the camp store. There is a reason visitors to the National Park love Cades Cove Campground. To learn more about Cades Cove, look here: http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/cadescove.htm
#6. Grill at Metcalf Bottoms
For a family picnic in a place that is both scenic and historic, stop at Metcalf Bottoms, which is located on Little River Road close to Elkmont in the National Park. This picnic area features tables and grills along the river, and access to several easy trails leading to historic sites like the Walker Sisters Cabin. Enjoy tranquility, mountain air, and family at this secluded spot.
#7. Enjoy the View from Look Rock on Foothills Parkway
Look Rock’s campground may be closed, but its lookout tower is not. From this white tower you will enjoy astounding 360-degree views of the Smokies. If you can climb out of bed early enough, try to reach the tower before sunup; you can watch the first light emerging over the mountains and flooding the valleys below. The view here rivals that from any summit in the mountains themselves.
Want to know more about the National Park? Visit their website here: http://www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm.