Great Smoky Mountains Outdoors, NC

Great Smoky Mountains Outdoor Adventures, NC

It's easy to experience the great outdoors in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the most biodiverse of any national park in the USA. On the North Carolina side near Asheville, find so many adventures outside in the park and the neighboring national forests. From a hike deep in the wilderness to enjoying the views from your car, everyone can enjoy the grandeur of the Smokies. Tube down a river or zipline above the forest canopy. See our top picks below! Pic above: Clingmans Dome

Great Smoky Mountains National Park contains some of the largest tracts of wilderness in the East, making it a sanctuary for a wide variety of animals. The park is also a world-renowned preserve of wildflower diversity with 1,500+ kinds of flowering plants - more than in any other North American national park. More than 19,000 species of animals and plants have been documented in the park, and scientists believe an additional 80,000+ species may live there. The extraordinary diversity led to the park’s designation as a United Nations World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve. 

Of all the animals, the Black Bear is the most famous resident of the park with about 1,500 in the park (see our bear safety tips). People travel from around the world each spring to watch the Synchronous fireflies.

In addition to the half million acres of the national park, you have access to an additional half million acres in neighboring Nantahala National Forest in western North Carolina.

Top Outdoor Adventures in Great Smoky Mountains, NC

Elk in Cherokee
Elk in Cherokee
Watch majestic elk graze and interact in meadows at the Great Smoky Mountains Oconaluftee Visitor Center and other areas around Cherokee.
Great Smoky Mountains Scenic Drives
5 Scenic Drives, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Blue Ridge Parkway is not the only scenic drive in the Smokies! Drive these top scenic roads in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the North Carolina side, including Newfound Gap Road, for the best views and places to stop along the way.
Pigeon River Zipline
Pigeon River Adventure Center
Zip over the Pigeon River and through the woods of the Great Smoky Mountains! This Canopy Tour takes you into the Smoky Mountain Creek Gorge exposing a lush forest of ferns, wildflowers, towering trees, rock cliffs, waterfalls and moss-covered boulder gardens. It includes 12 zip line sections between elevated platforms, treetops, decks and four sky bridges. The Express Zip Tour has seven zips including two zips across the Pigeon River. Combine your zip rides with whitewater rafting or Jeep tours!
Camping in Great Smoky Mountains
Camping in the Great Smoky Mountains, NC
See our comprehensive camping guide for the Great Smoky Mountains on the North Carolina side with many options, tips and places including backpacking sites and campgrounds.
Great Smoky Mountains Rivers, Lakes & Watersports, NC
Great Smoky Mountains Rivers, Lakes & Watersports, NC
Explore and play in these 9 pristine lakes and rivers in the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina - with a variety of water sports including boating, fishing, whitewater rafting, paddleboarding and more.
Great Smoky Mountains Waterfalls, North Carolina
6 Waterfalls, Great Smoky Mountains NC
Find several easy-to-find waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains on the North Carolina side of the national park near Cherokee and Bryson City.
Nantahala Outdoor Center
Nantahala Outdoor Center
NOC's big Nantahala River campus offers rafting, zip lines, treetop adventures, paddleboards, kayaking, hiking, biking, and more for the entire family. It's like Disneyland for lovers of the outdoors! Dine riverside at two restaurants. Near Bryson City.
Clingmans Dome Observation Tower
Clingmans Dome Observation Tower
See the 360-degree scenic view from the tallest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park via a half-mile walk or enjoy views from the parking area. Open April-November.
Great Smoky Mountains NC Visitor Guide
Great Smoky Mountains NC Travel Guide
Order the free 115-page Great Smoky Mountains North Carolina Travel Guide that includes activities and adventures in 7 counties that surround the national park, published by Smoky Mountain Host.
Great Smoky Mountains Hiking
Top 10 Hikes, Great Smoky Mountains Park NC
From world-renowned hiking trails like the AT to lesser-known gems, see our favorite 10 hikes from the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, nearest the Asheville area. 
Fireflies Great Smoky Mountains
Fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains
See the world-famous Synchronous Fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park each spring in late May and early June. Sign up early for the lottery for parking passes to see the show in the Elkmont area.
Nantahala Gorge Canopy Zip Line Tour
Nantahala Gorge Canopy Zip Line Tour
Take an exciting zipline tour in the Great Smoky Mountains. The 3-hour zip line flight is powered by gravity and a gradual 3 percent elevation change. The 1/2 mile air time canopy tour takes you through multiple ecosystems.
Mountain Farm Museum
Mountain Farm Museum, Oconaluftee Visitor Center & Mingus Mill
Located at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, see historic farm buildings in an open-air museum and get plenty of great information from rangers. Nearby you can explore Mingus Mill, a historic grist mill dating from 1886.
Elk in Great Smoky Mountains
Elk in Cataloochee, Great Smoky Mountains
Watch the elk in beautiful Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The best time is just before sunset. Take a picnic and tailgate. Also, tour historic buildings or hike.
Fontana Lake, NC
Fontana Lake & Dam
Located in the Great Smoky Mountains, enjoy fishing, boating, camping and swimming in this beautiful lake. Drive or walk across the highest dam east of the Rockies and stop by the Visitor Center to learn more about it.
Fishing in Great Smoky Mountains Park, North Carolina
Fishing Guide for Great Smoky Mountains NC
See our fishing tips and best creeks, rivers and lakes to fish in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the North Carolina side and nearby towns including Cherokee, Sylva and Bryson City.
Tsali Mountain Biking
Great Smoky & Tsali Mountain Biking, NC
Find mountain biking heaven in the Nantahala National Forest with 40 miles of trails overlooking Fontana Lake in the Great Smoky Mountains. Located near Bryson City, where you can find bike rentals and supplies.
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Tips for Outdoor Adventures in the Great Smoky Mountains

  • Inside the park are the tallest mountains in the Appalachian chain, with elevations ranging from about 875' to 6,643', with sixteen peaks rising more than 5,000 feet. This creates drastic changes in weather. Temperatures are often 20 degrees cooler in the highest peaks. Since the lush park is a temperate rain forest, be prepared for sudden storms year round.  Snow can fall in the highest elevations in September through May.
  • Dogs are allowed in campgrounds, picnic areas, parking areas and along roads, but must be kept on a leash at all times. Pets are not allowed on hiking trails in the park, except for the Oconaluftee River Trail in Cherokee.
  • Since this is the most visited national park in the USA, expect crowds at overlooks especially on Newfound Gap Road. But you can easily leave the crowds with a short walk on one of the trails. At Newfound Gap, walk north or south on the Appalachian Trail for a more personal experience with the Smokies.
  • There are no stores, gas or restaurants inside the park, so plan ahead for supplies. Both Cherokee and Bryson City have plenty of options for food and shopping just outside the park.
  • Find picnic areas at Collins Creek (near Cherokee), Deep Creek, Heintooga. Or you can tailgate along one of the scenic drives. Be sure to take all scraps so you don't encourage bear visits.
  • Guided horseback rides are available at Smokemont stables inside the park near Cherokee, mid-March through late November.
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