Tourists come from all over the world to photograph the old-growth forests and trickling rivers inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, to get their blood racing on adrenaline-pumping rides at Dollywood, and to treat their kids to a wide variety of family-friendly entertainment at Ripley’s. World-famous attractions like these have put the small mountain towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg on the map. Yet, the region’s lesser-known activities are just as worthwhile! Locals often recommend these non-touristy things to do in the Great Smoky Mountains to give you an authentic experience of the region.
Stay In A Rustic Cabin
A visit to the Smokies would be seriously lacking without staying in a romantic log cabin. You could wake up each morning to magnificent views of the mountains, breakfast next to a freshwater stream, or hot coffee on a private balcony overlooking an enchanting woodland grove!
No matter what your accommodation requirements may be, HearthSide Cabin Rentals will set you up comfortably. Their luxury cabins range from one to twenty-one bedrooms, including pet-friendly options, across Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. You’ll be within a short drive of the attractions and also get to escape to the privacy of a rustic mini-resort, complete with a private pool or pool access, a theater room, fireplace, arcade and table games, hot tubs and more top-of-the-line amenities. Lodging at HearthSide Cabin Rentals for a week is one way to avoid the crowds and get a quintessential Smoky Mountain experience at the same time!
Sample Locally-Made Adult Beverages
As any native to the Great Smoky Mountains area will tell you, you haven’t truly experienced the local culture until you’ve tried some white lightnin’! Tennessee moonshine originated when Scots and Irish immigrants brought their whiskey distilling tradition to Appalachia and then continued to produce shine secretly during the moonlit hours (hence the name), even when alcohol was prohibited.
Today, you can legally taste those same traditional moonshines at Old Forge Distillery. This authentic distillery sources its grains from The Old Mill, the original gristmill of Pigeon Forge built in 1830, and its water from the fresh mountain streams. Old Forge Distillery uses 18th-century distilling techniques to create modern moonshine flavors like Chocolate, French Toast, and Coffee. Stop by their Pigeon Forge location for a tasting of their moonshine, plus bourbon and rye whiskies, cream liqueur, vodka, gin and rum.
Not a fan of hard liquor? Or perhaps you’re looking for something to set the mood? Gatlinburg Wine Cellar is a must for oenophiles and hopeless romantics alike. This eccentric wine producer specializes in locally-made wines in distinct flavors, like Apple Pie, Birthday Cake, Midnight Blackberry & Blueberry, and Strawberry Fields. Most notably, Gatlinburg Wine Cellar is the creator of the award-winning Cotton Candy Wine. Visit their Gatlinburg location next to the national park entrance for a free tasting.
Treat Yourself to the Local Cuisine
Wherever there is locally-made drink, there is always a robust cuisine to match, too. The South is known for its fried chicken and barbeque, to which Tennessean locals are no strangers! You will be greeted like family when you come to Mama’s Farmhouse for dinner. This all-you-can-eat restaurant keeps the freshly-made side dishes coming as you dig into your chosen platter of delicious Southern home-cookin’. Lunch and dinner entrées of their award-winning fried chicken, meatloaf, honey-glazed ham, and country-fried steak will leave you fuller than a stuffed turkey. Plus, you can’t pass up a sampling of their classic Southern sides, like fried okra, mac ‘n’ cheese, green beans, creamed corn, and chicken and dumplings.
When your inner tiger starts to show a hangry attitude, there’s only one place to go to satisfy a carnivore’s deepest desire. Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que has been serving some of the best ribs and barbeque in the Smokies for about thirty years. No matter your prey of choice — chicken, pork, or beef — Bennett’s smokes it over hickory wood for up to 14 hours until the juicy, tender meat slips off the bone. You can never go wrong with beef brisket, pulled pork, smoked sausage, pulled chicken, or burnt ends for lunch or dinner. Make sure to order some deep-fried pickle chips, potato skins, and deep-fried deviled eggs for an authentic Southern experience.
Explore Appalachian Arts & Crafts
While it’s true that Smoky Mountain folks have a talent for chowing down on barbeque and sipping on moonshine anytime, their unique artistic talents speaks for themselves as well. See for yourself, and spend an afternoon wandering along the 8-mile loop of shops, studios, and art galleries that make up the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community. This organization of independent artisans keeps traditional Appalachian craftwork alive and thriving. Explore and shop crafts like handmade baskets, candles, glass products, jewelry, fine art, leather products, pottery and ceramics, quilts, woodworking and much more.
In a similar vein, the Great Smokies Flea Market exhibits a spectacular diversity of artisanal products under a 200,000 square-foot heated and air-conditioned roof. It’s worth the trip out to Kodak, TN, to shop for anything and everything you could possibly want, from antiques and jewelry to apparel and beauty products to electronics and home gardening supplies. Aside from the 70% off clearance sale, the best part is the chance to bring your dog to the 43-acre farm and to munch on some free food samples. You’ll always find something new and unique among the hundreds of rotating vendors at the Great Smokies Flea Market.
Only In East Tennessee
The Great Smoky Mountains are some of the oldest mountains in the world, covering Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina with sweeping landscapes of layered blue peaks. It’s no wonder the region is a popular vacation destination when the natural beauty is as breathtaking as the local attractions are exciting. When planning your getaway to these picturesque mountains, make sure to incorporate some unusual activities just as much as the popular attractions. After all, only the non-touristy pursuits will give you the kinds of experiences you can only find in this unique Appalachian region of Tennessee!