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Great Smoky Mountain Vacations | Clingmans Dome and Other Attractions

Updated on October 9, 2014
The Great Smoky Mountains
The Great Smoky Mountains

Next time you are looking for a vacation destination for your family, consider a trip that is more of an adventure than an activity. Consider taking the trek to the Great Smoky Mountains outside of Gatlinburg, TN. With it's mixture of man made and natural attractions, there are few places that offer more to do for a family looking for fun.

Wahoo Ziplines in Sevierville
Wahoo Ziplines in Sevierville

Which of these adrenaline sports is tops on your bucket list?

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Over the past decade in America, ziplining has gone from being unknown, to something that now seems to be everywhere. The activity gained popularity in Central America as eco-tourists would sail among the tops of rain forests breathing in the rarefied humid air. These days, the activity can even be found at theme hotels where a single line or two transports participants from one floor to another. In a word- boring.

Personally, my feeling is that if you are going to do ziplining you need to 'go big or go home'. Experience this activity for what it was meant for. An adrenaline rush among breathtaking scenery. Luckily, the Smoky Mountain area is perfectly suited to this purpose. The hills, valleys, and large swaths of forest lend themselves to a perfect topology.

I took my children to a local company that had a good reputation for quality, safety, and scenery- the appropriately named Wahoo Ziplines in Sevierville. Participants are given appropriate equipment and a lesson on how to navigate the course before being sent into the wild.

As you are taken out to the first run make sure to take a big breath. As you stand on the platform you will be in awe of the length of the run. If you look far below you will see the treetops. Yes, you are far far above the treetops! In the far distance you will see the landing platform which looks tiny. You are being thrown into the process head first!

It may take a bit of guts to take the first step off, but once you do the feeling is incredible. Sailing through the air without a bit of effort has to be equatable to being in flight. Granted, the noise of the zipline churning you down takes away from the serenity a bit, but it none-the-less is an experience that everyone should have.

Make sure you prepare the kids beforehand, as it can be overwhelming at first, especially considering how high up the first run is. The good news is that once they do it once they will not be able to get enough. It will be a fight to see who goes first on the proceeding lines.

Pigeon River Rafting
Pigeon River Rafting

Whitewater Rafting

Whitewater rafting has a rating system, there are six classes ranging from Grade One to Grade Six. The former involves slight rough areas that may involve some maneuvering, to the latter which is considered so dangerous that injury and death are highly likely for the inexperienced participant. The Pigeon River which runs through the Smokies offers trips that go from a class one to a class four.

Do you crave an activity where there is little to no likelihood of your kids mentioning their boredom? Take them on a tour with one of the many whitewater rafting outfits that operate out of this area. Push the adrenaline up a bit by picking the higher end tours that take you down class three and four rapids. These straddle the line between being safe, yet somehow dangerous enough to get the adrenaline pumping.

As you prepare to depart you will be issued the standard equipment, a paddle, a helmet, and a padded life jacket. You will be assigned a tour guide who will be with you in the raft to help avoid injury as you navigate through the rapids. Make no mistake, this guide cannot get you through the rapids alone. It will take the effort of you and your family to make sure you get through the trip safely, and that is what makes it fun.

There are a few reasons why you want to take your family on a whitewater rafting trip. First, it is a great bonding experience. You cannot be an inactive participant. There is no time to be bored. Another reason is because at one point or another you will get an adrenaline rush, which is the feeling you get to let you know you are truly alive. The third reason is because of the beauty of the area. Looking up at the mountains as you rush down the whitecap crested water is an experience worth the effort.

One note: they will take your picture over one of the biggest rapids and offer to sell it to you. It admittedly is usually a very good photo that you could not take yourself. However, if you want to avoid the cost I would recommend you bring a waterproof camera.

Appalachian Trail Hiking
Appalachian Trail Hiking

The Appalachian Trail

For anyone who have ever taken time to hike a nature trail in America, this is the granddaddy of them all. The Appalachian Trail runs from Maine to Georgia, traversing over 2,200 miles of the mountain range it is named after. While few of us will ever have the time, energy, or motivation to manage it's entire length, all of us should as least put a few footprints down on this hallowed ground.

Luckily, you have the opportunity to do this at many areas around the park. One of the most popular is picking up the trail just down from Clingman's Dome, but there are lower elevation entry points also.

For the kids, hiking isn't always the most thrilling experience, but depending on their age it may be easy to convince them to at least take a short hike. Many have heard of the trail through history classes and how cool would it be for them to be able to flaunt their experience the next time the textbooks turned to the Appalachians?

Clingman's Dome
Clingman's Dome

Great Smoky Mountains Clingman's Dome

Have an interest in visiting the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains? Grab your jacket and head on up to Clingman's Dome at 6,634 feet. The car ride up will take you past gorgeous scenery along with a few other places to pique your curiosity.

Before you start the seven mile drive up on Clingmans Dome Road you will pass a large parking lot that has a couple points of interest and picture opportunities. You will be able to place one foot in Tennessee and the other in North Carolina as you straddle the state border. In addition, you will find the Appalachian Trail has an entrance right off the road. For those wanting to traverse it for the simple sake of putting in on their "been there" list, this is a great opportunity. There is also a sign marking the spot which makes for a good snapshot.

As you start the drive up to Clingmans Dome you will find the temperature dropping precipitously. Variations of between 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit are not uncommon. You will start to notice a slight variation also in the tree cover also, with Spruce and Fir becoming more dominant as you reach the top. Because of the altitude this area is actually classified as a coniferous rainforest.

Once you reach the parking area you can already see for miles, but this is not the end of the journey. From this point you now have a half mile trek to the top of the observation tower. With the air already being thin, this will take a bit of effort, but nothing a healthy person cannot tackle. Signs warning of bear activity in the area are posted, which helps to accelerate the feeling of being in a wild place. City kids especially will love these warnings and frequently will want to get their picture taken next to them to show their friends on social media.

The Tower has a medium grade path that sweeps up to the top of the observation area. As you finally make it to the top you will be presented with a 360 degree of the surrounding mountains. Unfortunately, pollution limits the extent of what you could see on a perfectly clear day, but if you happen to be there on a good day the views are breathtaking.

Again, even if it is a sunny warm day it may not be the same at the top. Bring a jacket along with a good camera.

Dollywood in Pigeon Forge
Dollywood in Pigeon Forge
gatlinburg, tn:
Gatlinburg, TN, USA

get directions


What vacation with kids is complete without the classic thrill of an amusement park? Pigeon Forge is happy to oblige with 'Dollywood', a destination founded by one of the areas most famous residents- Dolly Parton.

The park itself is pleasantly clean and scenic. Much thought has been put into making the park scenery blend with the surrounding environment. Activities relating to life in the Smoky Mountain region are plentiful, along with rides that both kids and adults alike can enjoy.

My family and I have become connoisseurs of roller coasters over the years and this park holds one that we still consider to one of our favorites. While it is not the tallest or fastest coaster out there, the Mystery Mine still holds a place in our hearts for the thrill it provides. Take a ride into the darkness of an abandoned coal mine and be totally unprepared for what happens before you take a 95 degree drop into total darkness. Most coasters will offer a picture afterward of your reaction at the most intense point on the ride, and the Mystery Mine is no different. The combination of the drop and the surprise at the top makes for a good snapshot.

If it happens to be a hot Summer day and you want to concentrate on water activities, head over to Splash Falls, a water adventure park. Kids will love everything from surfing in the wave pool to flying down a four story water coaster.

If you go, make sure to look for package deals with local hotels, or take advantage of the specials posted on their website. Sign up for the email alerts a few months before to open the possibility for more discounts.


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      What a great vacation spot! Thanks for the article and pics. Voted up!

    • JustLivingOnline profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Madison, WI

      It's a great area that many people don't always think of. I am headed to California in a few weeks and can't wait to take it all in!

    • Availiasvision profile image

      Jennifer Arnett 

      4 years ago from California

      Welcome to HubPages! I had the opportunity to raft through the Smokies and see it as one my life's most favorite experiences. Your descriptions of Dollywood and The Appalachian trail have given me the travel bug.


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