8 Must-Dos in the Smoky Mountains

From deep-woods yoga to synchronous fireflies, there’s something to light up every type of traveler. Go beyond the theme parks and pack your mountain getaway with these unique experiences.
Related To:

Photo By: Heather Anne Thomas

Photo By: Kreis Beall & Heather Anne Thomas; beall and thomas 8656816128

Photo By: Bob Hasentufel - BobFilms

Photo By: Kathleen Rellihan

Photo By: Sugarlands Distilling Company

Photo By: Putt Sakdhnagool

Photo By: Wheninusa

Photo By: Picasa

Photo By: iStockphoto.com/kellyvandellen

Treat Yourself at Blackberry Farm

There’s no roughing it at Blackberry Farm, a luxury inn nestled in the Smoky Mountains. With more than 9,200 acres of rolling pastures and sweeping mountain views, Blackberry’s attention to service and artisanal farm-to-table cuisine continue to rank it among the best small luxury resorts in the world. Blackberry caters to foodies with their numerous culinary-focused activities, including chef lessons, truffle-hutting, and whiskey-tastings. 

Treat Yourself at Blackberry Farm

Hike off all those calories from the resort’s signature Foothills Cuisine – an inventive mix of fine dining and down South specialties – on the property’s more than nine miles of hiking trails. Or go for a detoxing “forest bath” with Blackberry’s deep-woods yoga and meditation classes, the ultimate way to connect to Mother Nature. 

Go Behind the Beans at Bush’s Museum

Smoky Mountains’ most iconic food? Baked beans, of course. Don’t miss a visit to the Bush’s Baked Bean Museum in Chestnut Hill, Tenn., to learn how this family-run company has grown from its 1908 beginnings. Not only will you learn the history behind the canning of baked beans with interactive videos and displays (you can even learn your weight in beans!), but you’ll be able to try Bush’s Family Cafe’s home-style Southern specialties. We couldn’t get over the Pinto Bean Pie, a protein-packed sweet/savory dessert that is worth a trip to the Smokies alone. 

Ghost Tour at Wheatlands Plantation

Somebody call the Ghost Adventures crew…Wheatlands Plantation, an 1820-antebellum mansion in Sevierville, Tenn., is believed to be haunted by its gruesome past—over 70 murders and deaths, some from Revolutionary and Civil War battles, an estimate of 28 Cherokees massacred in the Battle of Boyd’s Creek are buried in a mass grave on the plantation, as well as around 70 slaves. The original Chandler family still runs the property and hopes to bring its stories back to life with history tours and ghost walks. While several paranormal shows have investigated the property with televised ghost hunts, Wheatlands remains off the tourist track for now.

Sip Some ‘Shine at Sugarlands Distillery

You can’t visit the Smoky Mountains without throwing back some good ole Tennessee moonshine. Housed in a 10,000-square-foot barn-house in downtown Gatlinburg, Sugarlands Distillery offers visitors a behind-the-scenes tour of its age-old craft moonshine and whiskey production and free samples of its award-winning Sugarlands Shine. Sugarlands makes their high-proof spirits a bit easier to go down than in Prohibition days with flavors like Appalachian Apple Pie, Butterscotch Gold and Tickle’s Dynamite Cinnamon, which are also available in mason jars to take home. 

Marvel at Synchronous Lightning Bugs

Everyone knows about the spectacular fall foliage in the Smokies, but there is another natural phenomenon that caught our attention – synchronous lightning bugs. There’s only a short window of opportunity to catch this light show from the fireflies’ mating routine; it occurs every year around the third week of May to the third week in June, according to National Park Service. Small group travel outfitter Smoky Mountain Guides offers a “glampout” experience, including a four-course meal cooked by a personal chef on location and a guided hike to view the firefly show.

Bike Breathtaking Cades Cove

There’s no shortage of well-trodden hikes in the Smokies, but there’s also great cycling paths. Bikers of all abilities can cycle Cades Cove 11-mile paved loop road, which is closed to motor vehicles every Saturday and Wednesday morning until 10 a.m. from early May until late September. You can still bike this somewhat steep-at-times loop during other times, but you’ll be sharing the loop with motorists. Don’t worry if you can’t bring your own bike; you can rent a bike at the Cades Cove Campground Store, but be forewarned these bikes are pretty basic.

Get Wild at Smoky Mountain Deer Farm and Exotic Petting Zoo

Avoid the theme park crowds, while still getting to see natural entertainers at Smoky Mountain Deer Farm and Exotic Petting Zoo. Opened in 1989, this petting zoo doesn’t cater to just the kiddies, in fact, the owners reported that their visitors in 2014 were 71 percent adults. Animal lovers of all ages can interact with over 250 animals on exhibit, including over 100 deer of four different species. Don't miss the more exotic, but friendly animals like camels, kangaroos, Rocky Mountain elk, miniature horses, and perhaps the most intriguing of them all, zonkies. Yes, that would be half-zebra half-donkey. Who needs a dinner show with this act?

Unplug at Rustic Le Conte Lodge

Looking for a true rustic cabin experience? It doesn’t get any more authentic than Le Conte Lodge, the only accommodation choice besides camping inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Sitting at the high elevation of 6,593 feet, Le Conte attracts outdoors lovers who prefer to be surrounded by silence deep in the woods. There’s no electricity – just the basics with kerosene lamp-lit rough-hewn cabins and wash basins for sponge baths. And the adventure starts even before you arrive – the only way to get to Le Conte is by foot via five hiking routes leading to Mt. Le Conte summit.