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How to Beat the Summer Heat in the Smoky Mountains

rafting the rapids on the Nantahala

Escape excessive summer heat and instead enjoy cool mountain breezes, and the even cooler waters of the Smokies. Here’s how you can beat the heat on your next summer vacation.

Discover the Highest Peaks

layers of mountain peaks in the smokiesFrom the Smoky Mountains to the Blue Ridge, Western North Carolina has the highest mountain peaks east of the Mississippi River. Atop these mountain ridges you’ll notice the temperature drops considerably compared to the lower valleys.

Clingmans Dome – The highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the North Carolina and Tennessee border. At 6,644 feet in elevation, it’s the region’s second highest peak. As you may know, the Smoky Mountains are rich in Cherokee history. In fact, the Cherokee name of Clingmans Dome is Kuwahi or ᎫᏩᎯ, which translates to “mulberry place.”

Black Balsam Knob – Located in Haywood County, this mountain bald can be accessed from the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 420. It’s the second highest mountain in the Great Balsam Mountains at an elevation of 6,214 feet.

Mount Mitchell — Towering at 6,684 feet above sea level, this mountain is the tallest point in the region. Here you’ll take in the 360-degree view and breathe in the scent of the spruce forest. Even though it may be summer, pack a jacket for your trip to the summit, as you may find yourself in the middle of a cloud once you get there.

Waterfall Hikes

Revel in the awe-inspiring beauty of a mountain waterfall and feel refreshed from the cooling spray. Check out this guide to area waterfalls, including the popular Cullasaja Falls.

Remember, these natural wonders are best observed from below. While some waterfall areas may have wading areas at the base of the falls, you should always obey posted signs and NEVER attempt to climb a waterfall or enter a stream above the falls. Here are some other waterfalls to check out.

Glen Falls – A one-mile steep, rough trail brings you to this triple waterfall, each dropping about 60 feet. Located in the Nantahala National Forest.

Rufus Morgan Falls – Located near Franklin, you’ll take a short walk to these near-vertical 65-foot falls near Wayah Bald.

Yellow Creek Falls – Travel U.S. 129 North of Robbinsville. Go two miles past the Yellow Creek Road intersection and the parking area and trailhead/sign will be on the right. Walk 0.33 miles to falls.

Sliding Rock – Sliding Rock is a 60-foot natural waterslide that dumps into an eight-foot deep pool. There are two observation platforms to take in the beautiful view of Sliding Rock, and it is open year-round (weather and water levels permitting). There is a $5 per person fee required at Sliding Rock.

sliding rock in the pisgah national forestDrift Falls – Also known affectionately as “Bust Yer Butt Falls,” Drift Falls is an 80-ft. slide over bedrock into a deep pool and, in the past, was used by visitors as a natural waterslide. It is one of the many waterfalls along the Horsepasture River in western North Carolina, but it is on private property. You can view the Falls from the edge of the pool without trespassing. You should not enter the pool or attempt to slide down it.

Ice Cream & Craft Beverages

Stroll down the sidewalk in charming Franklin, Sylva, and Waynesville and you’ll find a sweet — and chilly — treat from Jack the Dipper. At Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, Johnny Rockets offers their famous milkshakes.

Enjoy a cold pint of craft beer from a local brewery like Hoppy Trout Brewing Company in Andrews or Franklin’s Lazy Hiker Brewing Company. Or cool off with a cocktail or glass of wine at a local distillery, or winery.

Keep cool while you hunt for buried treasure! Plunge your mined ore into a flume of cold mountain water to sift out the gold or gems hidden inside. There are several gem mines to explore while you’re in the area. This is also a perfect rainy day adventure for the family.

Want to make this adventure even cooler? Combine gem mining with a kayaking or rafting adventure. Nantahala River Gem Mine in Bryson City and Primitive Outback in Otto are two local outfitters that offer river trips as well as gem mining in North Carolina. Kayak or go whitewater rafting and then pan for treasure.

Lakes & Rivers in the Smokies

paddler in the smokiesSplash in the refreshing waters of the many lakes and rivers that make up the Blueways trail through the Western North Carolina Smokies. Each of these offer a fun and scenic way to cool off outdoors.

Lake Santeetlah – This lake offers 76 miles of shoreline and is surrounded by the unspoiled beauty of the Nantahala National Forest.

Tuckasegee River – Most days you can enjoy a lazy float down this river on a tube, raft, canoe, or kayak. It’s also a great river for fly fishing.

Fontana Lake – Perfect for smallmouth bass fishing and boating, this lake offers access to some of the most remote areas of the Smoky Mountains National Park.

Little Tennessee River – Along the southwestern border of the the national park, this river is popular with avid fisherman and boaters. There’s also a greenway along the river bank in Franklin.


Rafting with NOCNothing beats the heat better than watersports! Luckily, there are plenty of water adventures around every corner here in western North Carolina! Be sure to pack your swimsuit and sunscreen because the Great Smoky Mountains are home to many rivers and rapids of all levels!

Whitewater Rafting – Get your adrenaline pumping with a whitewater rafting adventure that’s sure to be fun for the whole family! The Nantahala River – right here in the Great Smoky Mountains – is one of the country’s most popular whitewater rafting destinations! Rafting centers like Brookside Rafting, the Nantahala Outdoor Center, and Carolina Outfitters offer access to everything you need – including guides – for a fun-filled, safe whitewater rafting adventure.

Kayaking – From the Tuckasegee River to the Cheoah River, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in a more leisurely fashion! Kayaking in the Great Smoky Mountains is fun for all ages and skill levels! Visit Primitive Outback, Smoky Mountain River Adventures, or the Nantahala Outdoor Center for kayak rentals, guided trips, and an unforgettable ride!

Tubing – Experience the pleasure and the thrill of floating down a beautiful river on an inner tube! The Nantahala Outdoor Center can help you enjoy a day of tubing with friends or family, with rentals and shuttles available on the Chattahoochee River!

Fly fishing – If remaining on the banks of the river is more your speed, fly fishing is the activity for you! Jackson County, NC’s Trout Capital, is home to the first fly fishing trail in the United States – the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail! This trail takes you to 15 of the best spots for catching brown trout, rainbow trout, and brook!