Outdoor Activities In The North Carolina Smokies

Outdoor Activities in the Smoky Mountains

When the Outdoors is as challenging, exciting, varied, and beautiful as it is in the Great Smoky Mountains, it’s just a darn shame to stay inside. Outdoor activities in the Smoky Mountains make for an adventurer’s paradise year round. So grab a paddle and life vest, tighten your spokes, and load up the ATV for your high octane outdoor activities in the Smoky Mountains. Or lace up your hiking boots, strap on your waders, clean your binoculars, maybe pack a pole or two and a picnic, because rest and relaxation in nature is waiting for you in the Smoky Mountains.

Smoky Mountain Outdoor Activities by Seasons:

  • Year Round – Boating, Camping, Gem Mining, Golfing, Hiking, Horseback Riding, Kayaking, Mountain Biking, Sightseeing
  • Spring, Summer, Fall – 4-Wheeling, Rafting, Rock Climbing, Water Skiing
  • Winter – Snow Skiing
  • In season – Fly-Fishing, Hunting, Sport Fishing, Trout Fishing


It’s often said that variety is the spice of life, and if that’s so, then fishing in the Smoky Mountains is extra spicy. Nationally recognized for native and stocked trout, fishermen are happy to explore the many lakes, creeks and rivers that run through the area. Cherokee is a former site of the US National Fly Fishing Championships and offers some of the best fishing in the US. You’ll fall in love with the beautiful freestone streams stocked with trout that flow through Qualla Boundary. Jackson County has a fly-fishing trail that is sure to amaze, considering it was the first of its kind in the country. If that isn’t enough, now Swain County has one too.  Learn more about Fly Fishing here.

Rivers Outfitters in Cherokee and Nantahala and On the Fly in Bryson City have guide services.

Nonresident and resident fishing permits can be purchased online. Special tribal fishing permits can be acquired to fish on the Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians at www.ebcis.sovsportsnet.net.

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Gem Mining

Western North Carolina and, in particular, Macon County has a rich history of gem mining. Today, many gem mines in the region offer a wonderful experience as adults and children sift through locally-mined soil to try and uncover valuable stones. Gold City Gem Mines, Franklin; Jackson Hole Gem Mines, Highlands; Mason’s Ruby and Sapphire Mine, Franklin; Rose Creek Mine, Franklin; Primitive Outback, Otto; Nantahala Gem Mining, Bryson City; and Andy’s Trout Farm, Otto all offer an unforgettable experience.

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Tee off on a challenging par four or mosey the links at your own pace at a North Carolina mountain golf course. Gentle slopes and woods-rimmed fairways beckon pros and amateurs alike to indulge in a relaxing, scenic game at Franklin Golf Course, Sequoyah National Golf Club, Sky Valley Country Club, The Golf Club at Mill Creek and the Ridges Country Club & Event Center.

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Horseback Riding

Whether it’s an all-day ride with a picnic or a shorter excursion, children and adults of all ages will enjoy a guided horseback riding trip through the mountains. To book a trip, check out one of the many operating stables in the Smokies, including Arrowmont Stables & Cabins, Cataloochee Ranch, Chunky Gal Stables, Fontana Village Resort, Smokemont Stables and Walnut Hollow Ranch.

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Get your motorcycle running, and head out on the highways, byways and skyway in the North Carolina Great Smokies. For a winding trip through the mountains, take a tour on The Dragon, which is considered “the destination” for thousands of motorcycle and sports car fans throughout the spring, summer and fall. Along your way, stop by Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort for a bite to eat, shop or a place to stay. Motorcycles are available to rent at Smoky Mountain Steel Horses in Waynesville. Take a tour of antique motorcycles and automobiles at the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley.

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Hiking Trails

One of the most daunting tasks hikers and mountain bikers face while in the North Carolina Great Smokies is choosing what trail to explore. Whether you want short or long, difficult or easy, trees or waterways, there are mountain biking and hiking trails for every adventure, and then more trails on top of that. 

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Mountain Biking Trails

Everyone from beginners to trail shredding experts will find excitement and fun on North Carolina mountain biking trails. Weekend thrill seekers, adventuresome retirees, families with young children, professionals training for competitions, and everyone in between will find exciting, challenging, and, most importantly, fun trails to ride in the Smoky Mountains.

Experience for yourself all the joy, inspiration and heart pounding exhilaration that can be found on Smoky Mountains North Carolina mountain biking trails.

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Rafting and Kayaking

The North Carolina Great Smokies are known for whitewater rafting. Named “One of the Best Outfitters on Earth” by National Geographic Adventure, Nantahala Outdoor Center offers a wide array of adventures for everyone in your group. If you’re looking for tamer, family-friendly river experiences, the Tuckasegee River and the Little Tennessee River are perfect places to get children out on the water. There are plenty of companies that book trips on these rivers, including Smoky Mountain River Adventures in Whittier and Primitive Outback in Otto. For more exciting rafting experiences, check out Brookside, Carolina Outfitters, Rolling Thunder and Wildwater.

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Tubing and Paddleboarding

One of summer’s sweetest pleasures in the North Carolina Smokies is floating along the cool mountain waters. There are many great spots, but among the most popular are Deep Creek Tube Center and Campground outside Bryson City, the Oconaluftee River in Cherokee at moky Mountain Tubing, several spots along the Tuckasegee River from Cullowhee to Dillsboro and the Little Tennessee River in Franklin. No tube? No worries. All four rivers have companies to outfit you with a tube. And if standing while floating is more your thing, try the increasingly popular paddleboarding at the NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center)!

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Zip Lining

If you’ve taken the time to see the forest from the trails, perhaps it’s time to get a bird’s eye view from a zip line. Three popular spots are the Nantahala Outdoor Center, the Wildwater Nantahala Gorge Adventure Center in Wesser and the Highlands Aerial Park at Scaly Mountain can help you plan a memorable zip lining experience.

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