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Quintessential Summer Adventures in the Great Smoky Mountains

Girls rafting the whitewater at Nantahala Outdoor Center.

Summer adventures in the Great Smoky Mountains offer something for everyone. Spend your summer vacation exploring the quieter side of the Smokies. Take a breathtaking hike, chase waterfalls, spot wildlife and soak in some of the most beautiful views you will find on this great big Earth!

Whether your vacation is a solo escape, a couple’s retreat, a friend reunion, or a family visit, you’ll find fun times for everyone and create wonderful memories in the Great Smokies.

Dry Falls in Highlands NC

Top 20 Summer Adventures & Explorations in the Smoky Mountains

Experience the Smokies by exploring each mountain town, and the surrounding natural beauty and adventures. Here are just a few of the fun ways to make the most of your visits.

  1. Test your luck at Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino.
  2. Take a drive on some truly iconic roadways like the Cherohala Skyway and the Tail of the Dragon,
  3. Raft or tube on the Hiwassee River.  There’s no wrong choice here.  Go ENJOY!
  4. Take a scenic waterfall cruise around Lake Glenville on a pontoon yacht.
  5.  Get a natural battery recharge with some forest therapy through a professionally guided forest walk?
  6. Go out on a limb and try ziplining in the Nantahala Gorge, with the Wildwater Nantahala Gorge Adventure Center. From treetop to treetop, this will be an experience you will not forget!
  7. Take a super easy and fun hike with a big payoff at Franklin’s Wayah Bald. This is a must-do! On a clear day, which are thankfully abundant in the summertime in the Great Smoky Mountains, you can see as far as Tennessee and Georgia! 
  8. Go on a gem hunt in Macon County. The Gem Mining here is tremendous and plentiful and that’s how it got its nickname, “The Gem Capital of the World”!
  9. Explore the mountains on horseback. Take a guided, day-long trail ride through the Nantahala National Forest with Chunky Gal Stables.
  10. Enjoy the tranquility of Lake Chatuge, a true treasure of Hayesville. Here you’ll find three separate boat ramps, making it ideal for boating and water activities. The 7,200 acres of lake, scenic coves and 133 miles of shoreline will not disappoint.
  11. Treat yourself like outdoor royalty with a private, luxury eco-tour with Cataloochee Valley Tours. Late May through the end of October, you can book your ‘best kept secret in the Smokies’ and ‘one of the best safaris in the USA’!  No kidding. Check it out. 
  12. And while you’re treating yourself, The Swag may be the perfect spot to stay and dine… But only if you’re into authentic hospitality with epic natural beauty.
  13. Experience days of fun with guided whitewater tours, paddling lessons, and zipline adventures at the NOC in Bryson City.
  14. Enjoy the silence at Lake Fontana in Swain County, one of the most beautiful in the area with its crystal blue waters, stunning scenery and remote solitude.
  15. Get your cameras ready to capture the scenic beauty of the Smokies aboard the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Departing from Bryson City, this adventure will have you rumbling through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Nantahala National Forest.   
  16. Explore the Great Smokies on a mountain bike ride or ridgeline hike at Tsali in Robbinsville. And the Tsali Recreation Area has a campground that’s open all summer long.  Stay and play! 
  17. Hug gigantic old-growth trees at Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. This is a special place to explore in Graham County.
  18. Explore the backcountry wilderness of the Smokies with an UTV or Jeep Safari adventure with Scenic Tours and Adventures out of Maggie Valley.
  19. Travel along the Waterfall Scenic Byway to discover more than 200 beautiful waterfalls.
  20. Take a trip back in time to the 1800’s to see what life was like for the Cherokee in the North Carolina mountains at the Oconaluftee Indian Village.