20 Ideas for the Perfect Day Trip to the Smokies

Head to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee where you’re never short of awesome attractions that make for a perfect day trip to the Smokies!  Our area is especially perfect for day trips, too, as we are within a day’s drive of 2/3’s of the US population!! So, to help you plan the perfect day trip, we’ve collected these 20 ideas to help you plan a perfect Great Smoky Mountains Vacation.

1. Take a Family Hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Taking the family on a relaxing hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the best day trips you can have in our area. With over 800 miles of hiking trails in the park, you’ll never run out of options for easy day-hikes. If you’re looking for the perfect trails to tackle, be sure to check out our article, 5 Smoky Mountain Hikes That Are Perfect for Families.

If you want some more tips and some gear for your hike, you have to stop by Hikey Mikey in the Old Mill District. They can help you find the perfect trail and provide you with all the gear you need for a fun and safe expedition.

If you’re looking for more direction in your hike, you can also enjoy a guided hike with a company. Taking a guided hike is awesome if you want more in-depth information about the many trails lining the national park. Guided hikes are also perfect for kids, as the guides will give you a first-hand view into the flora and fauna of the park with their expert instruction. For guided hikes in our area, check out A Walk in the Woods.  They provide expert guides, in-depth tours, and views off-the beaten path of the trails in our area.

2. Rent a UTV from Mtn Trax

You can rent street-legal UTVs from Mtn Trax in Townsend for a great day trip

Renting a street-legal UTV from Mtn Trax is an amazing way to spend a day. There’s no better way to cruise through the Smokies. You’ll feel closely connected to nature as you speed down the mountain roads connecting the park. It’s also an amazing way to explore the park without putting miles on your car or worrying about the rocky, muddy, or steep terrain you’re sure to face while driving through mountain back-roads.  Also be sure to stop by and see number 7 on this list.

3. Rent a Cabin for a Relaxing Weekend

You can escape the hustle and bustle of daily life by renting a cabin in the Smokies

If you’re looking for a relaxing stay in the mountains, it’s easy to get away with a cabin or chalet in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg. Staying at a cabin for a night is an easy day trip that will help you and the kids disconnect from the rigors of daily life, and spend time together. From mountain views to streams and rivers, to wildlife sightings, you’re definitely going to love your cabin stay! Many cabin rentals also offer great amenities like cable TV and WiFi, so you don’t have to worry about “roughing it.” If you’re looking for some help in deciding what cabin company to stay with, be sure to check out the cabin listings on our website.

4. Visit The Island in Pigeon Forge

With all the fun things to do, going to the Island is a day trip in itself

There’s a reason is one of the most visited attractions in our area. With free music and moonshine tastings at Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery, beautiful scenery with the dancing fountain and Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, and the plethora of events regularly hosted at the Island, there’s plenty to do without spending a dime.

Beyond the free options, you can enjoy shopping at one of the dozens of specialty shops at the location, or eat at one of the many unique restaurants found at The Island. There’s also so many fun activities you can enjoy there, like the multi-story ropes course or the full-scale arcade found on-site. You can sincerely spend an entire day at The Island, and still have more to do, making it the perfect spot for a day trip to the Smokies.

5. Dollywood

From thrilling roller coasters to getting soaked on the Rover rampage, spend a day at Dollywood Theme Park! Wit some of the top roller coasters in the country like Wild Eagle, Lightning Rod, and Mystery Mine, there’s a perfect coaster for everyone to enjoy! If fly by the seat of your pants doesn’t get you excited, there is so much more to do. Catch a live show at one of the many theaters inside the park. They’re free and change throughout the year. There is also plenty of shopping, ad even more feasting! You’ll never go hungry at Dollywood, and be sure to grab kettle corn for the ride home! 

6. Take an Off-Road UTV or ATV Tour

You can have an amazing day trip by taking an off-road UTV tour in the Smokies

One of the most exciting day trip adventures you can have is taking an off-road UTV or ATV tour through the Smoky Mountains. Its amazing way to feel like you’re on a real adventure and to see unforgettable views. We are lucky here in the Smokies to have several companies that offer this type of experience.

Smoky Mountain Adventure Tours, located in Cosby, TN, takes you on an adventure up a mountainside and along historic trails! You’re guaranteed to see breathtaking views and will be impressed by the knowledge and foresight of the guide as you explore the mountainside. Plus you’re in the driver’s seat!

In addition to offering street-legal UTV rentals, Mtn Trax also offers a guided UTV tour  through private property in the Great Smoky Mountains. On the tour you’ll transverse streams, mud bogs, and mountainsides while driving your own UTV. There’s nothing like getting soaked by the “car wash” or catching beautiful mountain views along the way!

Bluff Mountain Adventures offers a one-of-a-kind off-road experience with an ATV tour you’ll never forget. Catching views of Bluff Mountain while driving through streams and over mountainsides on your own ATV makes for a perfect day trip!

7. See the Swinging Bridge in Townsend, TN

An easy and fun day trip for the family is visiting the little-known swinging bridge in Townsend, TN. It’s a simple thing to visit, but an increasingly popular destination! Definitely a fun stop for a day trip with the family! Only one side of the swinging bridge is actually on public land, so you’ll have to go across, turn around, and come back, but it’s 100% worth a day trip to check out this unique hidden gem.

8. Experience Ober Gatlinburg

Have an entire day of fun at Ober Gatlinburg

Ober Gatlinburg isn’t just for winter adventures. With amazing attractions, food court, a wildlife zoo, water rides, and indoor ice skating to enjoy. You can’t forget the famous aerial tramway! There’s no shortage of fun things to do during a day trip to Ober Gatlinburg. In particular, you have to check out the Ski Mountain Coaster, the Alpine Slide, and the scenic chairlift!

9. Spend a Day at the Wilderness in the Smokies Indoor Waterpark

The Waterpark at Wilderness of the Smokies is an awesome day trip!

Wilderness at the Smokies Resort is home to the largest indoor waterpark in the Smokies! They also have two additional outdoor waterparks that are open seasonally. At the indoor waterpark, you’ll find a 10,000 square foot wave pool and the Southeast’s only Surf Rider. You’ll also get to enjoy a spacious indoor/outdoor hot tub, waterslides for all ages, the Wild Waterdome (the huge funnel we’ve all seen from the Parkway), a 750-gallon bucket drop, and so much more! The waterparks at Wilderness are the perfect destination for the kids to enjoy a final hurrah before school starts!

10. Ride in a Bi-Plane with Sky High Air Tours

Taking a sky tour with Sky High Air Tours is a great day trip to the Smokies


Taking an air tour with Sky High Air Tours is the closest you can come to feeling like you are really flying! The wind in your hair, the roar of the engine, and the views of the mountains will leave you breathless! Plus, with expert pilot Marc Hightower behind the stick of this historic plane, you can rest easy. This tour is definitely an amazing day trip for anyone wanting a bird’s eye view of the Smokies. Just give Sky High Air Tours a call or stop by the Gatlinburg / Pigeon Forge Airport for your tour!

11. Take a Day Trip to the Old Mill District

Visit the Old Mill on a day trip

The Old Mill is one of the most famous areas of Pigeon Forge. As the site of the original forge for which the town earned its name, this is the only site in Pigeon Forge registered with the National Registry of Historic Places. Aside from being a beautiful free space to enjoy, there’s plenty to check out here. There are tons of shops, restaurants, and sights to see throughout the district. You can grab lunch at the Old Mill Restaurant, see handcrafted pottery, taste handmade ice cream, see a working traditional forge, or even try free moonshine samples at the Old Forge Distillery!

If you prefer, can just sit back and enjoy yourself by the river! Feed geese and ducks, or you can sit in the beautiful gazebo located in the center of the district. Whatever you do, there’s plenty of ways to spend a day taking in all the Old Mill has to offer!

12. Visit the Hollywood Wax Entertainment Center

Hollywood Wax Museum

This is an amazing destination for a day trip to Pigeon Forge. Not only is it home to one of the most impressive wax museums in the Southeast, frequently visited by Hollywood stars, but it offers a wide variety of unique attractions. You can brave the complex Hannah’s Mirror Maze to save a trapped princess, or shoot rats, bats, and demons in the world’s first 5D adventure. You can even take a stand against hordes of zombies at Outbreak, a thrilling haunted walk through a biotech lab! There’s so many things to do, it will be easy to spend an entire day here.

13. Go on a Zipline Tour

A Zipline Tour makes for a perfect day trip

With most zipline tours lasting between one and three hours, taking the family on a zipline tour is an awesome way to spend the day! Your kids will be sure to make their friends jealous when they tell the tale of their canopy adventure! Even if you have a slight fear of heights you can relax in the extensive safety protocols held at each company. There are lots of amazing companies in and around Pigeon Forge ready to offer the perfect zip lining experience!  Be sure to visit the outdoor adventures section of our website for more info.

14. Explore Wonderworks Museum of the Mind

Wonderworks is a great location for a day trip

Otherwise known as “that upside down house,” there’s so much to explore when you and your family visit Wondeworks! This interactive museum of the mind does a fantastic job of integrating an unforgettably fun experience with educational exhibits. Your kids are guaranteed to enjoy themselves as they explore the interactive exhibits and fantastic attractions. From a Tesla Coil to an indoor ropes course, the only problem you’ll have during a trip to Wonderworks is not being able to see everything in just one day!

15. Take in a Game With the Tennessee Smokies

Some of the best childhood memories many of us have are enjoying a baseball game with our families. It’s not too late to catch a Smokies game with the kids before school starts! The Smokies have regular games that make it easy to attend when it’s convenient for you. You can enjoy delicious stadium food, including popcorn from the official popcorn source of the Smokies, Smoky Mountain Popcorn! Adults can also grab an ice cold beer to enjoy on these warm nights. Taking in a Smokies game is a great way to kick off the school year, and is a day trip that is sure to foster family memories.


16. Take a Scenic Drive Through the Mountains

Sunset over mountains and fog from Clingman's Dome Observation Tower in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee.


Taking a scenic drive through the Great Smoky Mountains makes for an amazing (and free) day trip for your family! There are plenty of scenic drives throughout the park, complete with overlooks for awesome family photos and unforgettable experiences. Enjoy the lush spring and summer views or the autumn colors bloom! Don’t worry about your kids getting restless, either. With the beautiful views, twists and turns, and high chances of seeing some wildlife, your kids will be encapsulated by the beauty of the mountains. Looking for some ideas on different scenic drives in our area? Check out our article, Scenic Car Rides in the Smoky Mountains.


17. Go Camping at a Pigeon Forge Campground or RV Park

Pigeon River Campground

With the heat of summer winding down and school around the corner, a camping day trip is a great way to connect with your kids while disconnecting them from the many devices that rule our lives in this modern world. The Smokies are full of amazing campsites that offer tons of activities for the kids and a relaxing experience for you. You can go camping at a regular campsite, or, if you own an RV, you can enjoy an outdoor luxury experience at a full-service RV park. Check out our RV Parks here


18. Go Whitewater Rafting

White water rafting is a great day trip for the kids


Pigeon Forge and the Smokies are one of the top destinations for whitewater rafting in the country! You and your kids will treasure the adventure you have rafting down the Pigeon River. For people looking for a thrilling experience, you can raft down the Upper Pigeon River with one of the amazing companies offering whitewater rafting tours. For a more relaxing experience that’s friendly for small children and the elderly, you can also enjoy a calm float down the Lower Pigeon River. With most trips lasting between 2 and 3 hours, whitewater rafting is a great day trip for the family. You’re even in for a scenic drive on your way to the drop off point! Check out Rafting in the Smokies as one of the premier rafting destinations that offers ziplining, climbing, and ropes course!


19. Enjoy an Unforgettable Evening with Tennessee Riverboat

The Tennessee Riverboat is a beautiful way to spend a day trip


The “Star of Knoxville” is an East Tennessee treasure! Spending a night on the Tennessee Riverboat gives you a luxurious and unique experience you won’t forget, and is an awesome day trip. You enjoy a mouth-watering buffet complete with authentic Southern cooking alongside a full-service bar. This Mississippi-style paddle wheeler can easily carry 245 passengers down the Tennessee River, letting you enjoy the skyline of Knoxville in luxury. In addition to the delicious food, you’ll get to enjoy live entertainment as well! They offer a variety of cruises, including Historical Sightseeing, Lunch and Dinner Cruises, Late Night Cruises, Murder Mystery Cruises, and is the perfect locale for any event!


20. Have an Awesome Day at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

There's plenty to check out on a day trip to Ripley's Aquarium


Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is a landmark of family fun here in the Smoky Mountains. You and the kids will be amazed by the displays and creatures you can discover at the aquarium. You can check out a real coral reef, see sharks up close and personal on their 340-foot long underwater tunnel, complete with a moving pathway, or have fun with penguins at Penguin Playhouse. The aquarium offers tons of interactive experiences and live shows, as well. The summer is a special time to visit, as it’s the only time of year you can catch the Mermaid Show! Your kids will be able to spend hours just enjoying the indoor playground, but with all the amazing things to do at Ripley’s, you may have to come back for a second day trip!



Thank you for checking out our 20 ideas for a perfect Great Smoky Mountain Vacation! Do you have any other ideas for a great day trip? Let us know on Facebook! Did you try any of these experiences? We want to hear from you!

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