The Great Smoky Mountains hosts millions of vacationers on an annual basis. Particularly during peak season, crowds are in abundance and waits frequent at restaurants and attractions. However, another side of the Smokies exists for travelers looking for a Smoky Mountain vacation that strays from the norm. Secluded Smoky Mountain cabins, quaint boutiques, delightfully hidden dining, and breathtaking views without the crowds - these are some of the hidden gems of the Smoky Mountains that wait for those who take the time to look for them.
Luckily for those who don't have time to scour for things to do in the Smokies off the beaten path, this list of 12 hidden gems of Smoky Mountains offers a good place to start. But make sure to do some exploring on your own as well. You'll be surprised what unique things to do in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg wait to be discovered on side streets and deep within the rolling hills.
Hidden Gems in The Smoky Mountains- Hikes
Enjoy the hidden gems of the Smoky Mountains at often overlooked hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains. While there are plenty that could have made this list of things to do in the Smokies of the beaten path, here are two particularly secluded, interesting (as well as easy) hiking trails in the Smokies.
- Walkers Sisters Cabin:
Resting in Little Greenbriar, a former Appalachia mountain community resting in a narrow valley carved into the southwestern slope of Cove Mountain, vacationers can access the hidden gems of the Smoky Mountains that are this homestead log cabin, springhouse, and corn crib by either the Cove Mountain Trail from the Sugarlands Visitor Center or the Little Brier Gap Trail from the Metcalf Bottoms picnic area. Here you'll discover historical landmarks in the Smokies that rival those found in Cades Cove and learn about the 5 spinster sisters who inhabited the building until the 1960's, clinging to their mountain traditions.
- White Oak Sinks:
Those looking for things to do in the Smokies off the beaten path will enjoy this 2-mile trail located of the Schoolhouse Gap Trail just past Turkeypen Ridge Trail that appears on no official trail maps of the area. At White Oak Sinks pieces of past history dot the landscape. Bits of rock walls, a collapsed chimney, metal cogs, and more rise from the moss-covered forest floor - hidden gems of the Smoky Mountains that speak of a bygone era. Additionally, caves and holes fill the area, creating a magnificent natural wonder. Waterfalls rush over the ridge and into caves. In the spring, pholx, yellow trillium, lady's slippers, and more wildflowers turn the forest into a colorful painters palette. Even in the heat of summer, hikers can enjoy nature's air-conditioning from the breezes coming from the cave. Stop by this hidden treasure on your way to Cades Cove, and you won't be disappointed.
Hidden Gems of the Smoky Mountains- Local Lunches
Those searching for things to do in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg away from the crowds will appreciate restaurants off the beaten path. While many unique mom-and-pop restaurants can be found in Wears Valley as well as the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community. Here are two unique, healthy eateries in the Smokies vacationers will please your taste buds.
- Wild Plum Tea Room
This Austrian-style tea house will top your list of things to do in the Smokies off the beaten path to discover. With a delectable daily menu with delicious choices such as lobster pie, savory chicken, tomato dill soup, and more, this is the destination for the foodie visiting the Smokies. Additionally, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options allow those with dietary restrictions to enjoy a delicious meal as well. So, swing by this charming restaurant near the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community and enjoy some delicious wild plum tea with your delicate peach schnapps dessert. With unique flavors and service unrivaled by any restaurant on the Parkway, this is one of those hidden gems of the Smoky Mountains you won't want to miss.
- Whole Earth Grocery
Those looking from unique the best things to do in the Smoky Mountains will be pleased with the destination. Besides boasting the best selection of organic, gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan foods in the Smokies (as well as some fragrant handmade soaps), Whole Earth Grocery is great for those looking for a cozy cafe setting and delicious, healthy lunches. Everything is made in-house with fresh ingredients, making for delicious chicken salad sandwiches and potato salad. A crowd favorite is a the flavorful Black Bean burger. When you've finished your meal, make sure to buy some exotic, organic chocolate or all-natural ice cream from the grocery store to finish off your meal.
Hidden Gems of the Smoky Mountains- Unique Shopping
Those looking for more unique Smoky Mountain shopping will enjoy these shops offering hidden gems of the Smoky Mountains that you can bring home as a souvenirs of your memorable vacation.
- Little River Artistry
Even if you don't purchase anything at this workshop in Townsend, make sure to put this on your list of things to do in the Smokies off the beaten path. After passing through Wears Valley, you'll spot this large workshop by the dozens of wooden statues sitting outside. The craftsmanship of these wooden sculptures stands a cut above the rest. Captain Dave and the other artisans (even some hailing from Europe) create stunning, life-like sculptures from chainsaws and hand tools that amaze with their detail and quality. Stare into the eyes of Sasquatch. Touch the scales of a fearsome dragon. The artistic talent displayed at this workshop is one of the hidden gems of the Smoky Mountains.
- Aunt Debbie’s Country Store
Those looking for unique souvenirs to remember the hidden gems of the Smoky Mountains they have visited while on vacation will enjoy a trip to Aunt Debbie's Country Store. Featuring primarily locally made items, many made by the owners, Mike or Debbie themselves, vacationers will love browsing through the selection of woodcrafts, handmade tables, incense, candles, and more housed in the unique gift shop.
Hidden Gems of the Smoky Mountains - Museums
Those looking for education things things to do in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg may wish to visit the Titanic Museum or Wonderworks. However, those looking for museums with less of a crowd and more unique offers will enjoy these hidden gems of the Smoky Mountains
- Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
Gatlinburg's Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum, one of the most unique things to do in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, provides an experience unlike anything in the Smokies. One of only two museums of its kind in the world, the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum houses 20,000 salt and pepper sets and a constantly growing collection owned by Andrea Ludden, who shares her ongoing labor of love with the world at this one-of-a-kind museum! From The Beatles to beets, frogs to fine gold, shakers of all shapes and sizes fill this museum, and you can even buy your own unique shaker sets in the gift shops.
- Floyd Garret Car Museum
Pristine examples of cars from different eras can be found at Floyd Garrett Muscle Car Museum. With 90 muscle cars, worth over $8 million dollars, including Camaros to Hemi Cudas, car enthusiasts will enjoy a trip to this muscle car museum in the Smokies. The owner, Floyd, can often be found at the museum and will answer any questions you may have about his cars. Add this mechanical museum to your list of things to do in the Smokies off the beaten for an educational excursion that everyone will remember.
Hidden Gems of the Smoky Mountains - Sweets
Everyone has a bit of a sweet tooth (whether they'd like to admit it or not). These hidden gems of the Smoky Mountains help you indulge in some sugary secrets of the Smokies.
- Cakes by Bakin' Bishop
Housed in a primitive country house in Wears Valley, this unique bakery is one of the tastiest things to do in the Smokies that rests off the beaten path. The cinnamon rolls, which are made fresh daily and topped with a heaping portion of gooey frosting, are a great way to start you day in the Smokies. Additionally, guest can create their own flavor combinations with cupcakes by choosing what cake and what icing you'd like for your cupcake treat. Some say the best buttercream icing in the Smokies can be found at this bakery, so you might need to make more than one stop during your vacation stay.
- Smoky Mountain Candy Makers
Specializing in delicious taffy wrapped on an old-fashioned taffy wrapping machine built in 1940, vacationers might overlook one of the sweetest hidden gems of the Smoky Mountains as the bright signs and big attractions overshadow this tiny candy shop on the Parkway. Open since 1973, Howard Reagan Sr.'s two sons currently operate the life's work of their father. Try the family's delicious taffy in cotton candy, peach, maple, strawberry, sassafras, watermelon, and many other flavors.
Hidden Gems of the Smoky Mountains - Views
As sun sets on your tour of unique things to do in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, you may want to find a place to enjoy a striking view. Here are two locations that provide quality sunsets without the crowds.
- Look Rock at Foothills Parkway
The view from Look Rock Observation Tower is outstanding. Follow the signs to the trail head on the west side of the Parkway, then take the trail up to the service road, turning left on the road to reach the tower. The trail is an easy half mile hike, with asphalt paving most of the way. Once you reach the observation deck you'll spy Gregory Bald, Thunderhead, and Clingman's Dome in the distance.
- Gatlinburg Bypass
This 3.8-mile-long bypass of US-441 provides a picturesque view of the Gatlinburg from a high ridge. There are plenty of overlooks to enjoy the breathtaking surrounding landscape at any time of day during any seasons. However, sunsets in autumn set the hills ablaze in a warm light.
In reality, this only scratches the surface of all the great things to do and see in the Smoky Mountains. We encourage our guests to take time to explore this beautiful region and find their own unique memories they can treasure forever.
One of the best ways to explore the Great Smoky Mountains in depth is to stay for a while. So why not book a log cabin for a weeklong stay in the Smokies? Start planning your adventure today!
Written by Brittany Tipton