4 Options for Celebrating 2018 New Years in the Smokies

New Years Eve

Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg both have spectacular fireworks and activities for celebrating New Year’s, 2018. Whether you’re alone, with your family, or with friends, there is something for everyone. We’ve picked out four options to check out if you want to spend New Year’s here in the Smokies.

Gatlinburg New Year’s Eve Ball Drop and Fireworks Show

This annual event (and one of the largest in the nation) attracts quite a crowd—nearly 50,000 people! The 400-foot tall Space Needle sets the stage for an exciting light and pyrotechnic show, synchronized with sound provided by Gatlinburg Entertainment Group. The show is located at the intersection of Parkway and the Historic Nature Trail. Learn more on the website.

The Island in Pigeon Forge New Year’s Eve Celebration

Starting at 8 p.m. on December 31, 2017, at The Island, you can enjoy the festivities of their annual New Year’s Eve Celebration. Q100 County presents headliner Raelynn, performing at 11 p.m. Games and prizes will be offered through the night with a beautiful fireworks display finishing off the event at midnight. Learn more on the website.

Titanic Museum Kids “Noon” Year’s Eve in Pigeon Forge

Do you have kids that you don’t want staying up late? Maybe they just don’t have the energy. Well, the Titanic Museum has a unique event just for kids on December 31, 2017. They can “ring in the New Year” a little early and celebrate with a balloon drop, a visit from Alice in Wonderland, and the Mad Hatter. This is a separate ticketed event and PJs are welcome. Call 1 (800) 381-7670 to get tickets.

Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort Midnight Dance Party

If you prefer a more intimate setting for celebrating New Year’s, Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa offers three packages specific for New Year’s. Each provides access to the Midnight Dance Party and celebratory midnight toast. The base package, dubbed the “Blue Package,” allows entry to the party at 10 p.m. The Silver Package has a family celebration from 7:30 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. with hors-d’oeuvres and admission to the party at 8 p.m. The Gold Package provides a buffet dinner (either 6 p.m. or 8 p.m.) and 8:30 p.m. access to the party. More information is available on their website.

Keep following the Rafting in the Smokies blog for more events throughout the year, and more ways to get your fun on during the white water rafting off-season.

Scenic Mountain Drives near Rafting in the Smokies

Deals Gap Road

Photo by minxx (Flickr)

Sometimes you want to see the beauty of the mountains from the comfort of your vehicle. The natural mountain ranges around Rafting in the Smokies offer exceptional views and majestic surroundings. Whether you’re planning on driving or riding through on your motorcycle, we’ve picked out some stunning scenic and fun drives to check out.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Slow down and take your time to enjoy the beauty of the forest and the legacy of the land through historic buildings that pop up along the route. You can access the trail from light #8 near Gatlinburg. Just follow the Nature Trail Road to the Cherokee Orchard entrance. The looping road covers 5.5 miles and allows you to view mountain streams, preserved cabins and mills, and (if you want to get out of your vehicle) take a walking tour. While it’s not open in winter, the Roaring Fork Motor Trail is one of the most popular drives in the Smokies.

The Rattler

This loop covers 98 miles (or 36 miles one-way) and will take you through several hundred twists, turns, and curves. Pick up NC-209 from Exit 104 of the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway (US-74) near Lake Junaluska. Follow it north until it ends at Hot Springs, NC. This hour-long drive has its own website—it’s that popular! You’ll be able to view streams, valleys, and forested areas. Don’t forget to take advantage of the unpaved overlooks for picturesque photo opportunities.

Deals Gap (US-129)

From Townsend to the Foothills Parkway, this is a very curvy road, dubbed the “Tail of the Dragon.” There are 318 curves in only 11 miles. It also has a dedicated website for fans and visitors, which includes maps. This road is a motorcycle hotspot due to the turns, but not for the general tourist looking for some spots to sightsee. Along this road you’ll drive across the bridge near the Cheoah Dam, a backdrop for the movie The Fugitive starring Harrison Ford.

Upper Tremont Road

Drive from Townsend into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, turn right towards Cades Cove, then left at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute sign. It’s a lovely low-key driving spot that doesn’t encounter many tourists, but offers an eternal beauty. If you’re looking for a drive that provides pull-offs to picnic, this stretch of road has a few areas that are perfect if you bring along a few lawn chairs and a pop-up table. It’s a short stretch of road, but a wonderful selection if you want to immerse yourself in the forest.

In addition to the locations listed above, we can’t speak enough about the Foothills Parkway that you drive along in order to get to Rafting in the Smokies from Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg. It offers both a beautiful drive and plenty of photo opportunities.


Wildlife Native to the Smoky Mountains Area

Wild Elk

While rafting with Rafting in the Smokies, your guides might draw your attention to some of the wildlife that can be seen from the river. You might see a passing crane, a family of turtles, or perhaps a bear or deer near the shoreline. The Smoky Mountain area is home to a wide variety of wildlife. Here are some that call the Smokies home.

Black Bear

Did you know that the black bears in the Smokies hibernate? They sleep for long periods of time, sometimes coming out if there are warming trends, and have their babies during this time. With two per square mile (and 1,500 in the whole park), don’t be surprised if you see a black bear. You can learn more about these fascinating inhabitants of the area by reading more about them at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website.


Even more massive than a black bear is elk, yet the black bear is the elk’s main predator. They come out in the early morning and late evening or when there is a lot of cloud cover in the area or around times when storms roll in. About an hour’s drive south to the open areas of Cataloochee is the best place for viewing elk. You can take I-40 from Hartford down to North Carolina and take exit 20 to Cove Creek Road and follow the signs into the Cataloochee Valley. The herd there comes from the introduction of the elk restoration program that began in 2001. Elk populations started at two releases of 25 and 27 animals, and the herd has grown since then to between 150 and 200. The biodiversity and availability of food resources in the Smoky Mountains have helped the herd thrive. They have expanded their diet from just grass to acorns as well.


Did you know that the Smoky Mountains are known as the “Salamander Capital of the World?” There are such a diverse group of salamanders in the park. Home to five different families of salamanders, 24 species of the lungless salamander family live in the southern Appalachian Mountains. These unique amphibians breathe through the walls of the blood vessels found under their skin and within their mouth and throat lining. The largest salamander you might see are the Hellbenders (the biggest aquatic salamander in the United States), which grow up to 29 inches in length.


Wild turkey can be found in the daytime since they roost in trees. If you find one turkey, there are likely more since they travel in groups, called flocks. You’re more likely to see them in the lower elevations of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the open fields in Cades Cove or near the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Thanks to conservation efforts, their numbers continue to increase so expect sightings to be easier. The Knoxville News Sentinel wrote an article in 2014 about the wild turkey comeback (the highest wild turkey population in 100 years).

So how should you prepare yourself for wildlife viewing?

  1. Make sure to carry binoculars and a good camera so you can view from a distance.
  2. Scan the trees for animals that like to live in the branches.
  3. Be quiet, and make sure you don’t approach anything if you see wildlife emerging.
  4. Don’t try and feed them or leave food for them!

We hope that you have fun on your visit to Rafting in the Smokies and the surrounding areas. Even after rafting season comes to a close, every time is a good time to look for wildlife in the area!

5 Other Attractions to Visit in the Smokies

Ober Gatlinburg Indoor Ice Skating Rink

Photo by James Carnes (Flickr)

Run out of ideas on things to do in the Smokies now that the rafting season has come to a close? It’s okay, because we have you covered with a list of five other attractions that you can visit while you’re here! Whether you’re looking for yourself, your family, or friends, we are showcasing attractions that everyone can enjoy!

Ober Gatlinburg

Are you thinking of some fun outdoor activities in the winter time? Ober Gatlinburg is your place for skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and tubing. The slopes open in early to mid-December and close in early to mid-March, although tubing starts November 18 and is available through April 1, 2018. The open/close dates are dependent on the weather. Also at Ober is the “Snow Zone” for kids to play in the snow. If you plan to visit, but aren’t sure how to ski or snowboard, they offer lessons too! You’ll learn the fundamentals like slowing down, turning, stopping, and gliding on the slopes. Ober Gatlinburg also has a rental shop for gear and clothing.

Crave Golf Club

Looking for some mini-golf fun, but without worrying about a blanket of snow? Crave Golf Club in Pigeon Forge offers two courses, and one is entirely indoors! Use the hole spinners to add a new level of adventure to your experience as you have to do more than just swing a club. How about putting while standing on your right foot? You can also score prizes with the spinners. In addition to the course offerings, they have a mini bowling alley indoors as well as a milkshake bar. No candy-themed attraction would be complete without tons of candy available for purchase as well. Your sweet tooth is sure to be satisfied!

Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Show

With performances three times a day, there’s no excuse to miss this rowdy dinner show experience. They offer a southern feast as well as good, clean, family entertainment. There is plenty of dancing, singing, laughing, and (of course) rivalry. Maybe during your visit, you’ll see the Hatfields and McCoys work it out. You can also add-on additional shows like The Comedy Barn, Smith Morning Variety Show, the Smoky Mountain Opry, and Magic Beyond Belief for a discounted price (and kids are free with an add-on).

Bluff Mountain Adventures

Traverse over the foothills of the Smoky Mountains with a guided ATV trip. They offer several different types of rides. The one-hour family ride allows older children to operate their own ATV. The mountain trail and ridge run rides offer tougher terrain options than the family ride. If you are adventurous, you can create your custom trail ride, traversing two hours of trails. In the winter, make sure you dress accordingly in warm clothes and gloves. The helmet and goggles are provided.

Blake Jones Racing Center

Ready to hit the track and not worry about rain? Take pleasure in racing in an indoor drift track! Passengers who are 36” or taller can ride. Kids can ride single cars on the indoor track as young as age 10 (and 54” tall). Double car drivers must be at least 16 years old. There is also a covered figure eight slick track and indoor bumper cars. Grab the coupon for a buy two, get one free deal!

We hope you enjoyed your list and come back later to visit our site for more fun ideas on how to make the most of your trip to the Smokies! When rafting season starts, make sure to add us to your list to visit!


Mountain Ranges and Forests near RITS

Blue Ridge Mountains

Rafting in the Smokies is close to many mountain ranges and forests. Did you know that RITS is within about an hour’s drive from the Martha Sundquist State Forest, the Cherokee National Forest, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Pisgah National Forests? We thought we’d share some not-so-well-known facts about our nearest forest neighbors.

Martha Sundquist State Forest

If this forest is new to you, that’s not a surprise. This land was bought in 2001 from the International Paper Company and holds 2,001 acres. It was named after the wife of Tennessee’s former governor, Don Sundquist. The forest has limited road access and a few trails. The majority of the Martha Sundquist State Forest is bordered by the Cherokee National Forest. You’ll be able to spot a nice assortment of trees, such as eastern hemlock, magnolia, maple, birch, and white pine. As the area is so new, you’ll find it to be an exceptional place to experience the great outdoors in a private setting (10 miles away from most civilization). They also offer nicely spaced campsites if you plan to stay the night.

Cherokee National Forest

Did you know that there is a southern and northern region of the Cherokee National Forest, and it’s split in the middle by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? The Cherokee National Forest’s northern district is technically home to the Pigeon River recreation zone and Rafting in the Smokies as well as 20,000 species of plants and animals. It was once used as hunting and gathering grounds by the Cherokee Indians. There are over 600 miles of foot trails. Camping sites vary from primitive to those with electricity and bathhouses.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Most commonly associated with Rafting in the Smokies, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park butts up against the Cherokee National Forest on its north-eastern and southern sides, the Pisgah National Forest on the north-eastern side, and the Nantahala National Forest to the south. It has been home to prehistoric Paleo Indians, early settlers, and industrialists. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps was established and has helped keep the legacy of the park alive, creating stonework that still is in use today, such as the Chimneys Picnic Area.

Pisgah National Forest

Covering over 500,000 acres of land, the Pisgah National Forest is located in North Carolina and surrounds Asheville. This tract of land was the first to be procured as part of the Weeks Act of 1911 (allowing the national forest system to exist). It’s home to stunning beauty, such as the gardens of naturally-occurring Catawba rhododendrons that cover the Roan Mountains.

If you have time on your trip to the Smokies, we highly recommend you visit these spots that keep history, nature, and cultures preserved for us today. Enjoy what the forest has to offer with one of our packages or individual activities.

Christmas Events to see in The Smokies

Winter in Gatlinburg

Photo by backdrift- (Flickr)

Grab your festive sweater, pull out the hot cocoa, and get ready for the Christmas season in the Smokies! Kicking off in early November, Sevierville, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge light up the area as part of Winterfest. Dollywood is decked out for Christmas, and attractions start putting on their Christmas shows.


In Sevierville, the over 15 million holiday lights are turned on for Winterfest from November 6, 2017– February 28, 2018. Stop by the Sevierville Visitor Center and purchase a souvenir t-shirt. The purchase will get you a pair of 3D Winterfest glasses, which turn each light into a snowflake (you can also buy the glasses for $1 each). The Winterfest Map will pinpoint all the notable displays to check out. Also located in Sevierville is Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland at the Tennessee Smokies Stadium. This attraction runs shorter (November 3, 2017 – January 7, 2018) than Winterfest. It offers fun activities for the whole family, like crafts and photos with Santa, music, hot chocolate, coffee, pony rides, and a petting zoo.


Winter Magic starts on November 8, 2017, alongside the annual Chili Cookoff (chili sampling tickets are $10). The Journey tribute band, Departure, will perform alongside other performers. The lightning ceremony bathes the city in over three million lights. During Winter Magic, the Gatlinburg Trolley strolls down the Parkway, allowing riders to see the unique LED light displays for only $5 a ride. Riders under age three are free if they sit on a lap. The Winter Magic Trolley Ride of Lights drives through January 27, 2018.

Pigeon Forge

The lights of Winterfest brighten Pigeon Forge from November 7, 2017 – February 28, 2018. Dollywood is aglow with over four million lights across the 150-acre park during their Smoky Mountain Christmas celebration, which starts November 4, 2017 (running through New Year’s Day) and includes Dolly’s Parade of Many Colors nightly on Showstreet. Dollywood also brings “It’s a Wonderful Life” on stage at the Showstreet Palace Theater. Other areas come to life like Dolly’s Christmas Chapel, offering Sunday services at 5:30 p.m. throughout the Christmas festival time. Musical acts get into the holiday spirit with Christmas hymns, songs, traditional classics, and more.

Dinner show and theater attractions in Pigeon Forge also switch over their repertoire to feature special holiday shows, and they decorate accordingly. The Smoky Mountain Opry offers a special Christmas show with reindeer, dancing elves, lights, and flying sugar plum fairies. Dixie Stampede changes up their area into a magical fantasy with evergreens and poinsettias, and the riders are decked out in holiday attire as the North and South Pole have a friendly competition. The Smoky Mountain Adventures offers a challenge to its lumber camps to see which can supply the best Christmas trees.

Keep checking the Rafting in the Smokies blog area for more fun things you can do in the Smokies between and during rafting seasons!

Other Activities You Might Enjoy in the Smoky Mountain Area

horseback riding

Rafting in the Smokies is home to fun family-friendly activities like whitewater rafting, family floats, the zipline canopy tour, rock climbing wall, and the high elements ropes course. If that isn’t enough adrenaline for you, we have even more! There are plenty of other activities in the Smoky Mountain area you might enjoy.

Horseback Riding

We have great deals if you would like to add horseback riding as a combo package with one of our other activities. You may have already read about our partnership with Smoky Mountain Riding Stables, but we want to bring it up again as a scenic family-friendly adventure that will put you inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where you can appreciate the beauty of the area.

ATV Rides

Bluff Mountain Adventures in Pigeon Forge offers guided ATV trail rides through mountain trails in the foothills of Eastern Tennessee. Passengers must be at least 57” tall (over the age of 12 to drive). The trails are 1–2 hours long, and there are four different options: family introduction ride, mountain trail adventure ride, custom trail ride (reservations are needed at least one day in advance), and the ride run (for experienced riders who want a challenge).

Mountain Coasters

There are numerous mountain coasters in the Smoky Mountain area you should try! Ober Gatlinburg (36” and up) has a Ski Mountain Coaster that you can reach either by the aerial tram from Gatlinburg or a drive to their amusement park and ski area. There is another coaster right before you enter Gatlinburg by way of the Spur called the Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster, which also offers night rides. Kids over 38” can ride. Children ages 3 and up can ride on the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster located in Wears Valley. Rowdy Bear Mountain, newly opened in Gatlinburg, offers a coaster and a mountain glider, which is similar to ziplines. You are harnessed in the glider, but you have less control and are connected to a fixed metal guide like a coaster.

Are these options too intense for you, but you love the outdoors? The Smoky Mountains offer year-round fishing (you’ll need a license), and places like the Smoky Mountain Angler, which offer guided fishing trips for specific species like mountain trout and smallmouth bass. Plus you can learn unique fishing methods like European nymphing. A Walk in the Woods offers guided tours through nature walks, hikes, and even backpacking trips.


Events off the Beaten Path in Asheville

Asheville, NC

Asheville is only an hour drive from Rafting in the Smokies and offers plenty of outdoor activities for those who love nature and the beauty of the Smokies. Recreational options in the rafting off-season abound in and around Asheville. We’ve pulled a few together for our readers that we thought you’d enjoy.

  1. A Wild Foraging Adventure
    Brought to you by “No Taste Like Home,” learn how to forage for food while learning about North Carolina’s ecosystem. The tour is available year-round on Wednesdays and Saturdays and is suitable for all ages. All you need to take is yourself, as the equipment is provided for the three-hour tour. At the end of the trip, you’ll have the opportunity to cook up what you’ve found (or have one of the partner restaurants prepare it). 
  2. Asheville Downtown Gallery Association Art Walk
    First Friday art walks introduce you to more than 25 galleries located close to Pack Square and the city’s center in downtown Asheville. View art showcasing the Smokies. The next two walks of 2017 are scheduled for November 3 and December 1. Next year’s walks are likely to resume in April. Start or end your trek with a trip to one of the city’s delectable restaurants to immerse yourself in the city’s culture even more. 
  3. Women’s Backpacking Trip with the Blue Ridge Hiking Company
    This 3-day, 2-night trip is exclusively for women. The hiking company will provide all the trail food and community gear (like stoves, paper products, and first-aid). Additional equipment available to use for free includes backpacks, single or two-person tents, and sleeping bags or pads. The listed itinerary will take you to Appalachian Bald, Walnut Mountain, and Deer Park Mountain. The trip concludes at Hot Springs. Visit their website for more information. 
  4. Fall Ridge and Winter Woodlands Hike
    The Chimney Rock State Park offers a Fall Ridge Hike on November 18, 2017, which enables you to capture majestic views of the area. Guides take you on a more strenuous path that is rarely seen by visitors.

    The Winter Woodlands Hike, also hosted by Chimney Rock State Park, gives you a glimpse into the winter forest on December 16, 2017. You learn how to identify trees and tracks and how to find traces of animals in the area.

    Both hikes have limited availability, so advance reservations are recommended. If you miss these hikes, check the Chimney Rock Events Calendar for other hiking options.

Keep watching the Rafting in the Smokies blog for other events and activities to enjoy when you can’t raft. We’ll be posting more things to do in the Smokies right here!

Best Places to View Fall Foliage

Fall Foliage in the Smokies

It’s time to get prepped for the fall! Before you head out on your foliage photographic journey, make sure you plan the perfect stops to take your shots! Besides listing some of the best places to view the fall colors in the area, we’ve also linked you up to some tips and tricks for getting those breathtaking photos.

Mountain Trails & Scenic Drives

Getting a brisk hike and pairing it with a memorable photo is always a winner. Some hiking trails that offer wonderful views are the Andrews Bald, Mt. LeConte, Rocky Top, and Mt. Cammerer (we’ve blogged about this one before). You can also take the steep hike up to Clingman’s Dome for a full panoramic view. Be sure not to miss the scenic photo overlooks where you can pull off and grab a picture from the Blue Ridge Parkway, which starts in the southern part of the Smoky Mountains at Oconaluftee (milepost 469), or the Foothills Parkway within the Smoky Mountains.

PRO PHOTO TIP: What about the weather? The Digital Photography School has some excellent ideas for shooting in rainy weather or a washed-out sky. Use a polarizing filter if there are harsh shadows and glare. Try taking photos just after rain when the sun is peeking through the clouds. Brave the cold and try to get frosty details on foliage.

Cabin Comforts

Cabins with a beautiful mountain view are plentiful in this area. You can get stunning photos from the comfort of your cabin. Wildwood Mountain Cabins, one of our partners, offers the Amazing Views cabin with stunning views, while accommodating up to 10 guests. Carries Cabin is a private oasis near Cosby, TN, with total seclusion and privacy and sleeps up to 12 guests.

Don’t Forget the Falls

Waterfalls beautifully display the majesty of nature and make a prime subject for photography. The Smokies are home to photogenic falls like Abrams Falls, Rainbow Falls, and Laurel Falls.

PRO PHOTO TIP: When taking pictures of waterfalls, make sure you take the right equipment, plan on shooting on an overcast day, and decide on the best composition of the falls. Then adjust your polarizing filter and do post editing if needed. Check out this tutorial on what equipment you should take and what settings you need to modify on your camera. Using a small aperture and the lowest ISO speed are a good start.

Photos and Fun

Who says you can’t have a little fun while planning some fantastic photography sessions? Places like Ober Gatlinburg are excellent for getting panoramic views, and you won’t spend too much to get them. Ober offers a chairlift up to Mount Harrison (3,590-ft elevation), where you can get a stunning photo of Mt. LeConte.

We hope this list added a few locations you hadn’t considered for your next photo outing. Let us know if the ideas we shared for taking photos helped you capture some amazing shots!

Rock Climbing Wall Adventures

Rock Climbing wall at Rafting in the Smokies

The rock climbing wall at Rafting in the Smokies is the latest addition of fun to the Rafting in the Smokies experience! While you’re here, consider adding this on your adventure plate. Located on Family Adventure Island, the Rock Climbing Wall is a stunning tower that is adjacent to our High Elements Ropes Course and Zipline Canopy Tour. You’ll head down the steps from the suspension bridge and greet the guides before they strap you into a harness.

The rock climbing wall is for ages two and up, and the guides are very patient and supportive of your little ones. They’ll let them choose the side they want to attempt to climb and will encourage and help assist with hand/foot holds. Older kids and adults will enjoy the competitive nature of the wall.

Each side offers a varied level of difficulty, with the downriver side being the most exhausting. At the top of each of the sides of the tower, you’ll see the bell. When you reach the top you can ring it, letting everyone around you know you faced the challenge and conquered it! Try one of the other sides and get comfortable, and maybe you’ll be brave enough to defeat the downriver side!

After you’ve successfully completed your own self-challenge, you can challenge your friends to see who can climb the side the fastest! It’s a healthy competition that will surely get your adrenaline pumping, especially when you’re ready to let go and rappel to the ground while the guide helps with the belay system.

Here are some other fun climbing game ideas to make your adventure even more memorable:

Shout out: One person traverses the wall and another on the ground points or calls out to the next hold the climber should try and hit. The hold should be challenging, but not enough that the climber can’t reach it. The turn ends when the climber can’t climb. Then the pointer and climber switch and the person that went the farthest wins.

Memory: The person on the ground points out 4–10 climbing moves and the climber must remember each hold as they climb the route.

Shortest Distance: See who can climb the farthest using the least amount of hand holds.

High Score: Point out enough holds to safely get a climber to the top. Assign points to the holds. The easier holds get lower points and harder holds get higher points. The person with the most points wins.

Ready to start your rock climbing adventure? Book now directly from our site. You can also combine activities from the packages tab on the page.