Tired of the heat and being stuck at home this summer? The Great Smoky Mountains offers many opportunities to safely be outside, away from crowds, and find respite from the summer heat. Here are five safe, fun ways to enjoy the cool outdoors in the Smokies.

Wade in Local Swimming Holes

Beat the heat by finding a cool mountain swimming hole in the Smokies Little River! Whether you want to cool off your feet or jump right in, these swimming spots are fun, beautiful, and refreshing. You can opt to tube down the Little River with several Townsend tubing companies, but these areas tend to be fairly crowded in the summer. Go during the week or early morning for less crowding. For swimming or fishing on your own, here are several options:

  • The “Y” or “Wye” in Townsend – Located near the Townsend entrance to the national park, this swimming hole is at the confluence of the Little River and the Middle Prong of the Little River. It’s a popular swimming spot, but you can play in the river upstream or downstream of any crowd.
  • The River in Greenbrier – This peaceful stretch of river a short drive from Gatlinburg has several deep swimming holes in which to cool off.
  • The Chimney Tops Trailhead – A high-elevation mountain pool is located just below the first bridge crossing.
  • Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area – This swimming area located next to a picnic spot combines two favorite summer pastimes so you can swim and then enjoy a cookout in the shade!

Visit A Waterfall

Cool off by Abrams Falls in Cades Cove

Waterfalls aren’t just a beautiful natural sight, they naturally cooler! Here are several options for staying cool in the great outdoors during your visit to the Smokies. For more information: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/waterfalls.htm




  • Abrams Falls is one of the biggest waterfalls in the Smokies, reached by a 2.5-mile trail off the Cades Cove Loop Road.
  • The Sinks, located just off Little River Gorge Road, is a popular waterfall doesn’t require a hike to visit it or its popular swimming area.
  • Ramsey Cascades in the Greenbrier region of the Smokies is one of the tallest falls in the park.
  • Middle Prong Trail takes hikers past several beautiful mountain cascades in the Tremont area.
  • The Roaring Fork Motor Trail is a popular loop road in Gatlinburg that features several waterfalls including Rainbow Falls, Grotto Falls, and the Place of 1000 Drips.

Auto Tour in Your Air-Conditioned Car

Cades Cove – Cades Cove is one of the most popular and iconic areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road is a one-lane road winding through a beautiful valley. Cades Cove is the location of popular destinations like John Oliver Place, Abrams Falls, John Cable Mill, and Tipton Place. The early morning hours and late evening hours an abundance of wildlife including deer, wild turkeys, and bear will appear along the road in trees and large open fields. It takes at least an hour to drive the 11-mile loop road, depending entirely on traffic (and people who block traffic). Sparks Lane and Hyatt Lane are the only two-way roads in Cades Cove, both gravel roads that allow visitors to cut the 11-mile loop short. For more information: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/cadescove.htm

Foothills Parkway Extension – About 7.5 miles from Owl’s Hoot Chalet and Hideaway on the Creek lies a beautiful stretch of highway called Foothills Parkway. The long-awaited extension of the Foothills Parkway between Walland and Wears Valley, Tennessee, finally opened on November 10, 2018, a mere 74 years since it was authorized by Congress in 1944. After various failed construction attempts and funding issues since the 1980s, the 1.65-mile stretch of road called the “missing link” was finally completed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was worth the wait! The spectacular views of Townsend, Wears Valley, and the Great Smoky Mountains are unobstructed by signs and guardrails. For more information: https://foothillsparkwaytn.com/

Newfound Gap – From its starting elevation of 1,289 ft, the Newfound Gap Road climbs over 3,753 ft to Newfound Gap with high-elevation ridges and peaks that stay cooler than the valley below. At the top, you’ll be treated to spectacular views of the mountains and a crisp breeze. For even nicer temperatures, continue driving towards Clingmans Dome. At an elevation of 6644 ft, this mountain peak can be as much as 10° F cooler than lower-lying towns of Townsend, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge. For more information: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/nfg.htm

Find a Shady Spot in the National Park

Going on a short hike or walking a nature trail is a great way to stay cool and enjoy the beauty of nature. With 800 square miles of protected forest, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has plenty of shady places to relax in a natural setting. Just getting out of the sun can make all the difference, but to cool off even faster, find a Smoky Mountain stream. The brisk mountain water creates an air conditioning effect that makes forests pleasant even during the hottest days. For some short hike ideas, see https://www.visitmysmokies.com/blog/smoky-mountains/easy-hikes-in-the-smoky-mountains/

Bike the Cades Cove Loop Road

Create your own air conditioning by whooshing along on a bike! Cades Cove’s 11-mile loop road is closed to cars on Wednesdays now through September 30, 2020 as part of a pilot study to improve the visitor experience. Be aware that there are some uphill stretches, where you’ll want to walk your bike, but they’re mostly in the shade. For more information about Cades Cove, see https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/cadescove.htm.

For information on other Townsend biking trails, see https://www.abouttownsend.com/bicycle.routes.html.

Smokies Cabins still has a few openings for summer 2020. For availability and more information, see https://smokiescabins.com/owls-hoot-chalet/#owlshootavailability.