If you’re looking for adventure, Tennessee delivers. Rock climbing, hang gliding and caving are just a few of the adrenaline-inducing adventure you can experience in these great outdoors. Climb the highest peak of the Great Smoky Mountains; waterski on a pristine lake; and raft down Olympic white water. Take advantage of the many awe-inspiring outdoor activities across the state that will leave you with plenty to brag about to your friends.
Do you have what it takes to conquer the three highest peaks in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Clingmans Dome (6,643 feet) is a steep half-mile walk to the observation tower, which yields 360-degree mountain views. Prepare for a challenging bushwhack on remote Mount Guyot (6,621 feet), the fourth-highest summit in the eastern United States. The highest peak entirely in Tennessee is Mount Leconte (6,593 feet), where you’ll want to stop at Arch Rock (a cavelike section with natural AC), Inspiration Point and the Fraser Fir zone.
Have the urge to take to the skies? Glide over the valley with panoramic views that will take your breath away. Then head to Lookout Mountain, where adventure seekers go to hang glide. Exceptional wind currents, easy drop-offs from atop the mountain and area flight schools can help you spread your wings.
With 8,500 caves to explore, caving in Tennessee is an adventure in a class all its own. Ride a glass-bottom boat into the cave at The Lost Sea in Sweetwater, the largest underwater lake in the U.S. From May to November, venture on a ranger-led tour of Lost Cove Cave, also known as Buggytop, part of the Carter State Natural Area and South Cumberland State Park near Sewanee and Sherwood. See sparkling formations, natural chimneys and more at Sevierville’s Forbidden Caverns or Townsend’s Tuckaleechee Caverns.
More than 1,300 lakes mean waterskiing, kayaking and fishing are around every corner. Reelfoot, a 205-year-old West Tennessee lake, was created by earthquakes (aka “the time the Mississippi flowed backward”). Tours include bald eagles and bald cypress trees. Lazy float or long canoe, McMinnville’s Barren Fork River works for the whole family. The scenic Douglas Lake in Dandridge is surrounded by mountains and is the perfect place for boating, fishing and swimming.
Ever wonder what it feels like to fly? Go soar through forests on the many ziplines throughout the state. Sevierville’s Foxfire Mountain Adventure Park has the Goliath, said to be the highest, longest and fastest zipline in the Smokies. Ocoee Zipz in Benton has a Land of Oz-themed option, while Off the Grid Mountain Adventures in Elizabethton has dual 60 mph ziplines. You can also get your adrenaline rush on ziplines at Arbortrek Canopy Adventures at Fall Creek Falls (in the state park), Honeysuckle Hill Farm in Springfield and Navitat in Knoxville.
For the thrill seeker who’s seen it all, try zorbing. Invented in New Zealand, the “sport” of rolling down a hill in a giant plastic orb has made its way to Pigeon Forge and can be done on three tracks at the Outdoor Gravity Park. Go wet or dry; alone or with friends; zigzag slowly or shoot full speed down the park’s 1,000-foot hill. Bonus: The tracks are in the picturesque foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.
If you live for the thrills of whitewater rafting, we’ve got you covered. The Ocoee River near Ducktown has 10 miles of Class III and IV rapids (if you don’t know the classes, this route is likely too hard)! The Ocoee hosted a whitewater event in the 1996 Summer Olympics. Other rafting areas include: Upper Pigeon River in the Smoky Mountains, which has 70 rapids over 6.5 miles. Start your adventure at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Hartford.
In Tennessee, avid climbers and first-timers can rock. For beginners, Stone Fort (Little Rock City) in Chattanooga has the best spots in the Southeast for bouldering (rock climbing that doesn’t use ropes). At Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, more daring rock climbers seek out bolted routes on hundreds of miles of sandstone bluffs. Climbers from around the globe hang at Obed Wild and Scenic River near Wartburg, which has some 350 “sport” or permanently bolted routes ranging from easy to difficult.