5 Lesser Known Smoky Mountain Spots Loved by Locals

The Smoky Mountains’ half-million acres extend beyond the best-known attractions in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. While millions visit for the iconic views, there are some spots not everyone knows about.

Here are five places that may not be on your list.

1. The Sinks

view of a waterfall at the sinks in the great smoky mountains
The Sinks. Photo from Ashley / TheSmokyMountains.com

The Sinks is a waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, accessible directly from Little River Road. You’ll drive right by it on your way from Gatlinburg to Cades Cove if you’re taking Little River Road.

Add it into your directions next time you make the drive, it’s worth at least a quick stop for photos.

The waterfall has great views, making it a great place for photography.

Although you’ll see people in the water, even on kayaks, it’s not a good idea. Multiple drownings have occurred due to the strong currents from the waterfall. If you want to swim, continue down the road a few more miles to our #3 on this list.

The Sinks is also a good place to start a hike. These steps lead to the trail are just next to the falls.

2. Cataloochee Valley

Cataloochee Valley
Cataloochee Valley, Great Smoky Mountains. Picture by Adobe Stock.

Cataloochee Valley is a lesser-known area that showcases the Smokies’ history, with well-preserved settler homes and churches.

It’s also one of the best places to see Elk in the Smoky Mountains, as they were re-introduced to this area around twenty years ago.

3. Townsend Wye

river rocks in the river at the townsend wye swimming area
The Townsend Wye. Photo from Ashley / TheSmokyMountains.com

Townsend Wye is a picturesque spot in Townsend, where two rivers meet. It’s a refreshing swimming area that’s popular with locals.

The water stays nice and cold even in the summer, so cooling off on a hot day is great. A rocky shoreline with plenty of space makes a good spot for a picnic.

The parking area is limited and usually fills up on a hot summer afternoon.

townsend wye parking area
Townsend Wye Parking Area. Photo from Ashley / TheSmokyMountains.com

We love stopping here for a swim on the drive to Gatlinburg earlier in the day before it gets busy.

Read more about the Townsend Wye here.

4. The Lost Sea Adventure

The Lost Sea Adventure. Photo from Ashley / TheSmokyMountains.com

This one is outside the Great Smoky Mountains in a foothills valley, but it’s worth the drive.

It’s not something you’d want to do on a day trip from Gatlinburg (it’s a bit far from that), but it’s close to the western edge of the Smoky Mountains.

The Lost Sea Adventure. Photo from Ashley / TheSmokyMountains.com

It’s a great stop on the way to our from Gatlinburg area if you’re coming from the southwest, like from Chattanooga or Atlanta.

Located in Sweetwater, it’s something we didn’t learn about until after moving here. It’s been one of the most impressive caves we’ve been to.

The Lost Sea Adventure offers a tour of vast caverns and a boat ride on the nation’s largest underground lake.

There’s even fish in the underground lake!

This family-friendly stop provides an educational tour of the cave’s geological and historical background.

When you get in the cave, it’s a bit of a walk down to the bottom of the lake. It’s a gradual hill, but you notice it walking back up from the lake. It’s not a strenuous hike; just about anyone can do this.

Perfect for those looking for an unusual activity beyond hiking, it’s a great way to see one of the hidden natural wonders of the area.

5. Look Rock

look rock
Look Rock. Photo from Ashley / TheSmokyMountains.com

Look Rock is a less-visited lookout tower with panoramic views of the mountain range.

This point is on the western edge of the foothills. It isn’t the highest, but on a clear day, it offers views to Knoxville and beyond.

Located along the Foothills Parkway, it’s a great place to stop on a day in Townsend.

It’s a short trail, less than 10 minutes, and plenty of parking.


These are just a few of the places popular with locals that go beyond the many popular places like trails and scenic overlooks.

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