Back in 1995, fresh out of college, Shannon Skidmore and his fiancée, Shannan, leased a small 20'x20' building, an old Chevrolet van, and 50 tubes, and took over Smoky Mountain River Rat from its previous owner. Over the next five years, the “Shannons” gradually made the business their own by buying their own property, with Shannon using his contractor license and expertise to erect a new, larger building in just six weeks. Smoky Mountain River Rat has expanded to 500 tubes, two vans, and 20 kayaks, and the business now also offers whitewater rafting on the nearby Pigeon River. Meanwhile, its shuttles transport families up and down the Little River for unlimited daily rides, with customers as young as 2 years old floating down 1.5 miles of tubing-friendly, meandering waters as they trade off verses of old sea chanteys.
Treks through Five Oaks Riding Stables' 70-acre nature park afford riders views of the Great Smoky Mountains and its indigenous mountain wildlife, including wild turkey and white-tailed deer. On 5-mile rides, tourists get glimpses of Mount LeConte, a mountain lake, and the remnants of an old moonshiner's still, which dates back to the days when Americans were only allowed to drink alcohol out of bathtubs.
Dollywood’s Splash Country lives up to its name, with more than 23 rides and attractions that draw their inspiration from the water park’s scenic Smoky Mountains setting. Fire Tower Falls—the park’s tallest and fastest slide ever—exaggerates the steepness of the nearby mountains’ slopes with a 70-foot plunge that barely gives riders time to scream. For a leisurely counterpoint to this free-fall thrill, look no further than the 1,500-foot lazy river, which charts its course through the park’s forested hills.
Though a sense of calm pervades the lazy river, a battle rages not far from its banks. Pirates of all ages fight for the title of captain at the popular Bear Mountain Fire Tower, where they commandeer water cannons and wait for an enormous wooden bucket to dump 1,000 gallons of water from above. Those weary from battle can retreat to the lagoon-style pool at The Cascades, where more than 25 interactive elements include a multitiered waterfall and an active geyser that spews water 20 feet in the air. Lifeguards split their duties between this rocky grotto and Mountain Waves, a 25,000-square-foot wave pool filled with the tears of decommissioned sailors.