USA Raft weaves aquatic wanderers of all skill levels down the whitewaters of the Pigeon River, affording inside views of the towering Smoky Mountains. Speed seekers and mild floaters alike can revel in the five-mile stretch of either the Upper or Lower Pigeon River Express, as guides employ their regional and water-sport knowledge to identify the grandeur of the landscapes and the functionality of pointer fingers. Mellow water-waders and fun-time floaters mosey through the mild ride, a slower guided tour along the Lower Pigeon River that boasts a river gorge, views of the Cherokee National Forest and the Smoky Mountains, and a calm current that never loses its temper. Adventurous seafaring types opting for an adrenaline-fueled excursion will reap the rewards of the wild ride, which careers through five miles of the Upper Pigeon River Express and paddles past Smoky Mountain scenery.
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.
Most people associate flying with the sound of whirring engines, intercoms buzzing, and even propellers sputtering into a spin. Wonders of Flight at WonderWorks, however, removes all audible distractions?its helium-filled balloon rises above the trees with nary a hum or vibration. The effect, says the website, is akin to "being on a flying balcony."
A maximum of 30 people can stand on the balloon's circular gondola as it ascends up to 500 feet in the air. After takeoff, passengers are treated to a sprawling view of the Smoky Mountains, as well as a bird's-eye perspective of the upside-down WonderWorks attraction. These 5- to 10-minute flights run throughout the day, permitting riders to snap photos of the scenery as the blue-and-green balloon levitates from its grounded tether. Wonders of Flight also hosts 30-minute wedding experiences, which afford couples ample time to say "I do," and toss a bouquet into a mob of jetpack-wearing bridesmaids.
Kim Warner’s daughter, Clare, was riding whitewater by age 3, and had advanced to doing it dressage style the following season. The owner of Rafting With My Kids, Warner has safely launched families since 1988, when she and her outfitters turned their condo in Asheville into a base camp for trips down the Tuckasegee, Green, and French Broad rivers. Now in its 24th season, a group of CPR- and first-aid-certified guides lead exhilarating two-hour voyages exclusively on the Tuckasegee River. Their gear includes lifejackets designed specifically for kids, enabling adventurers as young as 4 to pile into inflatable rafts with a guardian and older kids the freedom to venture out in two-person duckies. The water is only 3–5 feet deep on average and, as Warner puts it on the business’s website, the rapids are not “too hardcore.” Each guide carries a cell phone and a first-aid kit, as well as light snacks of cookies and peanut-butter or cheese crackers to keep rafters energized.
Foxfire Mountain Adventures introduces guests to the exhilarating heights of Foxfire Mountain with a zip-line course, swinging bridges, and on-ground safari tours. Built in accordance with certified engineers’ ACCT safety standards, the seven-line zip-line course careens through the breathtaking canopy on 60-foot to 1,500-foot lengths at a time. The territory’s swinging bridges sway gently over gorges and waterfalls, each cemented into the mountain and carefully inspected each morning so visitors can appreciate the greenery and the water rushing below in complete safety. For a greater traversal of the park’s 150 acres of wilderness, land dwellers can take a trip in an all-terrain Bear Crawler, an open air vehicle able to scale mountains, cross creeks, and transform into a baby bear to escape detection.
When the corn grows so high that you can barely see the top of the classic red barn at Pigeon Forge Corn Maze, it’s a sure sign that autumn has finally arrived. The farm helps families celebrate the changing seasons with a trio of fall attractions, starting with the two all-ages corn mazes, where kids and adults can bask in the crisp autumn air as they collect clues and play games to determine the best route through the wending green pathways. Outside the leafy walls, miniature ponies and donkeys, pygmy goats, and giant rabbits clamor for a scratch behind the ears in the petting zoo, and farmers take guests on bumpy, tractor-pulled hayrides that tour the borders of both corn mazes. Classic farmstand snacks such as funnel cakes, kettle corn, and apple cider help fuel the fun and reward those who resist the urge to eat their way out of the corny labyrinth.