A man runs through the forest, pausing briefly to take in his surroundings: rolling mountains and verdant trees as far as the eye can see. Suddenly, a twig cracks, breaking the silence, and the pristine view dissolves within a cloud of paint. The game is over.
At its outpost within the mountains, Smoky Mountain Paintball has converted the area's natural terrain into outdoor paintball fields. Here, players weave between trees and peak over walls in search of enemy combatants. The simulated battlefields are also a strategist’s dream; referees take requests, and will set up almost any type of game provided that players adhere to the rules and don't require a human-sized chessboard.
Away from the colorful warzone, a pro shop brims with camouflage and Tippmann markers, In addition to paint-fueled grudge matches, combatants can also settle scores with Smoky Mountain Paintball’s expanded arsenal of Airsoft and laser-tag battles.
The sights and sounds of the fictional Hazzard county surround visitors of Cooter's Place, a museum and shop dedicated to the hit television show the Dukes of Hazzard. Ben "Cooter" Jones, the show's famous mechanic, founded the multi-leveled facility and filled every nook and cranny with props, costumes, pictures, and memorabilia from the show. Upstairs, players attempt precise putts around an 18-hole mini-golf course that resembles the Dukes of Hazzard set with fake plants, a wooden cabin, and a massive crew filming everything. The indoor go-kart track gives drivers a chance to chase one-another around a smooth oval in karts made to resemble the series' iconic vehicles.
Jim and Jeanette Greiner have been helping people escape the concrete ecosystems of everyday life since 1971. That's the year that they founded Wildwater, and as its name suggests, it started as a rafting outfitter that led groups down the rushing waters of the Chattooga River. Today, Wildwater's trained guides still navigate a number of rivers—the Ocoee, Nantahala, and Pigeon, in addition to the Chattanooga—but they've expanded their reach to the land as well. The company offers canopy tours with a combination of ziplines and elevated bridges, inviting guests to take a thrilling trip through the treetops. If clients prefer to stay within a few feet of the ground, they can opt for jeep tours that explore paths beyond the main roads.
Since Wildwater's team values the beauty of the natural environment, they embrace eco-friendly practices intended to help protect the areas they explore. Each of the company's locations strives to minimize its impact by using solar-powered water heaters for the showers, composting leftover food, and painting all of the outdoor equipment with chlorophyll.
Nestled in the mountains of East Tennessee, Hillside Winery presses and ferments its catalog of Italian-style and sparkling wines on site, often using fruit sourced from local farms. A rustic tasting room puts visitors in relaxation mode, while they sip sangiovese, pinot grigio, and Asti-style spumante from complimentary tasting glasses or prepare to engage the gift shop’s stuffed bear in staring contests. Behind the scenes, guests can see the polished, stainless-steel drums that press the grapes and store the wines, and observe as each bottle is capped, not corked. Butterflies captured by nature photographer Patricia Ferguson grace Hillside’s wine labels, adding a delicate note to each wine’s flavor profile.
Ripley’s has enthralled audiences for more than nine decades with its dedication to revealing odd and unexplainable rarities from around the globe. But it all began with one man: Robert Ripley, a wildly successful and eccentric character who rose to fame during the first half of the 20th century. After selling his first cartoon to Life magazine at age 14, he set out on a quick-paced career of drawing sports cartoons for the New York Globe. During a slow day at the office, he sketched nine unusual sporting events and finished his work with a title: “Believe It or Not!” It became immensely popular, allowing Ripley to travel the world in search of more bizarre stories to put into his comic strips. While visiting relatively unknown areas in locales such as India, China, and the inside of his neighbor’s chimney, he picked up a slew of unbelievable souvenirs that later became fixtures in several of Ripley’s museums, or as they’re affectionately called today, Odditoriums. Ripley’s now encompasses publications, attractions, a television show, and a blog, all of which carry Ripley’s tradition of reporting on the world’s curiosities.
Though they had stable, successful careers, Erik and Vesna Plakanis found themselves increasingly dissatisfied with their lives. Naturalists at heart, the nearby Smoky Mountains became an ever more powerful draw, enticing the couple to spend more and more time in the quiet, misty woods they loved. Things came to a head in 1998, after Erik ventured into the woods alone seeking answers. He came out convinced that his purpose was to share the wonders of the forest with others, so he and Vesna gave up their jobs and founded A Walk in the Woods to lead tours and raise environmental awareness.
Adding to their decades-long knowledge of the park's trails, the two are experts on edible plants, animal tracking, wilderness survival, and traditional storytelling, filling treks with interesting tidbits and engrossing yarns. A gaggle of fellow guides, handpicked for their love of nature and knowledge of the Great Smoky Mountains, helps lead the list of hikes and trips, which range from two hours to a full day to give patrons the chance to feel at one with nature without chaining themselves to the back of a deer.