Year after year, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has attracted more visitors than any other national park. It's a wonderful place to hike and drive amid beauty -- and an amazing backdrop for adrenalin-pumping adventures in surrounding Tennessee towns. They're a scenic drive from Knoxville's airport, which has nonstop flights from Dallas.
Zorb downhill in a huge ball -- wet or dry. Zorbing, made popular in New Zealand, is a lose-control roll inside a ball within a ball. Outdoor Gravity Park recently brought their brand of zorbing to Pigeon Forge. Their fun-gineers designed the OGO (Outdoor Gravity Orb), a capsule encased in a 11-foot transparent sphere. It looks like a personal transport vehicle you might use to make daytrips in outer space. At the top of a hill, you climb into the OGO and get pushed down a 1,000-foot track.
You have choices for this trippy trip. Go dry or wet, sloshing in 10 gallons of water hosed into the capsule. Speed down a straight track or zig zag. And, roll solo or "FUNnel" with one or two friends. Sure, you'll bump, but nobody gets hurt. The Extreme Zig Zag course is solo only. outdoorgravitypark.com.
Zoom on the world's fastest wooden roller coaster. Dollywood's wild side is now ruled by Lightning Rod, which launches riders from zero to 45 mph more than 20 stories up its lift hill. It rockets 73 mph, making brave hearts shudder with drops and 90-degree banking turns along its 3,800-foot track. Try to count the 12 airtime moments.
Attractions debuting this season include Drop Line, a free-fall experience that towers 20 stories over Timber Canyon, and Whistle Punk Chaser, a junior coaster. dollywood.com.
Zip like Batman over valleys. Foxfire Mountain Adventure Park, tucked in 150 acres of wilderness in Sevierville, has strung up a zip-line course that not only speeds between trees, but also crosses over treetops. The lines range from a short, sweet glide that gets riders acclimated to the Goliath Zip Line that's 475 feet high. During the 2-hour tour, five extreme zip lines shoot you through scenery so amazing that you'll keep those eyes open. Have excess adrenalin to burn? Foxfire guides can show you how to spin and somersault mid-air.
Foxfire's Tree Hugger Jungle ropes course also gets you up in the air. While securely tethered, you challenge your balance and reflexes on beams, tightrope walks, secret steps and zip-lines that zig-zag over Dunn Creek. Prefer earthbound forays? Scale the climbing wall, or cross America's longest swinging bridge. The Bridge to Prosperity spans Foxfire Gorge. foxfiremountain.com.
Ride at a dude ranch in the mountains. Gentleman-cowboy and horse whisperer Shawn Gannon has built a breathtaking 346-acre ranch and old West-themed hotel in Del Rio. At French Broad River Outpost Ranch, you can go horseback riding, whitewater rafting, tubing and, inside the lodge, a haven of white pine and delightful antiques, square dancing to live dulcimer performances.
Gannon's mastery of gentle training techniques is evident when spending time with his 51 Arabians. So now you can go east for a terrific dude ranch experience. frenchbroadduderanch.com.
White lightning worth sipping. Quick-draw your driver's license, slap down a few bucks and sling some tasty Tennessee shine. Ole Smoky Moonshine has two outposts: a barn constructed of reclaimed local barnwood in Pigeon Forge and The Holler in Gatlinburg. Ole Smoky sells its creations in jars. Its 100 proofs include White Lightnin' and Blue Flame; lighter varieties include Lemon Drop and Sweet Tea.
Old Forge Distillery in Pigeon Forge handcrafts small-batch spirits. Its chocolate moonshine doubles as an adult dessert. Not to be outshined, Doc Collier Moonshine in Gatlinburg produces sassy flavors like Root Beer Float and cinnamon-powered Firecracker.
Troll for trolls in the woods. Ready to warm your heart instead of making it race? Before the first plastic troll doll rolled off an assembly line, Ken Arensbak was crafting trolls from organic materials gleaned in the woods. His characters were inspired by Danish folklore. His children turned the family tradition into a global business, making thousands of trolls, still by hand, at 5 Arts Studio in Cosby, tucked in a Smoky Mountain forest.
"Anything that falls off a tree we'll use," says crafter Vivi Arensbak. Browse the racks for just the right troll character, or help decorate one to suit your fancy. trolls.com.
Robin Soslow, a writer-photographer based in the South, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.