Imagine the scent of pine trees in the air and the dense mist that blankets the mountains. Picture yourself surrounded by a mountain scene unlike anything else. That’s what you get. It’s hard not to want to come back here! However, you might be wondering what to do at the Great Smokies.
Don’t worry, we’ve compiled a list of 15 amazing things to do in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
1. Quick Overview
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the US, crosses the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains on the southern border of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Tennessee and North Carolina share the park’s midline from northeast to southwest. It is one of North America’s biggest protected areas, with over 500,000 acres. This protected region is famous for its amazing diversity.
- Establishment year: 1934
- Size: 522,427 acres
- Major nearest city: Gatlinburg, USA
- Average annual temperature: Temperature ranges from 35°F-70°F with an average rainfall of 85 inches per year.
2. Amazing Things to Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
2.1 Hike the Scenic Trails
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park, with over 800 miles of trails. It provides some of the most enjoyable hiking experiences in the country. Here are some of the must-see hiking spots that you won’t want to miss.
- The Alum Cave Trail leads to the highest point of the Appalachian Trail in the Smoky Mountains. Alum Cave Trail begins at the Newfound Gap parking lot and leads you through a variety of habitats, including woodlands and cliffsides, before concluding at Alum Cave Bluff, an outstanding 80-foot rock arch.
- Rainbow Falls Trail is a world-renowned trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park because of the stunning waterfall at its end. The trail follows the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail before guiding you up steep switchbacks and eventually finishing at Rainbow Falls, where you may enjoy stunning views of this 80-foot cascade plus adjacent mountain summits such as Clingmans Dome and Mount LeConte.
- The Laurel Falls Trail is a reasonably short (3-4 mile) trip with a little elevation rise, so it’s easy to find a nice time to go. The trail itself is well-kept, however numerous steep sections may be tough for some walkers.
2.2 Have Fun Camping
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has multiple campgrounds, but being a most visited National Park, they are spread out and can fill up quickly. If you want to camp in the Smokies, plan on coming early and beating the crowds. But don’t forget to pack your trail mix – otherwise, you’ll be stuck with nothing but smoky air to snack on!
- The Smoky Mountain Campground is close to Cades Cove. The campsite provides two-bedroom cabins that sleep up to six people and tent sites that can sleep up to eight people. There is also a group site for people that have an organized group of four or more.
- Sugarlands Visitor Center Campground features 86 campsites spaced out over three loops near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This campground is just for tents and does not have RV parking. Because the campground does not provide electricity or water hookups, bring all of your supplies with you before arrival.
2.3 Go Fishing
Fishing is a big trend in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Bear Creek Falls is a great location for fishing. It’s at the end of the Skytop Trail on Lake Junaluska. Bear Creek Falls is a world-renowned fishing destination because it has a variety of fish species, including trout, catfish, and bass.
There are also several large rainbow trout in this area. You can fish for as long as you want, and if you catch something, the National Park Service will reward you. Isn’t that fantastic?
Cades Cove is another great area to go fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park since the water has a variety of fish, including bass, walleye, and muskie.
Cades Cove is located on Lake Junaluska at the end of Caldwell Cove Road. It also has many more species such as catfish, crappie, and perch.
2.4 Try Horseback Riding
- Cades Cove is the best horseback riding area in the National Park. Its 11-mile circle track offers stunning mountain views and numerous plant and animal life sightings. Horses must stay on designated roads and paths, so make sure to abide by all rules and restrictions when exploring this region.
- Little River Trail is a 5-mile out-and-back trail with beautiful waterfalls, thick woodlands, and plenty of plant and animal life to see. The track follows Little River upstream, making it perfect for novices looking for a gentle ride with few elevation changes.
2.5 Enjoy Watching Beautiful Wildlife
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park for the richness of its plant and animal life, the majesty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its Southern Appalachian mountain culture relics.
Here are some of the best places to go if you want to see some incredible wildlife in its natural habitat.
- Purchase Knob, located near the park’s highest point at 6,593 feet above sea level, provides excellent animal life sights. It is home to a wide range of species, including bobcats, red foxes, flying squirrels, and the rare black bear. The region is particularly well-known for its breathtaking views of the surrounding ancient mountains.
- Cades Cove is home to a diverse range of plant and animal life, including white-tailed deer, black bears, coyotes, and turkeys. You have a good chance of seeing abundant wildlife if you go early in the morning or late in the evening. You can also see wild turkeys and bald eagles here.
2.6 Get to know Cades Cove
Cades Cove, one of the most famous attractions within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, features a living history museum with preserved cottages, churches, and other structures from the nineteenth century.
Cades Cove’s environment is breathtaking, with old-growth forests and undulating hillsides flanked by ancient mountains on all sides. Whether you drive the 11-mile loop or trek one of the paths, you’ll be rewarded with stunning vistas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
2.7 Enjoy Panoramic views in Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome, at 6,643 feet, offers stunning 360-degree panoramic views from its observation tower. Clingmans Dome provides some of the greatest vistas in the entire Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From its peak, you can see seven different states: North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Alabama! On clear days, Mount Mitchell can be seen (the highest peak east of the Mississippi River)
From Newfound Gap Road, several hiking trails lead up to Clingmans Dome. These paths range in difficulty from basic to rigorous and provide beautiful mountain scenery and also several opportunities for animal life viewing. Along with these routes, there is an observation tower that provides panoramic views without requiring a trip up.
2.8 Experience Unique Shopping
Southern Appalachian mountain culture is evident in the crafts produced by locals living within The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From basket weaving to wood carving, you can find examples of local craftsmanship throughout the park’s towns and villages that have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to many one-of-a-kind stores selling products that you won’t find anyplace else. There’s something for everyone here, from handcrafted jewelry and pottery to locally manufactured apparel and artwork! Whether you’re seeking a unique gift or simply want to learn about the Southern Appalachian mountain culture, these shops will give you a wholesome experience.
2.9 Get to Know the Southern Appalachian Mountain Culture
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to a unique and beautiful culture that has been preserved for centuries. The southern Appalachian mountain culture of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is steeped in history and tradition.
Local festivals such as the Mountain Music Festival and the Smoky Mountain Folk Festival showcase some of the region’s best musical talent while providing a unique insight into this culture.
In addition to its farming practices, music scene, spiritual beliefs, and crafts, southern Appalachian mountain culture is also reflected in the region’s food. Dishes such as cornbread, beans, greens, and fried chicken. You can sample these traditional dishes at local restaurants or even purchase some of the ingredients to make them themselves while you explore this beautiful National Park.
2.10 Go Rock Climbing
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been shaped by the southern Appalachian mountain culture and also its geography, which is characterized by steep ridges, lush forests, and abundant wildlife. This is what makes it the most visited National Park in the world.
Rock climbing is a thrilling and hard activity that is suitable for all levels of adventurers. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park contains some of the top rock climbing areas in the United States.
There are various routes to explore in Alum Cave Bluffs, ranging from moderate to tough climbs.
Mount LeConte is the place to go if you want an extreme challenge! Mount LeConte is ideal for experienced climbers due to its steep inclines and extensive routes.
2.11 Go white water Rafting
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park features several rivers that are perfect for whitewater rafting. There’s something for everyone here, from calm Class I and II rapids to furious Class IV and V rapids.
Try some of the gentler areas of Little River or Pigeon River for a more relaxed experience. There are plenty of interesting parts of the Ocoee and Nantahala rivers that offer demanding whitewater action for those who want to take their skills to the next level.
Search for hidden caches across the National Park with a GPS device to see what goodies await you!
Cades Cove is one of the park’s most popular destinations, and it also provides a plethora of geocaching chances. Several caches can be found across this gorgeous area, with its wide-open meadows, historic homesteads, and frequent plant and animal life sightings.
Newfound Gap’s high-elevation overlooks provide spectacular views of both North Carolina and Tennessee, making it an ideal location for cache hunting.
2.13 Enjoy the Starry Nights
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s night skies are some of the darkest in the country, thanks to low light pollution.
The Clingmans Dome Observation Tower is one of the best places in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park for stargazing. At 6,643 feet in elevation, it has some of the darkest skies in Tennessee.
On a clear night, you can see over 7,000 stars, including planets like Venus and Saturn. You can also see faraway galaxies and nebulae!
Cades Cove Loop Road is another fantastic location. This 11-mile length winds through lush meadows and valleys, providing wonderful opportunities to admire the night sky and the ancient mountains. On a clear night, billions of stars twinkle above, ranging from constellations like Orion’s Belt to shooting stars darting across the sky!
2.14 Explore Mountain Farm Museum
The Mountain Farm Museum is home to several historic structures that have been moved from their original locations throughout the park and restored to their original appearance. These structures include a barn, apple house, springhouse, smokehouse, and more!
Throughout the year many special events are held at the Mountain Farm Museum such as the Spring Planting Festival and Fall Harvest Festival. These events feature traditional music, dancing, food, and demonstrations of mountain farm skills. The Mountain Farm Museum is a great place to learn about the history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park while having fun!
2.15. Watch synchronous Fireflies
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a definite must-see if you’re looking for a spectacular experience. Hundreds of thousands of these magnificent insects light up the night sky with their distinctive synchronized flashes every summer.
2.16. Drive the Little River Road
The Little River Road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a scenic path that takes you through some of the most beautiful countrysides. Little River Road stretches 32 miles from Townsend, TN to US-441 in Gatlinburg, TN. During the warmer months, the route follows the Little River, which provides plenty of chances for fishing and swimming.
Along the way, you’ll see historical places including Cades Cove Loop and Sugarlands Visitor Center. There are lots of spots to stop along the way for picnics or simply to take in all of the beauty of ancient mountains.
3. Amazing facts about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited in the US, with over 11 million visitors each year.
- The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also known as “The Land Of 10,000 Waterfalls” due to its abundance of cascading streams and rivers!
- Over 10,000 archaeological sites have been found within the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains!
- The Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers over 800 square miles, making it one of the largest protected areas east of the Mississippi River.
- The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to more than 1,500 species of plant and animal life including black bears, salamanders, and elk.
- This most visited National Park is home to over 1,500 types of flowering plants and more than 200 species of birds – making it a bird watcher’s paradise!
4. Best Stays in & around Great Smoky Mountains National Park
4.1 Greystone Lodge on the River
The Greystone Lodge on the River, located only minutes from downtown Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, is an excellent alternative for visitors seeking comfortable lodging near all that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has to offer. This lodge features large rooms with balconies overlooking the Little Pigeon River, and also an outdoor pool and hot tub. Each morning, you can also enjoy a complimentary breakfast before venturing out to nearby attractions like Dollywood Theme Park and Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort.
4.2 Blackberry Farm
Blackberry Farm is a fantastic choice for anyone looking for a more deluxe experience while visiting Smoky Mountain National Park. This facility, situated on 4200 acres of unspoiled countryside in Walland, Tennessee, offers magnificent apartments with fireplaces and private balconies, plus a choice of activities such as horseback riding, fly fishing, and spa services. You can also dine at the on-site restaurant or visit neighboring sights such as Cades Cove and Clingmans Dome.
4.3 The Swag
The Swag is an excellent choice for rustic experience. This remote mountain resort in Waynesville, North Carolina, offers magnificent accommodations with breathtaking views of the surrounding towns and mountains.
5. Best Ways to Reach Smoky Mountains, National Park
The easiest and often a most affordable way of reaching the National Park is by car. Depending on where you’re coming from, it could take anywhere from 2-6 hours. Be sure to bring along a good GPS or use Google Maps to plan out your route ahead of time.
5.2 Take a Flight
For those traveling internationally or far away domestically, flying into Knoxville (TYS) is your best bet as it’s only about an hour’s drive away from Gatlinburg (the closest town). From there you’ll need to rent a car or find other transportation options such as Uber/Lyft or local shuttles to get up into the National Park itself.
5.3 Take a Train
While not as common anymore, trains still run through East Tennessee and can be used as an option if needed. The closest Amtrak station near the National Park is in Asheville, NC which is about 2 hours away by car. From there you can find other transportation options such as Uber/Lyft or local shuttles to get to the National Park.
5.4 Bus Ride
For those looking for a more budget-friendly option, taking a bus may be the way to go.
Greyhound runs frequent trips from all over the country and their nearest stop is in Knoxville which is an hour’s drive away from Gatlinburg (the closest town).
6. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q1. How big is The Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
The National Park covers an area of 522,427 acres (2,114 km2) making it one of the largest protected areas in East Tennessee.
Q2. What is the best time of year to visit The Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
Generally, spring and fall are the most popular times to visit The Great Smoky Mountains National Park due to the mild temperatures and beautiful foliage.
Q3. Are pets allowed in Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
Pets are allowed but must be kept on a leash at all times and are not permitted on hiking trails or in public buildings.
Q4. How long is the Appalachian Trail?
The Appalachian Trail is approximately 2,190 miles long and stretches from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
Q5. How much does it cost to enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
There is no entrance fee for visiting this National Park!
Q6. How many mountains are there in Tennessee?
There are over 100 named mountains in Tennessee, including the Great Smoky Mountains, Roan Mountain, Blue Ridge Mountains, Mount Le Conte, and Big Frog Mountain.
Q7. Is it possible to drive through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
Yes, you can drive through most of the park on Newfound Gap Road which connects Gatlinburg, TN with Cherokee, NC.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a dreamer’s land as it offers unbelievable scenery of the ancient mountains and nature. After reading this article, you should have a good idea of some of the best things to do in Smoky Mountain National Park. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and experience the beauty and majesty of the Smokies!
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