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Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most beloved national parks and for good reason! Nestled on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smokies offer beautiful year-round views as well as access to towns like Gatlinburg, TN which offer plenty to do for any traveler.
Quick Facts: Smoky Mountain National Park
- Location: The Smoky Mountains straddles both Tennessee and North Carolina with towns with main entrance points like Gatlinburg, TN and Bryson City, NC.
- Hours: The park is open 24/7 but there are multiple visitor centers throughout the park that have set hours throughout the week. Check out the site’s page to confirm hours.
- Visitor Centers:
- Sugar Lands Visitor Center located in Gatlinburg, Tennessee
- Oconaluftee Visitor venter located in Cherokee, NC
- Cades Cove Visitor Center located in Townsend, TN
- Clingmans Dome Visitor Center located in Bryson City, NC
- Entrance Fees: No entrance fees required
- Size: 522,427 acres
Best Time to Visit
Smoky Mountains National Park is great to visit year-round with stunning views in every season. Of course, you’ll want to plan your visit based on what you are most interested in doing at the park. But here is a list of things you can do in every season.
Fall in the Smokies
Check out the fall foliage. We visited right at the end of fall and the colors were gorgeous. The number one activity to do in the fall is check out the fall foliage. The park is abundant with beautiful fall colors for most of the month of October. Before you plan your trip, check out the fall foliage map tracker to predict when the peak time to visit is.
Hiking is a great activity to do in the fall with colorful leaves abound! Make sure to check the weather and hike in layers so you can adjust throughout the day. Recommended hike: Chimney Tops Trail for log stairs through beautiful fall trees.
Go on hay rides- you can go on beautiful fall hayrides in Cades Cove
Attend a fall festival. There are plenty of fall festivals to check out near the Smoky Mountains. Check out the Pigeon Forge Fall Festival page for events and dates.
Winter in the Smokies
Go on winter hikes. Check out some of the beautiful waterfall hikes in Smoky Mountains National Park for beautiful snowcapped scenery. Laurel Falls hike is an easy out and back trail over a mile each way. It doesn’t have much of an incline so should be manageable in winter weather.
Try out winter sports at Ober Gatlinburg. Ober Gatlinburg has plenty of winter weather activities to fill out your itinerary including ice skating, scenic chairlift rides, and alpine sliding.
Check out the Winterfest Lights which typically runs from November through February. Fun winter events like Polar Express train rides and driving light tours are just some of the fun activities you can do.
Spring in the Smokies
Check out wildflowers on a spring hike. You can’t go wrong with pretty much any hike during the spring, once the wildflowers start blooming. Because temperatures will still be cooler during the spring, this can be a good time to tackle a long Appalachian Trail hike like Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte which is a 10.6 mile out and back trail located near Gatlinburg.
Mountain bike through the mountains. Mountain biking can be a great way to check out all the beauty the Smokies have to offer. Check out Fire Mountain Trail System in Cherokee, NC for great trails.
Summer in the Smokies
Whitewater rafting. Summer is a great time to cool off in the water, so check out white water rafting through the Great Smoky Mountains. Smoky Mountain Rafting offers multiple trip and rafting options.
Tubing through the Smokies. Check out Smoky Mountain River Rats for tubing, whitewater rafting, and zip line options.
Best Views in the Park
Catch the sunset at the Newfound Gap parking lot for stunning views! Make sure to show up about 20-30 minutes before sunrise to get a good view. This is also a good starting point if you want to hike part of the Appalachian Trail as there is an entrance from the parking lot.
Clingmans Dome is a very popular destination for breathtaking views. You can easily access the dome via car. Try and go early if possible as there can be long waits to park when the weather is gorgeous. We made one attempt to visit and it was too foggy to see anything so plan accordingly.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of hotels in neighboring towns around the Smoky Mountains. Check out Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge on the Tennessee side or Cherokee and Bryson City on the North Carolina side.
There are also plenty of Airbnb options in the area including many up in the mountains in Sevierville, TN. We stayed at the Top’o the mtn Log Cabin– you can find the listing here. It was beautifully nestled up in the mountains in Sevierville complete with hot tub, pool table, and beautiful views.
Best Hikes in Smoky Mountain National Park
Newfound Gap to Charlies Bunion
Charlies Bunion is a 8.6 mile out and back trail that is located close to Gatlinburg, TN. You can access the trail via the Newfound Gap parking lot. This beautiful segment of the Appalachian Trail offers breathtaking views along the hike and ends at Charlies Bunion, a huge boulder that sits amongst the mountains.
Chimney Tops Trail
Chimney Tops Trail is a 4.5 mile out and back trail that offers beautiful water landscape views and lots of stairs. This hike is beautiful but comes with a very steep incline full of log stairs throughout the way. This trail starts at the Chimney Tops Trailhead parking lot located about 11 miles from Gatlinburg.
Laurel Falls Trail
Laurel Falls Trail is a fairly easy 2.4 mile out and back trail located near Gatlinburg, TN. The trail has minimal incline but offers a beautiful waterfall at the end of the trail.
Leggings. Yoga leggings are my go-to wear for hiking and you can find pretty affordable and durable pairs on Amazon here.
Backpack. Bringing something to pack your stuff in is essential. Pick a backpack that is lightweight on its own but has plenty of compartments to store your hiking essentials. You can check out the TETON Sports Oasis backpack from Amazon here.