Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Majestic rolling hills covered with lush forestry, wild animals and gorgeous plant life have made Great Smoky Mountains National Park the most visited park of its kind in the country. And while it’s a phenomenal vacation destination, it’s still good to have a bit of a game plan for the trip. That’s why we’ve put together some helpful information to give you the best vacation ever!
1. Getting there
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a couple of entrances in both Tennessee and North Carolina, so you’ve got a couple of options on how to get to the park. Flights into Charlotte are generally going to be a little bit cheaper, and have fewer connecting flights. The only thing you need to know is you’ll have a three-hour drive to the Smokies, which give you a chance to check out the local scenery. We recommend flying into Knoxville. Several major Eastern cities have flights getting there with no more than one connecting flight. And it’s only 35 minutes from TYS to the park’s entrance.
2. Where to stay
One of the cool things about this park is there are some really awesome cabins you can rent. But don’t knock the hotels in this neck of the woods. Places like is right on the edge of the park and near other local attractions. and give that name brand appeal with similar benefits. One of the gems for vacationers is , which is wonderfully cozy and close to nearby skiing areas.
3. Avoiding the crowds
Around nine million people visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so finding a little peace and quiet while there can be a task. But you can still find a bit of solitude at the park if you when to visit. The Smokies has two peak seasons – mid-June to mid-August & October – where the park gets really crowded and plenty of traffic delays, so it’s best to avoid visiting during those times. And if you decide to brave the busy seasons, we suggest visiting early in the day since many visitors tour the park from 10 am to 6 pm.
4. What to see
Want an epic photo to remember your trip to the Smokies? Look no further than Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the park at 6,643 feet. Take some time while in the observation tower atop the point can offer views going over 100 miles on a clear day. Just make sure you’re ready for a bit of a chill because temperatures at the dome can range between 10-20 degrees cooler than in the lowlands.
Folks visiting the Roaring Fork area of the park will want to make the hike along Rainbow Falls Trail to get to this breathtaking waterfall. This 80-foot high waterfall produces rainbows in its mist during sunny afternoons. We don’t want you thinking this is only a good place for when the weather is nice as Rainbow Falls creates some really cool ice formations during the wintertime.
This spot in the Smokies is just as much a history lesson as it is beautiful to see in person. Greenbrier Cove was once home to Appalachian families in the 1800s, with some of the descendants moving just outside of the area when the national park was set up. You’ll find some cemeteries with headstones for people probably born before your grandmother’s grandmother within these wooded environs. You’ll also discover serene bodies of water running throughout, such as Little Pigeon River and Porters Creek (pictured above). Even better than the visit is the fact this area is one of the places off the beaten path from the heavier tourist traffic areas, so you can enjoy it without much disruption.
Like we mentioned just a moment ago, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has spots where people not only live, but thrived. Cataloochee Valley was once home to around 1,200 people in the early 1900s. Many of the folks made their living by farmer, but there were some families that boarded tourists at the time looking to vacation in the mountains. There are several buildings preserved in this area to give you a great look at the craftsmanship. The valley is also known for being a spot to see the park’s wildlife in action – white-tailed deer, elk, raccoons, turkeys, black bears and more.
Blooming shrubs and wildflowers
You know there’s tons of wildlife at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but the place is teeming with beautiful plant life. The Smokies have over 1,500 different kinds of flowering plants around the park, and another nine flowering shrubs. Flower lovers should definitely make it to the park in late April for the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage to check out the plants, but also take photographic tours and indoor seminars.