Smoky Mountains National Park Attractions
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a United States National Park that straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are a division of the larger Appalachian Mountain chain. The border between Tennessee and North Carolina runs northeast to southwest through the centerline of the park. It is the most visited national park in the United States.
Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. World renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, this is America’s most visited national park.
Sighteeing in the Smoky Mountains is unlimited. There are a number of driving trails, numerous historic buildings, and many scenic pullovers throughout the Park.
Things to Do
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a hiker's paradise with over 800 miles of maintained trails ranging from short leg-stretchers to strenuous treks that may require backcountry camping. But hiking is not the only reason for visiting the Smokies. Car camping, fishing, picnicking, wildlife viewing, and auto touring are popular activities.
Whether you delight in the challenge of a strenuous hike to the crest of a mountain or prefer to sit quietly and watch the sun set, Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers a myriad of activities for you to enjoy. The hardest part may be choosing which auto tour, trail, waterfall, overlook, or historic area to explore!
An auto tour of the park offers a chance to see panoramic vistas, rushing mountain streams, weathered historic buildings, and majestic forests stretching to the horizon. Inexpensive booklets are available to serve as your personal tour guides along many park roads
Hours of operation are seasonal and can be affected by severe weather, especially in the winter months
Cades Cove Loop Road
Cades Cove Loop (about half way), an 11 mile, one way drive and is the most visited part of the Park. Along the way you are likely to see wildlife: deer and wild turkey year-round; lots of groundhogs in the summer.
A visitor's center with pioneer exhibits, a 5-mile hike to Abrams Falls, abundant wildlife, campgrounds, bike rentals, spectacular foliage in autumn, and facilities for horseback riding all make Cades Cove a complete visitor's sampler of all the Park has to offer.
Greenbrier Road Tour
This route follows the Little Pigeon River to Trillium Gap and road leads to the trailhead to Ramsay Cascades, arguably the best waterfall in the Park.
Cades Cove is a lush valley surrounded by mountains and is one of the most popular destinations in the Great Smokies. This 11 mile loop is a peaceful driving tour and is used for bicycling. Throughout the Cove you will see historic buildings, including rustic log homes of original residents of the Cove, several churches, an old mill, molasses making equipment, and cemeteries.
Great Smoky Mountain camping is primitive by design. Besides sites nestled in the woods and along rivers, all campgrounds provide cold running water and flush toilets. No hook-ups are available inside the Park. Pets must be restrained at all times and are not permitted on hiking trails.
Anglers can match their skills against wily brook, brown, and rainbow trout on fishable streams in the park.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has about 2,115 miles of streams within its boundaries and protects one of the last wild trout habitats in the eastern United States. The park offers a wide variety of angling experiences from remote, headwater trout streams to large, coolwater smallmouth bass streams. Most streams remain at or near their carrying capacity of fish and offer a great opportunity to catch these species throughout the year.
Choose from over 800 miles of trails ranging from quiet walkways to multi-day backpacking treks through the backcountry
Whitewater Rafting & Tubing
One of the most popular things to do in the Smoky Mountains is whitewater rafting and tubing down a cool mountain river.
Bicycling in the Smoky Mountains is a wonderful experience. The fresh air and beautiful scenery contribute to making your day in the Smokies one to remember. Bicycles are permitted on most roads within the park. However, many park roads are not well suited for safe and enjoyable bicycle riding due to steep terrain, narrow road surfaces, and heavy automobile traffic.
The park has one of the best collections of log buildings in the eastern United States. Nearly 80 historic structures—homes, barns, churches, schools, and grist mills—have been preserved in the park.
Lot of visitors hike well-worn trails to view Grotto, Laurel, Abrams, Rainbow, and other popular waterfalls in the park. Large waterfalls attract the crowds, but smaller cascades and falls can be found on nearly every river and stream in the park.
Tom Branch Falls in the SmokiesThe Smoky Mountains contain many wonderful streams and waterfalls - many of which are rewards for trekking the well-maintained hiking trails. The easiest to get to is Laurel Falls (it's paved for the handicapped) is just off Little River Road between the Sugarlands Visitors Center (which is near near Gatlinburg) and the "Y" to Townsend. The tallest and, arguably, most exciting is Ramsay Cascades.
Sixty nine of the 2,015 miles that make up the Appalachian Trail cross the crest of the Great Smoky Mountains, serving as a border between Tennessee and North Carolina. The AT serves as a backbone to which several major Smokies hiking trails connect. Learn more about the Appalachian Trail.
Viewing wildlife in the Smokies can be challenging because most of the park is covered by dense forest. Open areas like Cataloochee and Cades Cove offer some of the best opportunities to see white-tailed deer, black bear, raccoon, turkeys, woodchucks, and other animals. The narrow, winding road of Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail encourages motorists to travel at a leisurely pace and sometimes yields sightings of bear and other wildlife. During winter wildlife is more visible because deciduous trees have lost their leaves.
Great Smoky Mountains National park is known as the "wildflower national park." You can find blooming plants year-round here, but spring and summer are renown for spectacular displays of wildflowers along roads and trails.
Clingmans Dome is the highest peak in the Smokies (6,643 feet). Some days it's in the cloudsView From Clingmans Dome (see photo below), but on clear days it affords spectacular 360 degree views of the Park (photo right). To get to Clingmans Dome, you want to be on Newfound Gap Road (the only road which completely traverses the Park). One-tenth of a mile south from Newfound Gap you will turn onto Clingmans Dome Road. From there, you'll travel 7 miles, passing several pullouts for views, and end up in a parking area from which you walk a short distance to the top of the mountain. The turnoff to Clingmans is about 25 miles from Cherokee or 22 miles from Gatlinburg. Open from April through December, the road to Clingmans Dome is closed in winter.
One of the most popular hiking mountains in the park.
Newfound Gap Road
The only road that completely traverses the Park, Newfound Gap Road runs the 33 miles between Cherokee NC and Gatlinburg TN. This road has so much to offer in the way of nature walks, hikes, mountain views, and historic structures, that we devote a much longer article (with great photos) about the Newfound Gap Road experience.
Other Smoky Mountains National Park attractions include
- Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
- Chimney Tops
- Abrams Falls Trail
- Grotto Falls Trail
- Laurel Falls
- Tail of the Dragon
- Alum Cave Trail
- Mountain Farm Museum
- Charlie's Bunion
- Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail
After hiking and simple sightseeing, fishing (especially fly fishing) is the most popular activity in the national park. The park's waters have long had a reputation for healthy trout activity as well as challenging fishing terrain. Brook trout are native to the waters, while both brown and rainbow were introduced to the area. Partially due to the fact of recent droughts killing off the native fish, there are strict regulations regarding how fishing may be conducted. Horseback riding (offered by the national park and on limited trails), bicycling (available for rent in Cades Cove) and water tubing are all also practiced within the park.
How to Arrive by Plane
The nearest major airport in Tennessee (McGhee-Tyson, TYS) is Alcoa, 45 miles west of Gatlinburg. North Carolina's, Asheville Airport is 60 miles east of the park.
Remember there are no gas stations or other related services available in the park. Complete services are available in Cherokee, NC, Gatlinburg, TN, Pigeon Forge, TN and Townsend, TN.