Nestled in the breathtaking borders between North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park features stunning landscapes, lush forests, and numerous hikes that include a portion of the Appalachian Trail.
Pro Tip: Before your trip, visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s official online store for maps, books and guides to the park. The store donates proceeds to the park’s educational and scientific projects.
This outdoor wonderland is perfect for campers, hikers and anyone seeking a destination in the beautiful Appalachians. With verdant pastures, abundant wildflowers and scenic drives, this park has it all!
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Top Ten Things to Do at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Whether you prefer a strenuous climb alongside cascading waterfalls or the more shady wooden trails through pine forests, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has options.
At 6,643 feet, Clingmans touts the highest peak in the park and all of Tennesse. This point is a must-see with an observation tower and stunning 360-degree views of the incredible mountains, lakes, and gorges!
Smokemont Campground and Nature Trail
The vibrant section of the park offers camping, hiking, and horseback riding in an earthy, lush forest. The Smokemont Loop Trail is a 6.5-mile round trip hike that starts easy but increases in difficulty with a 1,400-foot increase in elevation.
Pro Tip: Smokemont is an excellent place to camp as the campsite provides adequate space for families to spread out and breathe the fresh country air.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Roaring Fork is a six-mile-long one-way loop road that features breathtaking scenery and two of the Smoky Mountains’ most popular waterfalls (Rainbow Falls and Grotto Falls.)
Take a drive through this lovely valley with historic cabin, mystic lakes and abundant wildflowers.
Newfound Gap Overlook
The scenic 30-mile long Newfound Gap is the lowest drivable pass in the park. The pass (U.S. Route 441) sits at an elevation of 5,046 feet. It runs through the park's middle from the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, over the mountains and into Cherokee, North Carolina.
Photo Alert: Get your phone ready for some incredible photo opp moments along the gorgeous Newfound Gap scenic byway. Many travelers advise the Newfound Gap parking lot for its amazing overlooks and access to trailheads.
Tour Mingus Mill
Take a history lesson while visiting this beautiful mill, built in 1886. Guests can take walking tours through the grist mill that is still operating today.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park's Fontana Lake
Take a picnic at this stunning spot at the southernmost end of the park by the Blue Ridge Mountains. Fontana is famous for boating, swimming and fishing.
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Hike a section of the unique path that is hailed the “Mother of all Trails.” Finished in 1937, this trek takes hikers from northern Georgia across 2,200 miles to the heart of Maine.
Drive Through the Blue Ridge Parkway
This famous route, called the All American Road, is noted for its spectacular scenery. It’s worth the drive that starts in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park winds north to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. The parkway itself runs for 469 miles.
No trip to the park is complete without checking out the Smoky Mountains’ Chimney Tops. But trust us, you’ll be glad you made the effort when the epic views come into focus at the peak! This is one of the most popular hikes in the park and is somewhat challenging, climbing 1,400 feet in the span of two miles, with some rock scrambling at the summit
Photo Alert: The best time to visit the park is in the fall when the gorgeous foliage and colors are at their peak! It’s also less crowded than in the late spring and summer months.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Hours & Entrance Fee
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and there is no entrance fee to enter the park! However, some campgrounds, roads and visitor centers may be closed during the winter.
Pro Tip: For updated information about road and facility closures, call 865-436-1200.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitor Centers
Visitor Centers that feature educational exhibits, including historic structures from early settlements, include ones at Cades Cove.
The Sugarlands Visitor Center
Most experts say you should start your Great Smoky Mountain adventure right here at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. It’s the perfect starting point to learn the park’s logistics, pick up trail maps and make reservations. The visitor center also showcases extensive natural history exhibits and highlights a free 20-minute film about the park. Sugarlands also has a bookstore, gift shop and restrooms.
This visitor center, located just south of Gatlinburg on U.S. Route 441, is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (except for Christmas Day).
Oconaluftee Visitor Center & Mountain Farm Museum
Located on U.S. Highway 441, at the southern end of the park, along the Oconaluftee River, visitors can check out historic buildings and learn about early pioneer settlers.
Also, a half-mile north of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, travelers can explore the historic Mingus Mill, late 19th-century mountain farm and authentic log cabins.
This center is free and open daily. The lot provides ample parking and connects to the Oconaluftee River Trail.
The open-air Mountain Farm Museum, located directly behind the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, is also free for guests.
Photo Alert: The Oconaluftee area is the best place to watch the elk and snap some photos of these fantastic creatures.
Visitor Center Hours
- January, February and March, the center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
- April, May, September and October: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
- June, July and August: 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
- November: 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.