Great Smoky Mountain National Park Travel Guide

As America’s most visited national park, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, a.k.a. “the smokies,” is a park that every outdoor explorer would find to be a dream! Located between the states of North Carolina and Tennessee, this park has a breathtaking, ever-lasting fog that hovers over the forests and mountains, a variety of plant and animal life, and some of the oldest mountains in the country. If you’re ready to adventure to this dreamy landscape, then you’ve come to the right place. Here is your guide on how to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Know Before You Go

The most popular time to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park is June, July, and August. The spring is a great time to visit too since wildflowers are blooming and the humidity is low. What’s great about this park is that no entrance fee is required to get in, unlike many other national parks.


There are different access points to the park. You can enter the South District from Cherokee, North Carolina, where Oconaluftee Visitor Center is located and the North District from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where Sugarlands Visitor Center is located. 


Things to Do

There are so many different aspects to the park that make it an enjoyable place. The Great Smoky Mountains are home to almost 2,000 black bears, as well as salamanders, white-tailed deer, and many other animals. In addition, you can explore many historic buildings that are still preserved in the park, as well as several waterfalls and hiking trails, such as ones along the Appalachian Trail.

Explore Waterfalls 

Waterfalls in Great Smoky Mountains

According to the National Park Service, the consistent rainfall and elevation gradient is why there are so many waterfalls and cascades to explore in the park. Laurel Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls for visitors to explore—it requires a fairly easy, 2.4-mile hike to get to and is 80 feet tall! There are many others you can check out as well, such as Abrams Falls, which is only 20 feet high but flows heavily, and Rainbow Falls, which is a waterfall made by mist that can usually be seen on bright, sunny afternoons.


Go on Hikes

Great Smoky Mountain Hiking Views

Hiking to different view points is a must-do activity while in the park, especially spots that cross over the Appalachian Trail. Who knows, maybe you’ll see some thru-hikers while you’re out there! The highest point in the park, Clingmans Dome Observation Tower, crosses over the trail and offers incredible mountain views. Avid adventurers should check out the popular, 11-mile Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte, which features bridges, rivers, a walk past Alum Cave Bluff, and 360 views of the Smokies. Dare devils would love the Chimney Tops, which is a difficult, short hike that features a steep climb up exposed rock. There are also many easy trails in the park for those looking for leisure.


Enjoy a Day on Water

Fontana Dam Great Smoky Mountains

Have you ever thought about going on a whitewater rafting tour with your family, or paddling  gently along calm lakes? Luckily, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a place where you can do that with Smoky Mountain Outdoors. Go on a rafting tour along the rapid and picturesque Upper Pigeon River or kayak along Fontana Lake, which features the tallest dam east of the Rocky Mountains. In addition to being on water, enjoy a day of exploring marine animals at the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies with your grandkids!

Go On a Scenic Drive

Foothills Parkway is a 72-mile road that offers scenic views of the Great Smoky Mountains, but only 22.5 miles of it are finished and open to the public. In fact, it is the oldest unfinished parkway road in the state of Tennessee. Other scenic drives you can do in the park are the Cades Cove Loop Road, where you can view ancient architecture, and Newfound Gap Road, where you can explore a variety of biodiversity. There are many more scenic spots you can tour in the park as well!


Where to Stay

There are 10 campgrounds inside of the park that Great Smoky Mountain National Park manages. Cades Cove and Smokemont Campground are open year-round, while the others are seasonal. There are no hookups available at these sites inside of the park. For campgrounds with hookups, you will need to stay at one outside of the park.

Inside of the Park

Outside of the Park

If you love to explore the great outdoors and learn about history, then Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the place to go. The park’s beauty, hiking trails, and ancient mountains make it quite a special place. If you want to explore more national parks in the southeast, we’ve got an entire guide on that well.

See you on the road!

Comment 1

David Ash on

On destination campgrounds Anchor Down is one of the best we have ever been to. Gorgeous views of the Smokies and situated right on Douglas lake.

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