Complete Guide to Visiting Great Smokey Mountains National Park
Deep forests and mountain streams blanket the ancient mountains of Great Smokey Mountain National Park. This large eastern park is full of history, wildlife, and mountains that seem to expand in every direction. You need several days to explore this park and will find many hikes and activities on both sides of the border in North Carolina and Tennessee.
Essential Guides to Visiting Smokey Mountains National Park
Highlights of Visiting Smokey Mountains National Park
You need a car and a few days to explore the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Below are a few of the highlights to add to your list of things to do:
- Take a Hike in Smokey Mountains: Our favorites are Alum Cave Trail to Mout LeConte and Chimney Tops
- Visit a Waterfall – there are many amazing waterfalls to visit. Make sure to check out Rainbow Falls, Laurel Falls, Grotto Falls, and Ramsey Cascades Trail.
- Drive and Walk to Clingman’s Dome – the highest point in the, park, you can drive and walk to the top of Clingman’s Dome for 360 degree views
- Go Tubing – Check out the tube rentals and tubing at Deep Creek
- Drive and take in the Scenic Views: drive right through the center of the park to get the best views
- Cades Cove – Stop by the beautiful and historic Cades Cove
- Explore Nature – Wildlife abounds in the park. In addition to the elk, bear and synchronous fireflies, check out the fall leaves and the spring wildflowers.
Looking for more to do? Check out 15 Awesome Things to do in Cherokee, NC, and Great Smokey Mountains National Park
Things to Know About Visiting Smokey Mountains National Park
Best Time to Visit Smokey Mountains National Park
The Great Smokey Mountains NP make a great year-round destination, but the best time to visit is probably in late spring when the temperatures are warm, the wildflowers are out, and the synchronous fireflies. Another great option is to visit in the fall when the fall colors are out on the trees. Summers are often hot and crowded, but the mountains do offer cooler temperatures.
How to Get to Smokey Mountains National Park
Great Smokey Mountains National Park is located on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. You can reach the park from either state. The best airport to fly into to get to the Great Smokey Mountains is either:
- McGee-Tyson Airport (TYS) in Alcoa, TN, south of Knoxville
- Asheville Airport
- Greenville Airport – GSP International Airport is in South Carolina
- Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)
From these airports, you will want to rent a car and drive to the Smokey Mountains. There are several places to stay in the park, but you can also stay in North Carolina near Cherokee, or in Tennessee near Gatlinburg. Below are some common driving times to get to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park:
- Asheville to Great Smokey Mountains National Park: 1 hour
- Greenville to Great Smokey Mountains National Park: 2 hours
- Knoxville to Great Smokey Mountains National Park: 45 minutes
- Shenandoah to Great Smokey Mountains National Park: 5.5 hours
Need to Know About Smokey Mountains
The Smokey Mountains cover a large area so you will need to factor in driving time. If you have a week, you may want to break your time up and stay in 2 different locations. Another great way for visiting Great Smokey Mountain National Park is on an east coast road trip. You can combine a visit to the Smokey Mountains with a drive up Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park.
You can get up-to-date travel information on the National Park Website.
How Much Time do you Need in Smokey Mountains National Park?
If you are visiting the Great Smokey Mountains you need at least 3 days to see the main sites, do some hikes and explore some of the other activities in the area. You can easily find things to explore in the park and the nearby areas on a week-long trip.
Lodging Near Smokey Mountains National Park
There are several different campgrounds within Great Smokey Mountains National Park that offer sites for tents, RV’s, groups, backpackers, and horses. Once you are within the park you have limited options for facilities so many people choose to stay outside of the park. There are many towns around the Great Smokey Mountains that offer hotels, models, cabins and campgrounds.
Looking for more information about planning a National Parks trip? See our National Park Planning Guide.