OBE Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitors Guide

We want to help you plan your trip with the OBE Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitors Guide. The Smoky National Park, America’s most popular national park, is a great escape. Experience one of America’s oldest mountain ranges by hiking and camping there.

Want more ideas to round-out your trip to Smoky Mountain National Park?
A lot of great ideas are in these posts!

About Smoky Mountains National Park

On the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which was founded in 1926, is made up of hill after ridge of seemingly infinite woodland. This mountain region, known as the Smokies because of the persistent morning fog, is well known across the world for the variety of both its plant and animal life.

This Smoky Mountains visitors guide will give the parks information and also offer the history of southern Appalachian mountain culture and the grandeur of its ancient mountains. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has approximately 80 historic structures, breathtaking floral displays, and a variety of fauna to enjoy.

The Tennessee-North Carolina border runs the length of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park region. Between the two visitor centers, Sugarlands and Oconaluftee, which are separated by miles of deciduous woodland, lies a mirror image of the other. Waterfalls can be found all across the park, and the bigger falls like Grotto, Laurel, Abrams, Rainbow, and Mingo attract more than 200,000 tourists annually.

Best Smoky Mountain Visitors Guide (6)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitors Guide – Reasons to Visit

check out our video

1. Hiking

Hiking is a Smoky Mountains visitors guide top recommendation in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park visitor’s handbook. There are a number of hiking options with 150 “official” hiking trails. Popular hikes include Grotto Falls, Clingmans Dome, and Laurel Falls, which can all be reached by trolley from Gatlinburg. Be sure to arrive early for these hikes because parking lots fill up quickly. However, don’t ignore the “Quiet Walks” banners because they will lead you on quieter, shorter strolls along the river.

2. Fishing

If you appreciate the hobby, there are countless opportunities to catch your favorite fish. The park’s enchanted waterfalls can be enjoyed as well. The 100-foot-tall Ramsey Cascade and Abrams Falls are two of the magnificent waterfalls in the area.

Despite its modest height, Abrams Falls contain a substantial amount of water. Another fantastic location to visit is Rainbow Falls, where you may delight in seeing the rainbow that develops on bright days. Ice accumulates at the magnificent waterfalls on chilly winter days.

3. Scenic Drives

The Smoky Mountains also offer the amazing convenience of being accessible by automobile if you prefer not to hike through them. With the convenience of your vehicle, a scenic drive enables you to stop at a variety of locations and explore historic structures, wildlife, and other things. Newfound Gap, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, one-way loop, and Foothills Parkway are a few of the most well-known scenic drives in the park.

4. View Diverse Wildlife

Diverse fauna can be found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are roughly 67 native fish species, over 65 different types of mammals, over 200 different bird species, and over 80 different types of amphibians and reptiles. In the Smoky Mountains, you have the opportunity to see a variety of creatures, such as black bears and white-tailed deer.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitors Guide – Best Time to Visit

The most ideal times to visit the Smoky Mountains national park are in the months of June, July, and October, when the majority of tourists travel there. Although the park is at its busiest, the shoulder months of March, April, and May are our favorites since the trails are jam-packed with hikers and hotels are reserved months in advance.

The winter and spring typically see the least amount of visitors. Over 10 million people visit this national park annually, so even in the slower months, there are plenty of people taking in the Smoky Mountains. The national park service’s visitation data is the basis for this graph in our Smoky Mountains visitors guide.

The busiest seasons of the year typically have warm, sunny days. The magnificent forests of the Smokies are in full view during the height of summer. The height of the fall leaf change occurs in October, thus a lot of people travel during this season. For us the drop off of people and the foliage make this the best time of year in the park.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitors Guide – Getting Around

Driving is the most convenient way to explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Plan to bring your own vehicle since the park doesn’t provide any guided tours and there aren’t any public transit to get you there from the nearby major cities. Except for the Gatlinburg Trail, Oconaluftee River Trail, and the Deep Creek Trail, bicycles are not permitted on any park trails.

At the Smoky Mountains visitors guide we believe to truly appreciate the beautiful drives through the park, you’ll need a car. There are no gas stations inside the park, so make sure to refuel before entering. However, drivers of electric cars can locate charging stations at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in North Carolina and the Sugarlands Visitor Center in Tennessee. Both the McGhee Tyson Airport and the Asheville Airport provide car rentals from reputable businesses including Enterprise, Budget, and Hertz.

The closest airport on the Tennessee side is McGhee Tyson (TYS), which is located just south of Knoxville and is less than 25 miles northwest of the park. The closest airport in North Carolina is Asheville Regional Airport (AVL), which is located about 60 miles east of the Cherokee entrance. In both airports, you can rent a car. The park has three primary entrances: one in North Carolina and two in Tennessee (Gatlinburg and Townsend) (Cherokee).

Smoky Mountains Visitors Shuttle for Hikers and Backpackers

There are hiking shuttle services available for everyone. Do you require transportation to and from the trail’s end? Have someone drive you to the trailhead so you may drop off your car there. Pick you up and drop you off? Drive your vehicle to the finish line?

Pick you up once your hike is cut short? Call a shuttle service for assistance if you have any questions regarding any of them. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy graciously provided the information.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitors Guide – Parking Fees

There are many interesting places to explore in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is a lovely park. Starting in early March 2023, there will be a parking tax in place in order to preserve the area’s beauty and ensure its continued prosperity for future generations.

Parking in the Great Smoky Mountains is $5 per day, $15 for a tag valid for up to seven days, and $40 for a yearly tag. Remember that tribal members won’t have to pay to park in the national park! You will not be required to pay a fee to drive on any of the park’s roads because this cost solely covers parking.

You’ll be relieved to learn that there is no tag needed for a 15-minute or shorter parking period! The price won’t have any effect on you if all you want to do is cruise through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in your car and take in the scenery. This inexpensive fee will give money to maintain the splendor and viability of our national parks for future generations.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitors Guide – Where to Stay

1. Gatlinburg

In Gatlinburg, there’s always something interesting to see or enjoyable to do. The lively ambience of this thriving Smoky Mountains community is well-known. Despite this, it manages to conserve some of its small-town charm while still appealing to outdoor enthusiasts thanks to its prime location at the foot of the Smoky Mountains.

Gatlinburg welcomes a variety of visitors while retaining a homey atmosphere. Those who want to spend less time driving are drawn to the area’s walkability. Most significantly, Gatlinburg has unbeatable views. If your accommodations have a patio or balcony, you’ll find the scenery to be especially relaxing.

2. Pigeon Forge

Although Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are very similar, there are a few significant differences that should be considered. Due to its proximity to the Smokies, Gatlinburg attracts a lot of outdoorsy individuals. Gatlinburg is close to the national park, while Pigeon Forge is a short drive from the mountains. For individuals who enjoy outdoor activities but also want to have access to food and entertainment, it is the greatest choice. However, in Pigeon Forge, visitors’ priorities can extend beyond the great outdoors. For instance, music is king in this town. Dolly Parton is the driving force behind everything country.

Gatlinburg first seems to have a better location, but it all relies on your vision of the ideal vacation. The LeConte Center, Dollywood, and Sevierville are all more easily accessible from Pigeon Forge. Fans of Dollywood in particular will value how convenient the DreamMore Resort is. This well-liked location provides a number of special benefits, including door-to-door service, a TimeSaver function to reduce wait times, and early ride access on Saturdays.

Inside Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Although the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is easily accessible from Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, staying inside this national treasure is truly majestic. Yes, your trip could feel a little rustic, but you’ll be rewarded with some of the most breathtaking views you’ve ever seen.

Accommodations in the Smoky Mountains offer a tranquil ambiance because they are a little isolated from the activity of Gatlinburg, making them perfect for individuals seeking to disconnect from reality. Although there aren’t many dining options, getting into town isn’t too tough. There are numerous recreational activities, and many campers can start trekking as soon as they put on their hiking boots. If you don’t want to camp out, check out the LeConte Lodge for charmingly basic lodging.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitors Guide – Camping Locations

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Ten constructed campgrounds are available for camping, or you can travel far into the woods to find an isolated wilderness campsite or stay at the renowned Le Conte Lodge (the only in-park lodging option, accessible only by a 5.5-mile one-way minimum hike).

You can also go a short distance outside the park’s boundaries to find a wider range of lodging options, including motels, cabins, and RV sites with full hookups. In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there are eleven established campgrounds.

These ten are all campgrounds for automobiles and we have chosen the our favorites in this Smoky Mountains visitors guide. Only one (Big Creek Campground) prohibits RVs, but the others all allow them. There are flush toilets and running water at every campground. The campground does not offer RV hookups or showers.

The other two campgrounds are first-come, first-served. Eight of the 10 campgrounds accept bookings in advance. Reservations are required at the following campgrounds: Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain, Big Creek, and Cataloochee.
Here are our 5 favorite campgrounds in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

1. Abrams Creek Campground

Abrams Creek Campground in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is ideal for visitors seeking a quiet campsite because it is small and isolated.

It has just 16 campsites and accepts RVs up to 12 feet in length. It`s open from the middle of May to the middle of October. Advance reservations are required.

2. Balsam Mountain Campground

Balsam Mountain Campground, one of the more secluded campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is perfect for people who prefer quiet.

It has 46 campsites and accepts RVs up to 30 feet in length. It`s open from the middle of May to the beginning of October. Advance reservations are required.

3. Big Creek Campground

The Big Creek Campground in GSMNP offers a tranquil, contemplative setting for camping next to Big Creek’s roar.

It has just 12 campsites and doesn`t allow RVs. It`s open from the middle of May to the end of October. Advance reservations are required.

4. Cades Cove Campground

One of the most well-known places in the Great Smoky Mountains, the stunning and historically significant Cades Cove, is easily explored from Cades Cove Campground.

It has 159 campsites. It accepts trailers up to 35 feet in length and motorhomes up to 40 feet in length. It also has an RV dump station. It`s open year-round. Advance reservations are accepted.

5. Cataloochee Campground

A scenic Great Smoky Mountains camping experience is provided by Cataloochee Campground, which is tucked away in a tranquil valley surrounded by stunning mountains.

The campground has 27 campsites and accepts RVs up to 31 feet in length. It`s open from the middle of May to the end of October. Advance reservations are required.

Backpacking and Back Country Camping In Smoky Mountains National Park

On a day trip visit by automobile, you may take advantage of much of what the Great Smoky Mountains have to offer. Ideally, you should also include a little stroll. By RVing or pitching a tent at one of the numerous vehicle parks the Park Service maintains, you may enhance your appreciation of this magnificent heartland of the Southern Appalachians.

But you should think about trying some Smoky Mountain hiking if you want to have the closest, most profound relationship with these old, lushly covered hills. Since the Appalachian Trail follows the top of the Smoky Mountains, it is arguably best recognized for the shelters and sites it provides to thru-hikers. But there are many additional alternatives for backpackers, with more than 800 miles of trails crisscrossing the untamed depths of the Smokies.

Inquiries for organizing a hiking trip should be sent to the Backcountry Information Office at (865) 436-1297. The recommended way of communication is by phone. The information office is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Eastern Time) for phone calls and from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. for in-person assistance. The knowledgeable backpackers in the Backcountry Information Office can answer your questions about backpacking and give you advice on how to have a safe and fun trip.

The park’s more than 800 miles of trails give hikers a variety of landscapes, including breathtaking mountain panoramas, roaring streams and waterfalls, old-growth forest groves, and historic buildings. To locate the trails, backcountry shelters, and campsites in the park, you can download a trail map. Get More Information Here.

Camping Outside the Smoky Mountains National Park


1. Cosby Campground

Newport, Tennessee
GPS: 35.966574, -83.201317


2. Houston Valley

2298 Houston Valley Way
Del Rio, Tennessee
GPS: 35.964831, -82.942913

From Greeneville, TN take TN 70 south about 10 miles. Turn right onto TN 107 west, travel nine miles. Houston Valley is located on the left. From Newport, TN, travel on US25/70 south, turn left onto TN 107 east and travel five miles to Houston Valley. It will be located on the right.


3. Rocky Bluff

Hot Springs, North Carolina
GPS: 35.86356, -82.847321
(828) 689-9694

Rocky Bluff is open 5/1 – 10/31. There are 30 or more campsites at this location. You may stay 14 days at Rocky Bluff. From Hot Springs, take NC209 south 3.3 miles. Left turn into campground.



1. Sunburst Campground

Forest Road 97
Canton, North Carolina
GPS: 35.372745, -82.937508

Pay $15 and stay at nearby Sunburst Campground.

2. Horse Cove

Robbinsville, North Carolina
GPS: 35.365257, -83.918938

There are 16-29 campsites at this location. You may stay 14 days at Horse Cove. From Robbinsville: Take US 129 north 1 mile. Left on NC 143 west for 10 miles. right on SR 1159 for 2.3 miles. Right at Joyce Kilmer Rd. 0.5 miles.

$10/night 04/15 – 10/31
$5/night 11/1 – 04/14 – No water in winter.

3. Cable Cove

Fontana Village, North Carolina
GPS: 35.437698, -83.747597

Cable Cove is open 4/15 – 10/31. There are 16-29 campsites at this location. You may stay 14 days at Cable Cove. There is a 1 mile interpretive trail. Lots of hiking in the area. Being on the water, it is also a popular spot for boating and fishing.


4. Cable Cove Campground 2

Proctor, North Carolina
GPS: 35.43141, -83.75365

This is a great campground featuring 20+ sites some spaced out more than others. But there are definitely some gems. Some sites are located directly on a nice little creek. There are two pairs of toilets. Actual flush toilets, not just a pit. No lights, no electricity or street lights to keep you up.


5. Radical Inclusion Downtown Waynesville

143 East Street, Waynesville, NC
Waynesville, North Carolina
GPS: 35.489224, -82.985561
(828) 476-1465

The road in is Gravel. Radical Inclusion Downtown Waynesville is open Year round. There are 1-5 campsites at this location. A downtown campsite in the backyard of a local nonprofit, 2 blocks from Main Street but in a quiet area. Tent & hammock camping only. Campers are welcome to participate in workshops, but not required to do so.

Boondocking Near Smoky Mountains National Park


1. Weaver Bend

Del Rio, Tennessee
GPS: 35.941446, -82.929593

Weaver Bend is open year round. There are 1-5 campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is 25 feet. You may stay 14 days at Weaver Bend. There a several dispersed, primitive sites along the French Broad River in Cherokee National Forest, TN near Hot Springs NC and Paint Rock and Houston Valley. This is a fairly accessible, free camp area. Low use in the Spring and possibly Fall.

2. Martha Sundquist State Forest

Hartford, Tennessee
GPS: 35.80808, -83.03272
Elevation: 2474′

A state sanctioned Forest area, popular with hunters and hikers. There are something like 10 designated camping sites among the gravel roads which are free for up to 14 days. “In the Gulf Area, dispersed camping is concentrated on the relatively level lands in Martha Sundquist State Forest.

3. Harmon Den Dispersed Camping

Cold Springs Road (NFSR 148)
Hot Springs, North Carolina
GPS: 35.762689, -82.983727

The road in is Gravel. You may stay 14 nights at Harmon Den Dispersed Camping. out your trash. Use existing fire rings, and never wash in a creek.

Harmon Den is on the Appalachian Ranger District in the vicinity of exit 7 off of I-40. The area is a haven for hikers and horseback riders. It offers 54.5 miles of trails with 14.2 miles of trails designated for horseback riding and 40.3 miles for hiking.


1. Sunburst Roadside Campsites

Forest Road 97
Canton, North Carolina
GPS: 35.372745, -82.937508

There are 1-5 campsites at this location. You may stay 14 nights at Sunburst Roadside Campsites. Ten miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway and nestled between Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wilderness within Pisgah National Forest. Two designated free campsites along the road near Sunburst Campground. Camping is only allowed in designated sites in this area. No facilities. If you need facilities, you can pay $15 and stay at nearby Sunburst Campground.

2. Blue Ridge Roadside Campsite

Highway 215
Canton, North Carolina
GPS: 35.308069, -82.908282

You may stay 14 nights at Blue Ridge Roadside Campsite. Though not directly on it, this free primitive roadside campsite was named after the Blue Ridge Parkway by the forest service. On this road, highway 215, you are only allowed to camp in designated campsites

3. Panther Creek

Robbinsville, North Carolina
GPS: 35.370841, -83.627873

The road in is Gravel and .5 miles from a paved road. Panther Creek is open All. There are 1-5 campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is 25 feet. You may stay 14 at Panther Creek.

4. Bear Creek Hunt Camp

National Forest Road
Robbinsville, North Carolina
GPS: 35.419874, -83.948653

Free Dispersed camping in the National Forests in North Carolina’s Cheoah Ranger District. This campsite does not use a reservation system. First come, first served.

5. Santeetlah Lake Site #P13

E. Buffalo Circle
Robbinsville, North Carolina
GPS: 35.363163, -83.831619

The road in is Paved. Santeetlah Lake Site #P13 is open April to October (see comments). There are 1-5 campsites at this location. You may stay 14 Days at Santeetlah Lake Site #P13.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitors Guide – Single-Day Hikes

Smoky Mountains Clingmans Dome

1. Clingmans Dome

The half-mile trek up Clingmans Dome is one of the most well-traveled hiking routes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

About 7 miles from Newfound Gap, there is a sizable parking space where visitors can park their cars. They can then take a half-mile stroll up a paved trail to the viewing tower from there (seen right).

On the second-highest mountain east of the Mississippi River, the observation tower offers the highest vantage point in the Smokies.

Despite being rather steep, the trail is paved and offers several photo opportunities for people who enjoy mountain vistas.

2. Laurel Falls

The mountain laurel, an evergreen shrub that blossoms along the trail and close to the falls in May, is the inspiration for the names of Laurel Branch and the 80-foot-tall Laurel Falls. A boardwalk that spans the stream at the base of the higher falls separates the upper and lower sections of Laurel Falls. There is a limited amount of parking at the trailhead for the falls because it is so well-liked by park visitors. Both on weekdays throughout the summer and on weekends throughout the year, the area is quite crowded.

Laurel Falls is 2.6 miles away, and the hike there is rated as being of moderate difficulty. On average, the climb to the falls and back takes two hours. Although the trail is paved, it is rocky and uneven with a few brief, steep sections that can be hazardous in wet weather. In addition, some of the trail has severe drop-offs, making it unsuitable for wheelchairs or strollers. At all times, children must be closely watched.

From the Sugarlands Visitor Center, turn onto Little River Road in the direction of Cades Cove, then go 3.5 miles to the trailhead. There are parking lots on both sides of the street.

3. Alum Cave Bluff Trail

The path going to Alum Cave Bluff is another well-traveled hiking route in the Smokies. The bluff may be reached from Newfound Gap Road after an about 2.3-mile climb (4.5-mile round trip).

You will travel through an old growth forest with pretty flat terrain for the first mile or two. For the first part of the trail, Alum Cave Creek largely runs parallel to it.

You’ll come upon Arch Rock, a distinctive geological feature, about 1.3 miles into the trip. The path continues to Alum Cave Bluff after passing through the arch rock. The trail starts to get steeper at this point.

The trail extends past Alum Cave Bluff to Mount LeConte, although most hikers turn around there. There is an elevation difference of 1,100 feet from the parking lot to the cave, which is located at just under 5,000 feet above sea level.

The Alum Cave Bluff trailhead is located about 10 miles from Gatlinburg on US 441 (Newfound Gap Road) at these coordinates: 35.629553, -83.451443

4. Chimney Tops Trail

The rocky terrain of a section of the climb makes the Chimney Tops Trail well-liked among hikers. Chimney Tops, which rises to a height of little over 4,800 feet, is not the park’s tallest mountain, but it is one of the more difficult walks.

At these coordinates (35.63538, -83.46979), US 441 (Newfound Gap Road) leads to the trailhead.

To the peak, it takes two miles of hiking uphill. The first mile is a simple hike with mostly flat terrain. But the final mile gets considerably steeper.

To get to the upper capstone, one must climb over multiple tree roots and rocks on the last section of the trail. From the main hiking trail, there are unmaintained spurs that lead to the lower capstone (shown to the right).

The top of Chimney Tops mountain was severely terrified by the fire in November 2016. The greenery has mostly disappeared.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitors Guide – Best Multi-Day Hikes

1. The Appalachian Trail

The National Scenic Trails system includes the Appalachian Trail. Benton MacKaye, a forester, came up with the idea for the path in 1921. The trail’s first portion, from Bear Mountain in the west through Harriman State Park to Arden, New York, was inaugurated in 1932.

It was finished in 1937 and extended to Sugarload Mountain in Maine. It was not given National Scenic Trail status until the National Trail System Act was ratified by Congress on October 2, 1968.

Springer Mountain, Georgia, marks the start of the southern end. On Mount Katahdin in north-central Maine, you may find the northern end. The 2,175-mile-long Appalachian Trail passes through the wilderness or woodland regions of 14 different states.

The track crosses paths with a lot of roads, communities, and big cities. The Appalachian Trail explores the Appalachian Mountains in general as well as the distinctive culture that has developed there.

The Appalachian Trail passes through several national parks, one of which being the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The route enters the park near Fontana Dam and travels north to south until it reaches Davenport Gap (I-40 exit 451), which is close to Waterville, North Carolina.

The Appalachian Trail traverses the tallest ridgeline of the park for a total of around 72 kilometers. Mount Cammerer and Clingmans Dome are two of the most notable locations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park region.

The trail is evenly spaced out with shelters for overnight use; setting up tents is not allowed. It is crucial to reserve the shelter(s) for your intended climb as each shelter can only accommodate 8–12 people, depending on the site. The Backcountry Office can be reached at (865) 436-1231 if you want to make a shelter reservation and get a backcountry permit.

The Appalachian Trail is marked on this map of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in green. The Appalachian Trail is depicted on the following interactive map.

Visit the Appalachian Trail website to learn more about it. Additionally, visit the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to read detailed descriptions and purchase trail-related goods like maps, books, and apparel.

2. Benton MacKaye Trail

The Benton MacKaye Trail travels through Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina for around 300 miles. The Appalachian Trek’s starting point for the trail is Springer Mountain, Georgia.

But before it crosses the Appalachian Trail in the southernmost part of the Great Smoky Mountains, the Benton MacKaye Trail travels west, away from the Appalachian Trail, and stops at eight wilderness areas that are under federal protection.

Though it rejoins the Appalachian Trail at Davenport Gap, the trail comes to an end there. For multi-day hikers seeking an alternative to the Appalachian Trail, the Benton MacKaye Trail provides a distinct route across the areas that it crosses.

The Benton MacKaye Trail Association oversees and cares for the Benton MacKaye Trail. The association was established in 1979, and in 1980 it started to plan and build the route. The Benton MacKaye Trail was given his name when it was eventually completed in 2005. The Appalachian Mountain Trail was built in accordance with his original vision and design.

The Benton MacKaye Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park ascends hills and follows Lake Fontana’s shoreline on the park’s North Carolina side. There are numerous campsites to choose from along the trail’s approximately 93.7 miles of parkland.

The trail’s middle section joins the Mountains to Sea Trail at Deep Creek before diverging at Newton Bald. Call the Backcountry Office at (865) 436-1231 to reserve a campsite for an overnight stay.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park map has a yellow highlight around the Benton MacKaye Trail. Visit the trail’s official Web site at

3. Mountains to Sea Trail

The State Parks System of North Carolina includes the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. This path, which starts at Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and ends at Jocky’s Ridge State Park in the Outer Banks, is currently being built; only about 650 miles of the 1,200 intended miles have been completed.

However, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail’s beginning section in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is entirely finished and open to the public. The trail is accessible via Clingmans Dome, the Appalachian Trail, or Highway 441 in the park’s southern region, close to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

Approximately 23.3 miles of hiking can be accomplished on this park trail.

The Mountains-to-Sea Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park does not have any shelters along it, in contrast to the Appalachian Trail. Tent camping is permitted, but only in the designated campsites denoted by numbers on the park map.

Call the Backcountry Office at (865) 436-1231 to reserve a campsite for an overnight stay. On the GSMNP map, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail is highlighted in purple.

For more information, visit the North Carolina State Parks- Mountains-to-Sea Trail Web page and the Friends of the Mountain-to-Sea Trail Web site.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitors Guide – Other Activities

1. Backcountry Shelters in the Smokies

All the backcountry Shelters located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They are all found along the Appalachian Trail, except for Kephart, Laurel Gap, Mount Collins, Mount LeConte, Pecks Corner, and Spence Field.

Remember to call the Backcountry Office at (865) 436-1231 and reserve a spot in the shelter at least a month in advance.

Reservations are required for overnight stays in the shelters Contact the Park Service Here For Reservations.

2. Smoky Mountains ATV, Jeep Tours & Rentals

You can explore the area around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on ATV! There are places that offer guided ATV tours near the Smokies. You can also rent ATVs, OHVs, and Jeeps for touring the Smoky Mountains yourself! Check them out below.

Big Rock Dude Ranch & Ponderosa
909 Little Cove Road
Pigeon Forge, TN 37863

Bluff Mountain Adventures
2186 Parkway
Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
(865) 428-7711

3. Horseback Riding in the Smokies

Want to ride a horse in the Smokies? A tranquil method to explore the mountain trails is by horseback. Within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the neighborhood, guided horseback rides are available. (View Stables Below)

Make sure to stick to horse-friendly routes and abide by any backcountry laws if you decide to bring your own horse.

A backcountry permit is required to ride a horse in the backcountry; these are available at any visitor center, campground, or ranger station.

Every horse needs to be hitched to a post at night. The horses must be cross-tied if there is no hitching post to prevent them from chewing on nearby trees or vegetation. It’s against the law to tie horses to trees.

Horses must be restrained 100 feet from both shelter and any source of drinkable water. Additionally, all feed and machinery must be packed in.

Horseback riding is permitted on about 550 miles of trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Horseback riders and hikers can use the dotted trails on the park’s map (link to map). A group tour can have no more than 10 horses.

The horse camps at Anthony Creek (Cades Cove), Big Creek, Cataloochee, Round Bottom, and Tow String are all accessible by car. Between the hours of 10 a.m. and 10 p.m., you can call (877) 444- 6777 to make reservations at these drive-in campers (Eastern Standard Time).

Riding on donkeys and llamas is permitted in the backcountry. Dogs and any other animals are not allowed.

Horses are permitted in the park on the dotted paths but not on the dashed routes (see trail map here). All trails are open to hikers. Visit these service providers or the official national park website for further information.

1. Five Oaks Riding Stables
1628 Parkway,
Sevierville, TN 37862
(877) 287-6946

2. Jayell Ranch
1131 Jayell Road
Sevierville, TN 37862
(865) 776-1593

3. The Deer Farm Riding Stables
478 Happy Hollow Lane
Sevierville, TN 37876
(865) 429-2276

4. Davy Crockett Riding Stables
505 Old Cades Cove Rd.
Townsend, Tn 37882
(865) 448-6411

4. Tubing in the Smokies

The Smokies’ high altitude produces a number of mountain springs that flow down the mountainsides, they combine to form wide streams and creeks, and then develop into rivers. A natural glimpse of some of the breathtaking views the Smoky Mountains have to offer is provided by tubing down one of these beautiful waterways.

Near the southern cities of Townsend, Bryson City, and Cherokee are where you’ll find the most of the gorgeous streams and rivers. Deep Creek, the Oconaluftee River, and the Little River are a few of these rivers. On the Little Pigeon River, tubing is also possible close to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

Some hotels offer free tubing, but if you’d rather, you may purchase an inner tube at any gift shop.

Check out these local tubing services to help plan your trip.

Smoky Mountain River Rat
205 Wears Valley Rd.
Townsend, TN 37882
(865) 448-8888

Smoky Mountain Tubing
1847 Tsali Blvd,
Cherokee, NC 28719

5. Whitewater Rafting in the Smokies

Imagine your raft being covered in white foam while you maintain a straight ahead focus in an effort to avoid the next large boulder. This is just one example of a situation someone could encounter while whitewater rafting in the Smokies.

Two of the most popular rivers for whitewater rafting in the Smoky Mountains are the Nantahala River and the Pigeon River. You can navigate the white-foam rapids on one of these beautiful rivers with the assistance of a reliable guide. Everything is conceivable in the Smokies!

Check out the following commercial rafting companies if you’re up for an excellent trip down a Smoky Mountain river. They’d be delighted to assist you in organizing your upcoming river trip.

Note that there is no whitewater rafting in the immediate Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge area. Most outfitters are located in Hartford, Tenn. at Interstate 40, about 45 minutes from Gatlinburg.

Smoky Mountains National Park Tips & Tricks

1. Take in Spring’s Wildflowers

About Smoky Mountains National Park Visitors Guide - Tips

With more flower species than in any other national park, the Great Smoky Mountains are one of the best sites in the world to experience a floral show. You can anticipate to see a variety of hues from rich pinks and purples to yellow, orange, and white between the end of March and the beginning of May.

Rhododendrons, flame azaleas, trout lilies, trilliums, and lady slipper orchids are just a few examples of the various plants. Many of the flowers have smells that fill the air with the crisp scent of spring in addition to being stunning. You’ll be doing a lot of deep breathing, so don’t forget your allergy medications.

2. Watch Fireflies in Summer

Elkmont hosts an annual firefly viewing event in June that is so popular with tourists that entry to the is for lottery winners only. The stunning bioluminescence show put on by Southern Appalachian synchronous fireflies is proof that nature is the best source of inspiration.

All ages are welcome to the living light show, which is only a short distance from a line of abandoned mountain homes. The stuff upon which dreams are created.

3. Check Out the Autumn Foliage

Plan to see leaf people if you’re in Gatlinburg, Asheville, or any other nearby town between late September and early November. During this time of year, birch, beech, and maple trees change their attire, and the varying seasons burnish the leaves in sweeping brushstrokes.

At Newfound Gap Road, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Cades Cove, and Roaring Fork, you may view the fiery kaleidoscope in all its glory. Clingmans Dome can also be hiked for breathtaking views.

4. Stargaze the Night Away

A You can observe amazing celestial panoramas without any light pollution interfering with the view. The Smokies don’t have the darkest sky in America. But compared to adjacent towns, the park’s size and tall mountains guarantee you’ll view considerably more of Orion’s belt and other constellations.

Start by gathering your coat and focusing on the Newfound Gap Trailhead. For the best viewing, avoid the full moon period of the month.

Have A Game Plan and A Backup Game Plan

It’s time to start making travel plans after going over the rules. Do you enjoy hiking to scenic areas or waterfalls? Would you rather travel by automobile to view the park? Why not ride a few dozen miles on isolated mountain roads on your road bike? Regardless of your preferences, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has plenty to offer!

Make a list of your favorite items and build the day around them while organizing your visit. To find out how close your favorite activities are, look at the maps of the national parks. By doing so, you can map out a route to and from each destination, as well as potential detours. Speaking of substitutes…

Secondary game plans for your Smoky Mountains vacation are crucial, especially in a crowded, undeveloped national park. In the past 15 years, there has been an increase in the number of severe weather incidents in the Smokies.

A part of the park may be affected at any time by drought, strong winds, or even heavy rains. These occurrences may need area closures.

You can still have a ton of fantastic activities planned in the national park if your primary option isn’t viable by having a secondary backup plan.

Additionally, there isn’t much parking available for many well-known day treks including Laurel Falls, Alum Cave, and Clingman’s Dome. It might be necessary to avoid certain regions and return later in the day or the next morning.

Final Thoughts on This Guide to Smoky Mountains National Park

Millions of tourists who enjoy the outdoors flock to the Great Smoky Mountains every year. However, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy quiet and isolation, as our guide illustrates. Often, all it takes is a stroll through the forest.

Few officially recognized National Parks may be found east of the Mississippi. However, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park does its lot to make up for it. The history it preserves is intriguing, and the environment is fairly typical of the larger area.

Those who can can hike, camp, and go on foot exploration. Others can take leisurely drives or unwind by a variety of waterways. The frosting on the cake is getting the chance to see bears, elk, and other wildlife.

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