Great Smoky Mountains National Park: A Visitor’s Guide

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

great smoky mountains national park
Simon/Flickr/CC by 2.0

The Great Smokey Mountains National Park was authorized in 1926 and designated a Biosphere Reserve in 1976 and a World Heritage Site in 1983. The 521,621-acre forested park is world-renowned for the diversity of its plants and animals, the beauty of its ancient mountains, the quality of its remnants of American pioneer culture, and the depth and integrity of the wilderness sanctuary within its boundaries. It’s one of the largest protected areas in the East. The park is located in eastern Tennessee, near Gatlinburg; and western North Carolina, near Cherokee.

arrow-icon  Phone Number: 865/436-1200

arrow-icon  Park Hours:  Sugarland and Oconaluftee visitor centers are open daily. Cades Cove has a different schedule.

arrow-icon  When to Go: Busiest July, August, and October. Least crowded January and February.

arrow-icon  Helpful Links:

arrow-icon  What to Do: Bicycling, Hiking, fishing, camping, horseback riding, picnicking, and tubing, wildlife viewing, bird-watching.

arrow-icon  Facilities: Visitor center, Nature Center, Historical Museum, Hiking Trails, Picnic Tables with fire grills, Gift Shop, and restrooms.

arrow-icon  Programs/Events: Ranger-led interpretive walks and talks, video presentations, and campfire programs (June-September). Storytelling, living-history programs, Old Timers’ Day, built Show, Women’s Work, Mountain Life Festival, Sorghum Molasses and Apple Butter Making (all May-October); Cosby in the Park (3rd Sat, in May), Festival of Christmas Past (2nd Sat. in Dec.).

arrow-icon  Address: Sugarlands Visitor Center, 1420 Fighting Creek Gap Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 377380 
arrow-icon  Directions: Choose Starting Point   national parks

arrow-icon  Address: Oconaluftee Visitor Center, 1194 Newfound Gap Rd, Cherokee, NC 28719
arrow-icon  Directions: Choose Starting Point  national parks

arrow-icon  Number of Visitors/Year:
11,421,200 (Year 2018)

arrow-icon  Fees and Permits:  Access to the park is free. However, if you wish to camp in the park there is a fee of $12 to $20 per night. Camping needs to be coordinated with the park’s administration.

  Accessibility: Much of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be enjoyed from your vehicle and the many accessible facilities. Some places and activities have limited or wheelchair access.

arrow-icon  Pets: The park features areas and trails that are pet-friendly and restricted or closed to pets. Pets must be restrained on a 6 feet leash, never left unattended, and owners are responsible for removing pet waste.

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Birds you can see in the Smoky Mountains National Park

Major Attractions

Visit Cades Cove, which features the history from the time settlers moved into the region inhabited by Cherokee Indians through the times of the civil war. The scenic valley features structures and sites that have information panels making it a self-guided tour through the region’s history. Tiny churches, cabins, and other buildings have been rebuilt to look like they did in their prime time.

Visit the Clingmans Dome and 54-foot observation tower. At 6,643 feet Clingmans Dome is the highest point of Tennessee. One can drive from Newfound Gap taking the Clingmans Dome Road, once there; walk a half a mile trail to the observation tower.

Hike one of the five trails on Mount Leconte. These trails traverse the core of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These trails can be hiked using the LeConte Lodge as a base.

One of the most popular highlights of a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a visit to one of several waterfalls. They vary in height and complexity but they are spectacular. The most popular waterfalls include Laurel Falls, Abrams Falls, Hen Wallow Falls, Grotto Falls, and Juney Whank Falls.

Tip: Expect temperatures to be 10-20 degrees cooler on mountaintops (up to 6,643 feet). Summers are hot and humid at lower elevations; frost begins in late Sept.; the driest weather is in the fall.

Great Smokey Mountains National Park’s Summary Reviews

The following are summaries of actual reviews made by visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

What is good:

One of my favorite parks in the US. I’ve done a lot of hiking here and every time it seems to get better and better.

Tons of trails from the day hiker to the more adventurous.

If you’ve never been or I consider going I would highly check it out and make sure you spend at least a week here so you can take in all the sites.

Always love driving through the Smokey Mountains. Favorite time of year to drive through is fall time though. The trees are gorgeous and the towns nearby are decked with fall decorations.

There are lots of roads, tons of hiking trails and great views. Lots of wildlife to be seen as well from bears to elk. Such an awesome place to visit and explore.

I came to the Smokies for hiking and nature, but the people are warm and welcoming and the food great.

Such a wonderful place to visit!! Stay in a cabin if you can.

Many places to pull off the road for views. Perfect for those who can’t handle the hiking but want the higher views.

This place is the love of my life. I have come every year for as long as I can remember. It has so many memories for me.

If you love nature and seeing a place that us humans have not destroyed with buildings and the murder of innocent animals. You should come and see. It’s worth I promise.

We visited in early fall, the colors were very pretty. Nice hikes, short and long ones. Lots of great waterfalls and cascades. Watched the sunset over the mountains one night, breathtaking!

So beautiful! Words cannot describe the beauty here! So many great trails picnic areas, little gift stores!

My favorite place on earth. The swinging bridge was awesome. I have been going there for over 40 years. I have walked nearly all trails up to 8 miles. The downtown is great!

Nature is amazing! I can’t find any words to describe how truly beautiful The Smoky Mountains are.

Stunning! Well maintained with the best rangers and volunteers around! Everyone is so helpful and informative when we come to the park.

What is not so good:

It was packed, nowhere to park, bathrooms dirty/smelly. Views during the drive were pretty, but again nowhere to park. Didn’t get to hike at all.

We had to eat something and the prices were outrageous for terrible food! It’s a neat experience but only go with 0% rain chance!

If you love large crowds and heavy traffic, this is the place for you. If not, try the North Carolina side of the smokies.

Underwhelming national park. Nothing specific to do except one view which we see in photos.
These people stopped multiple times in the middle of the road to try to harass bears. It would be a wonderful park if people didn’t suck so much.

Very dirty! If I could give negative stars I would! We found bed bugs and all the staff gave them was another room. Never stay here.

Be prepared as there are no places to get food or drinks once you are in the park so a cooler is probably a good idea.

I totally hated this experience. I wish we had never chosen to go here. Definitely the worst trip we have ever taken. Please, don’t waste your time. I DO NOT recommend this place.

Gatlinburg, always a rip-off. There are so many other, better places to vacation. It’s like paying for Disney but going to a parking lot carnival.

The park rangers were rude. There was one rising a bike that yelled at people if they slowed down to look at animals. Very unfriendly.

Reservations service did not email or call to cancel the day they closed. But they love to charge cancellation fees.

Miserable experience. Roads not designed to handle the quantity of traffic.

I have been to about 30 national parks and by far this one has been the worst. It was not the park itself but the people in the park were annoying, obnoxious and rude.

By far great Smokey mountain national park was the most touristy and crowded national park I have been to.

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