It’s simple to see why the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most popular parks in the country! It’s a fantastic place for family to camp, walk, and enjoy nature.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located in Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s a lovely trip, and the park is free to visit – which is unusual for National Parks – so it’s definitely on our “must see” list! If you’re planning a road trip (at any time of year), take this gorgeous route and make some unforgettable memories.
It’s crucial to allow enough time to visit the Great Smoky Mountains so you don’t have to rush. The travel isn’t very challenging, but it’s not one I’d make in the thick of winter. Because the mountain roads are twisting and turny, with inclines and declines, allow plenty of time to safely navigate them while enjoying the scenery.
Because the park is so huge (it ranks #19 among all National Parks in terms of size), it’s better to divide and conquer. Choose which half of the park you’ll see first, then visit one side one day and the other the next – or whatever schedule works best for you.
Along the way, there will be numerous opportunities to stop and take photos, particularly at overlooks.
Planning Your Visit
We prefer to have sandwiches and snacks, such as fresh fruit, in our vehicle’s cooler. We also keep plenty of cool water on hand at all times. It’s a good idea to prepare similarly because this is a long vacation.
In the Great Smoky Mountains, there are around 1,000 black bears. If you want to avoid a bear encounter, properly store your food and waste.
You may not have phone service while in the park, so be prepared for that – as well as any potential emergency that may arise.
This is perhaps the most visited National Park in the United States! That suggests there will be a lot of people there when you visit. I like to make sure that small children (or children with sensory concerns) are ready for this ahead of time, especially if large groups or overcrowding stress them out.
Because of the high volume of visitors, finding a good parking spot is challenging. Expect to walk a long distance both to and from the parking lot and while touring the park.
From April to October is the optimum time to visit the park. In the summer, the temperature never exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but in the winter, it drops to the 20s!
The Visitor’s Center
When you arrive, go to the Visitor’s Center. The volunteers here are a gold mine of knowledge! Do you want to see the lovely wildflowers? What about the most beautiful locations? They’ll assist you with all of your preparations.
Would you like to learn even more? You can see a film that delves into the park’s history and content, which can be informative for both youngsters and adults.
Hiking & Trails
The best thing to do is identify what you want to see while hiking and then inquire at the Visitor’s Center for assistance in selecting the appropriate path. They can tell you how difficult the trail is, what you can expect to see, and how long it takes to complete the hike (on average).
To get to Clingman’s Dome from the main park, drive additional seven miles. At over 6,600 feet, it is the highest point in the Smokies. While this hike is strenuous, it is just about a mile round trip and is paved, making it suitable for children. The panoramic views, as well as the fauna and flora, are unrivaled – and well worth every arduous step!
Because the Smokies can turn foggy, visiting on a clear day is excellent. If it’s raining or foggy, you won’t get the best views. The hazy sights are unavoidable at times: this park receives 80 inches of rain each year!
Are you up for a bigger challenge, or did you bring your bike? Cades Cove is an 11-mile one-way loop that takes several hours on foot or 2-ish hours by bike to complete.
A running corn mill, barns, churches, and log houses built in the 18th and 18th centuries are among the historic structures you’ll encounter during your tour.
To discover more about Cades Cove’s history, pick up a self-guided tour pamphlet at the loop road’s entrance. You might see wild turkeys, elk, and deer if you get there early enough.
There’s something for everyone here! Other kid-friendly hikes include:
- Kephart Prong Trail (4 miles round trip, great for older kids)
- Porter’s Creek (2 miles round trip, moderate difficulty)
Hiking trails with waterfalls
If you’re anything like me and you love waterfalls, you’ll enjoy these trails:
- Abrams Falls: 20 foot waterfall, 3-4 hours for the round trip hike
- Hen Wallow Falls: 90 foot waterfall, 3-4 hours for the round trip hike
- Rainbow Falls: 80 foot waterfall, 3-5 hours for the round trip hike
What’s there to do in the Great Smoky Mountains?
There is so much to see and do in the Great Smoky Mountains region that you could spend weeks here and still not see everything! Plan a few extra days for your trip if you can because Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are immediately outside the National Park.
When is the best time to visit The Great Smoky Mountains?
Each season offers its own bounty in the Great Smoky Mountains. If you want to see the flowering trees and wildflowers, Spring is your best bet. Summertime brings mountain streams and stunning forests. Fall is a wonderful time to hike and enjoy the Autumn colors, and winter brings different views because of the leaves no longer being on the trees.