GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS
If you drive to … the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll get some appreciation for the scale and beauty of the outdoors. When you walk into it, then you see it in a completely different way. You discover it in a much slower, more majestic sort of way.Bill Bryson
About the Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park. It is an ideal vacation spot for hiking and camping in the endless forest and mountain areas, located on the Tennessee and North Carolina border. This park was one of our favorite weekend places when we lived in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Check out the view from the top of Chimney Tops Trail!
Live it up!
Best Things to do in the Park
- Drive and hike to the highest point in the park, Clingmans Dome
- Head to Cades Cove and take the 11-mile loop and look for wildlife
- Hike the Chimney Tops Trail and some spectacular views. This one is our favorite
- Stop at the Sugarlands Visitor Center for history, exhibits, and park information
- Make a visit to Newfound Gap. This is the highest drivable pass in the park and has some great views
- Plan a trip in the fall. Beware that it will be crowded, but the beautiful autumn colors are worth it
We have visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park many times because we lived in Knoxville, Tennessee, for several years. Our favorite activity was always hiking the Chimney Tops Trail and driving the Cades Cove loop.
Size of Park
This is the most visited US National Park.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park in the country. Located on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park consists of an abundance of wildflowers and lush forests. As a result, this park offers one of the most aesthetically pleasing landscapes of any national park.
Many of the hiking trails inside the park are made beautiful by the rivers, streams, and waterfalls you will encounter. The park’s highest mountain, Clingmans Dome, offers incredible views of the mist-covered peaks. The park still has remnants of southern Appalachian mountain culture, which makes the visit even more worthwhile!
Some of the popular activities in the park include climbing mountains and hiking the Appalachian Trail. However, driving through this huge park is a great experience, as many pull-offs have wonderful views.
Great Smoky Mountains Best Hikes
The Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail is an extremely long trail that travels through fourteen states. Great Smoky Mountains National Park best hikes consists of 71 miles of this trail. While in the park, you can begin the hike from the Newfound Gap and stay on the trail for 4 miles before reaching Charlie’s Bunion. From this rock outcropping, you will have incredible picturesque views. The drops are significant here, so be careful while hiking.
Porters Creek Trail
Located in the Elkmont area of the national park, the trail is perfect for those who want a casual, easy hike. The entire round trip is 6 miles and follows Little River. Hikers can stop at any point they want and play in the water! Several cascades of different sizes, large boulders, and deep pools will also be found.
Chimney Tops Trail
This is one of the most popular hikes in the park. It’s our favorite, and we’ve hiked it more times than we can count. The hike is a bit difficult but doable. We love that you cross bridges of rushing streams and still have a great up and back where you can chat and greet people coming and going. Everyone is friendly, so take part in some Tennessee hospitality and have fun. Oh, and enjoy the views!
Big Creek Trail
Another popular hiking trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the Big Creek Trail. It leads you to Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls, and the entire round trip is approximately 4 miles long. The hike is relatively easy, making it suitable for families and less experienced hikers. However, the first half of the trail is where you need to keep your children close to you due to the steep drop-off.
Rainbow Falls Trail
The Rainbow Falls Trail is over 5 miles long and is used to access the tallest single-drop waterfall in the park. Located at an elevation of 80 feet, Rainbow Falls is precisely the payoff you would want after a reasonably demanding hike. After a trek of 2 to 4 hours on this rocky trail, you will love the beauty Rainbow Falls exudes!
Alum Cave Trail
The Alum Cave Trail is one of the best hikes Smoky Mountains National Park. This creekside hike is almost 8 miles long and has an elevation of 2,700 feet. Passing through the dense woods, not only will you get scenic views, but you will also be able to get a taste of what cliffside hiking can be like.
As challenging as the hike may be, the reward is even sweeter once you reach Mount LeConte. There are also several rest stops where hikers can stop and admire the nature surrounding them.
Camping in the Park
Great Smoky National Park has ten developed campgrounds, all car campgrounds. All the campgrounds also accept RVs, except for Big Creek Campground, although they have length restrictions. Running water and flush toilets are also available in every campground.
- Cosby Campground has 157 sites that are secluded with plenty of shade. You can go fishing from here or choose a nearby hiking spot to explore the park.
- Cades Cove Campground is the most popular campsite in the park. It is an excellent place to camp, especially in fall or spring, as wildflowers and vibrant fall leaves will welcome you. With 159 camping sites, the campground also provides bike rentals and a few electric hook-ups.
- Elkmont Campground has more than 200 sites and is the best for waterfront camping as the Little River passes through it. It is one of the most extensive campgrounds inside the park and offers several entertainment options, including fishing, horseback riding, and easy access to popular hiking trails.
Although the park has plenty of campgrounds to choose from, there may be a better place for you. Tennessee has many campgrounds where you can find all kinds of options. From primary camping sites to more luxurious ones, you can have your pick! Some of these campgrounds include Greenbrier Campground and Up the Creek RV Camp.
Cades Cove Loop Road
This place is one of the most visited and photographed places in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You will find your trip very satisfying if you are a history buff and a nature lover. As a remote valley once, this area has old mills, churches, and homesteads along with wildlife. With the stunning mountain peaks surrounding this viewpoint, you can hardly blame the tourists for choosing to visit this place! If you’re looking for Black Bear, we always spot them on this drive.
This is the highest mountain in the Smoky Mountains and has an elevation of 6,644 feet. You can climb up the mountain through the Clingmans Dome Road, which opens between May and November. Whether you drive or hike, once you reach the top, you can go to the observation tower, where you will have a wider view of the landscape. If the weather is clear, you can even see North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and Kentucky.
If you are obsessed with waterfalls and wildflowers, this is the place you need to visit! This is the only spot in Great Smoky Mountains National Park where you can walk behind a waterfall. Here you will find the Trillium Gap Trail, a popular place for tourists who want to cool off the summer heat.
The hike to Grotto Falls takes 2 to 3 hours and is not that difficult either. However, black bears are also sometimes seen in the area, so tourists should be aware of them.
Located on the Little River, The Sinks is an artificially made waterfall that is very easy to access. Due to this reason, it is also the most visited waterfall in the park.
The fall was created in the late 19th century after loggers tried to blast a massive log jam on the river with dynamite. There is also a great swimming hole on the site where thrill seekers like to plunge down in kayaks. However, visitors should still be extremely cautious around these falls.
Six thousand feet tall, rugged mountains surround Cataloochee Valley. The only elk herd in the southern Appalachian Mountains is also found in this valley.
Not only does this viewpoint provide a fantastic scenic view of the mountains, but it also offers a peek into the region’s culture and history.
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