Breathtaking scenery and exciting wildlife combine to make Great Smoky Mountains National Park the most visited national park in the United States with 9 million visitors per year.
The park, located at the foot of the Smoky Mountains on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, covers 814 square miles, or 2,108 square kilometers, making it one of the largest protected areas in the United States.
The park has three entrances: one in Gatlinburg, TN; one in Townsend, TN; and one in Cherokee, NC. The closest major airports are McGhee-Tyson Airport in Tennessee, located about 45 miles west of the Gatlinburg entrance, and the Asheville Regional Airport in North Carolina, located about 60 miles east of the Cherokee entrance.
Visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The national park is open year-round, but some roads and facilities, like campgrounds and picnic areas, close down in the winter. Peak season is from July 1 to August 15 and in the month of October. A complete seasonal schedule is available on the park website.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park contains three visitors centers, each with different attractions, and two historic grist mills, one in Cades Cove and one near Oconaluftee.
Cades Cove Visitors Center is located near the mid-point of the Cades Cove Loop Road and offers informative exhibits on life and culture in the mountains, as well as special ranger-led programs.
Oconaluftee Visitor Center is located 2 miles north of Cherokee, NC, on US-441. The Mountain Farm Museum, located near the center, features a collection of log structures and seasonal demonstrations of farm life.
Sugarlands Visitor Center is located 2 miles south of Gatlinburg, TN, on US-441. In addition to special ranger-led programs, the center also serves up natural history exhibits and an informative 20-minute film about the park.
Things to do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The possibilities for outdoor activities in Great Smoky Mountains National Park are endless. Among the most popular pursuits are:
don't forget the camera: a
black bear is spotted at Cades
Cove in the Great Smokies ...
By Car - Many visitors choose to explore the park's scenic offerings from the comfort of their automobiles. The park contains 384 miles of well-kept roads suitable for most cars. The most popular routes are along Newfound Gap Road, Cades Cove, Roaring Fork and Balsam Mountain/Heintooga Ridge and Cataloochee. Inexpensive auto guide maps are sold at park visitor centers.
Bicycling - During summer and fall, bicycling is a popular way to explore the park. Popular routes include: Cades Cove Loop Road, Greenbrier Road, Tremont Road, Lakeview Drive, and Cataloochee Valley. Cyclists can rent gear from Cades Cove Campground Store.
Camping - There are many options for people wishing to camp in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many choose to set up camp in the frontcountry, in a developed campground with individual campsites and bathroom facilities. Another option for hikers is to stay in the backcountry, which requires a several mile hike into the wilderness. There are also group campgrounds for groups of more than eight people, and horse camps. Be sure to check Campground
Rules and Regulations on the national park website.
Hiking - Whether you're seeking an exhilarating uphill trek or a tranquil wildlife walk, there's a hiking trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that's sure to please. The park has more than 800 miles of trails open to veterans and novices alike. Start planning early using the National Park Service's downloadable trail map.