The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States, attracting 12.5 million tourists in 2019. It's mountain galore in this park: its star is the Great Smoky Mountains, a part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which in turn is a part of the Appalachian Mountains.
In this destination, tourists will be embraced by majestic mountains, some of which are the highest in eastern North America, like Clingmans Dome and Mount Guyot. The Smokies is a hiker’s paradise, with the Appalachian Trail among the most popular trails.
Campers, backpackers, and fishers also consider the park their playground. For the latter, they are treated to a rich trout population. Horseback riders, bikers, and wildlife enthusiasts can also call the Smokies their home. Whatever the activity and whoever the tourist, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a favorite spot and a prime location for all things wild.
Plan The Visit
Before embarking on a journey to the famous Smokies, here are some reminders for excited travelers.
- There's no entrance fee to the park, but there are fees for some activities and rentals.
- The park is open 24 hours a day.
- There are four visitor centers in the park and three information centers in nearby towns.
Activities To Try
The Smokies is limitless, from its mountains to the adventures it can offer. Whatever the season and no matter the reason, there’s always a corner in the park for every type of traveler.
Hiking the Smokies will take visitors to its various attractions while meandering through scenic pathways. Here are some suggested hiking tips and trips for a worthwhile mountain escape.
The 2.5-mile (one-way) Alum Cave Trail will share with tourists geological wonders, including the Arch Rock. Along the way, trekkers can see the Anakeesta Ridge and Inspiration Point, where they can drink in the sights of Duck Hawk Ridge and Myrtle Point.
The Forney Ridge Trail is a popular one, thanks to its views of Clingmans Dome and Forney. The 1.8-mile trek will take hikers to Andrews Bald, the perfect spot to appreciate the highlands. For trekkers who want a splashing good time, they should take the 2.7-mile Rainbow
Falls Trail. The majestic view of Mt. Le Conte and the falls is worth it to see despite the path’s moderate difficulty. A hike along the 4-mile (one-way) Appalachian Trail is a rewarding experience as it takes trekkers to the Charlies Bunion. The trail is famous on its own, and reaching the rock outcrop is the piece de resistance.
Bikers can also take on the challenge of the trails in this massive park. There are at least four trails to try for an easy trip or a demanding one.
An 11-mile bike along the Cades Cove Loop Road will let bikers enjoy the views of 19th-century homesites, Cades Cove, and the historic buildings of Primitive Baptist Church, John Oliver Cabin, and Cable Mill. Bikers should watch out for some wildlife, too. Mountain bikers can navigate the 1.9-mile (one-way) Gatlinburg Trail, the perfect path for appreciating the wonders of Little Pigeon River.
There are also amazing river views along the 1.5-mile (one-way) Oconaluftee River Trail. MTB lovers should expect some small hills.
Picnic And Fishing
There are more than 10 picnic areas located in scenic areas of the park, such as Cades Cove, Greenbrier, Deep Creek, Collins Creek, Cosby, Twin Creeks, and Metcalf Bottoms. These are perfect spots after a hiking trip or as headquarters for a fishing extravaganza.
For the latter, visitors can score some fish in the park’s brimming 2,900 miles of streams. In the Little Pigeon River or Fontana Lake, fishers can catch smallmouth bass. In other areas, anglers can reel in different species of trout (brook, brown, and rainbow).
For those who want to meet furry friends in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there are three ideal spots.
At Cataloochee and Cades Cove, tourists can spot some elk, white-tailed deer, turkeys, raccoons, woodchucks, and, if lucky, black bears. For those who specifically want to see black bears, they can patiently wait at Roaring Fork.
Birdwatchers will have a busy time in the park, too. It is home to some 240 bird species like owls, warblers, sparrows, wrens, and kinglets, among others.
For botany enthusiasts, they can fill their logbooks with details about the American chestnuts, birches, hackberries, beeches, cedars, and magnolias, among others. The place is filled with over 4,000 plant species, so it’s a botanist’s playground.
It’s easy to fall in love with the Smokies because it’s loaded with spectacular sights and various wildlife. It’s the perfect hangout spot for nature lovers, and waterfalls add to the majesty of the place. Here are four cascades that are worth a visit.
The 80 feet high Rainbow Falls is commanding to look at since it has the longest plunge in the park. The humble Abram Falls is only 20 feet high, but it's one roaring waterfall. The 25 feet high Grotto Falls is one of the favorites because it’s the only Smokies falls where someone can walk behind it.
Another towering waterfall is the 80-foot-high Laurel Falls. Since this is one popular attraction, it's recommended to visit it early in the morning for some crowd-free photo taking.
Historic Sites Visit
Aside from natural wonders, the park also has over 90 man-made attractions, mostly old log buildings. There are also old houses, outbuildings, barns, schools, grist mills, and churches, all well-preserved or rehabilitated for a worthwhile trip down memory lane. There are also about 150 cemeteries for those who want to have an "off-the-beaten-path" trip.
It’s easy to understand why the Smokies are well-loved. Those venturing into the magical Great Smoky Mountains National Park will only need one thing: a desire for adventure.