If you’re planning a trip to Tennessee, chances are you’re going to make visiting Smoky Mountains National Park one of your to-do items. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park attracts millions of visitors each year with its abundant wildlife, majestic views and wide variety of activities.You may be wondering when the best time to visit Smoky Mountains National Park is.
Like many national parks, it is busiest during the summer months when school is out and families are enjoying their annual family vacations. However, there is not a bad a time to visit Smoky Mountains National Park. It is a fun and majestic place to visit all year round. You’ll have a unique experience depending on when you go. In the spring, visitors can take in the abundant colors of blooming wildflowers and trees, the summer months offer beautiful scenery with various pine trees, fresh mountain air and refreshing creek and waterfalls. Visitors can take a scenic hike or drive in the fall to see vibrant fall foliage and winter offers majestic snow-covered mountaintops and winter sports.
If you are planning a trip to Tennessee, chances are you’re going to make visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park one of your to-do items. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park attracts millions of visitors each year with its abundant wildlife, majestic views, and the wide variety of activities.
When is a Good Time to Visit Smoky Mountain National Park?
Like many national parks, it is busiest during the summer months when school is out, and families are enjoying their annual vacations. However, there is no bad a time of the year to visit Smoky Mountains National Park. It is a fun and majestic place to visit in every season.
You’ll have a fabulous experience regardless of your timing. You’ll be sure to enjoy the welcoming hometown vibe, diverse restaurants, and endless activities. Each season has its own unique flavor. You’ll want to enjoy them all! In the spring, visitors can take in the abundant colors of blooming wildflowers and trees. Springtime snow melts are the best time to take in the majesty of thundering waterfalls. The summer months offer beautiful scenery abundant with pine trees, fresh mountain air and refreshing creeks and waterfalls. Fall visitors can take a scenic hike or drive to see vibrant fall foliage and enjoy the crisp air. Winter offers a perfect excuse to fire up the outdoor bonfire or cozy indoor fireplace after skiing or snowboarding all day. Gatlinburg is very festive during the holidays and visitors will love decorated streets and twinkling lights. The scenery is gorgeous too with majestic snow-covered mountaintops.
Things to See in the Smokies
Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains and sits on the borders of Tennessee and North Carolina. The mountains themselves are impressive, with the highest peak being Clingmans Dome rising up to 6,643 feet above sea level. The Smokies are named for the distinctive haze that forms over the mountains, the result of moist, humid air condensing as it cools at the higher altitudes.
The Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an international biosphere reserve. The Park contains the only intact old growth forest left to the east of the Mississippi River. Eco-tourism has driven the economy of the area since the turn of the century when homesteaders and local business leaders realized that preserving the regions natural resources would provide more economic gain in the long run than selling out to logging interests that were getting closer and closer to the mountains.
The area is especially known for its waterfalls. Hundreds of waterfalls dot the landscape, from small trickles through huge boulders to ripping and roaring fast flowing deluges. The mountain creeks and streams are also picture-perfect and are popular with anglers looking for trout.
Some folks call Smoky Mountain National Park “Wildflower National Park.” From spring all the way through fall, wildflowers liven up the already beautiful landscape. Migrating birds, insects of all descriptions, and wildlife make appearances too.
Speaking of wildlife, one of the Smokies’ most famous residents is the black bear. Sightings are common in many areas of the Park. Conservation efforts have made significant strides in stabilizing the populations of these beautiful creatures in recent years, and there have even been a few sights around town in Gatlinburg. Along with bears, you might see deer, elk, wild turkeys, and other native inhabitants on your visit to the Smokies.
Things to Do in the Smokies
The Smoky Mountains are all about outdoor activities and adventures. From relaxing road trips to strenuous hikes, the Smokies have an adventure waiting with your name on it!
Take a Scenic Mountain Drive in the Smokies
By far one of the most popular activities is also one of the easiest ways to see the park. Scenic drives wind their way through nearly every part of the majestic Smoky Mountains. The Blue Ridge Parkway stretches through the Smokies, northbound through Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia before ending at Shenandoah National Park. The road is famous for its winding curves and spectacular mountain overlooks. Motorcycle clubs and sport car enthusiasts often do outings on these roads to enjoy the fun driving and spectacular scenery.
A favorite scenic drive very near Gatlinburg is the popular Cades Cove loop. Here a car tour will take you past several stops including historic structures. A working grist mill, several homesteads, and churches have been preserved by the Park to show what day-to-day pioneer life was like in Cades Cove. From the road, you can also hike several nature trails and see several of the Park’s famous waterfalls.
There are too many hikes available in Smoky Mountain National Park to list in one place. Along the many highways and roads that criss-cross the park, you will find numerous pull-offs for scenic overlooks and hikes. Many of the waterfalls require some amount of hiking to reach them, from a few minutes from your car along the pavement to a few hours of steep, rough mountain hiking. Be sure to pack some good shoes, dress appropriately, and stay hydrated. The Park’s website has some great information about planning the perfect hike for you and your family.
Skiing and Winter Sports
During the colder months, winter sports are a great way to beat cabin fever in Gatlinburg. While some of the trails and roads through the Park itself are closed during the winter, the area around Gatlinburg and the surrounding towns comes alive. Don’t miss Ober Gatlinburg, Tennessee’s only ski resort. The resort features a freestyle area for flips and tricks, several intermediate ski slopes, and a tubing area offering fun for all ages.
Some hiking trails remain open throughout the winter in the Smoky Mountian National Park. You can still visit waterfalls, which are frozen over in winter in a spectacular gravity-defying show of sparkling snow and ice. The Cades Cove loop trail is often open during winter. Access may be limited by the roads leading to and from it, however, so check conditions and plan accordingly. The visitors' centers are usually only open during the weekends during wintertime.
Mountain Vacations for the Adventurous
Mountain biking is another great way to see the Smokies and get some exercise at the same time. There are numerous trails available for biking. If technical off-roading isn’t your thing, the Cades Cove loop road in the Park is closed to vehicles two mornings every week until 11 a.m. for “Bike Days.” This is a beautiful way to see Cades Cove, get some exercise and fresh air, and move at your own pace.
Horseback riding is another example of a great way to see the Park. Several stables and outfitters in the area offer guided trail rides varying from half an hour to several hours. Favorite spots include the stables at Cades Cove and at Sugarlands. There are also several stables in Sevierville. Many folks enjoy riding into the backcountry for camping and relaxing far away from the roads and the hustle and bustle of town.
Whitewater rafting is popular from the spring through summer. There are outfitters in town offering transportation and equipment. There are guided tours for the more exciting rapids, and there are relaxing, lazy river-style rides through babbling creeks.
Camping and Backpacking
If you are looking to unplug and disconnect from the world for a little while, consider backcountry camping or backpacking trip. The Appalachian Trail runs through the Park on this 2,000 plus mile trip from Georgia to Maine. Of course, there are numerous other trails, paths, and routes that wind their way through Smoky Mountain National Park that offer a quick taste of life on the trail. Check with the Park for exact requirements and permits that may be needed.
If you want to try something a little more civilized, there are ten front-country campgrounds accessible easily by car or RV. Frontcountry campgrounds in the park take online reservations through the Park’s website.
Museums and Tours
Inside the Park, you will find many interpretive activities so that you and your family can learn more about the history and culture of the Smokies. At the Mountain Farm Museum in Oconaluftee, you can see a collection of historic buildings to get a feel for how people lived 100 years ago. Locations include a smokehouse, a barn, an applehouse, and a log-built house. The Oconaluftee area is about a 30-mile drive outside of Gatlinburg. The area is also home to a Park visitors’ center and several hiking trails.
No matter what your activity of choice is, there is guided tour option so that you can get the most out of your visit to the Smokies. If you’d like to hike but want to know more about the ecology, flora, and fauna you are seeing, consider a guided tour. Guides are friendly and knowledgeable, and programs usually focus on small groups that make the trips relaxing and fun. Many tours begin at the entrances to the Park and are put on by local outfitters. Check around town to find tours that might interest you!
Many guided tours and hikes are offered right from the rangers that work at the Park. From classic campfire programs and walks in the woods to coffee with a ranger and junior ranger programs, the Park has a lot going on. Check the Park calendar for special events and programs you can participate in while visiting the area.
If you are looking for a higher perspective on things, another great way to the see this beautiful area is from up above. Several helicopter tours operate out of the Sevierville area. You will fly over downtown Gatlinburg, the Douglass Lake and Dam, and many of the area's attractions. You’ll have a beautiful view of the rolling hills and mountains that few people get to see.
The national park preserves not only the land, forests, and wildlife but also the history of the region. Many historic buildings and structures have been maintained throughout the park, including homesteads, churches, and even a still-working grist mill. Each preserved structure includes a history lesson so that you can learn about the early pioneers and homesteaders that called this area home. The Cades Cove, Oconaluftee, and Cataloochee areas of the Park are all home to numerous historic buildings available to tour.
Places to Stay While Visiting the Park
With the endless year-round activities available at Smoky Mountains National Park, it is hard to do it all in a day or two. Many visitors choose to stay in the mountain town of Gatlinburg, known as the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Gatlinburg is home to top-rated restaurants, shopping, and other attractions and events. The Gatlinburg area offers many cozy and scenic cabin rentals to choose from.
Eastern Tennessee is both scenic and historic, and it is full of activities for any time of year. If you are planning a vacation to Smoky Mountains National Park, enjoy your stay in one of Pioneer Vacation Rentals cozy cabins. We have a wide selection of cabins that are available all year round. Find the perfect cabin rental for you and book online today.
There are many great reasons why Smoky Mountain National Park is the most popular and the most visited national park in the United States. Easily accessible by a huge portion of the population, the Smoky Mountains and the Gatlinburg area are a quick drive away for millions of Americans. The Smokies provide an excellent escape from day-to-day city life; they are an oasis of the natural world. Crisp mountain air and a slower pace await you as soon as you step out of your car. For the ultimate in private relaxation, rent a mountain cabin and spend some time exploring all that these mountains and the Gatlinburg area have to offer. What does your perfect trip to the mountains include?