Great Smoky Mountains National Park, USA
Outdoor enthusiasts go to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in droves. The park includes spectacular waterfalls along woodland paths (Grotto Falls), challenging climbs (Clingmans Dome or Chimney Tops), and gorgeous roads in addition to its profusion of wildflowers and wildlife (the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail).
A plethora of educational exhibits are also available, including old buildings from early settlers like those in Cades Cove. For information on the park’s past, to pick up trail maps, or to make reservations for ranger-led programmes, head to the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
In the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s challenging to feel blue. A trip to the Smoky Mountains is only one of the many things you can see and do there. The Smokies are as legendary as the hazy blue sky that highlights the tops of its mountains.
Daydreams are sparked by the surroundings, but as the thrills start, your mountaintop reverie comes to an end. An Ocoee River whitewater raft’s chilly splash washes your face; Mount LeConte’s breath-taking ascent leaves you gasping for air; and the Wild Eagle ride at Dollywood’s rapid drop leaves you screaming.
Anyone looking for adventure or needing a vacation from their busy schedule can call the Smoky Mountains home. Planning a vacation or retreat to this location is simple. The Smokies can get congested because it’s so close to so many homes in the American East.
Be ready to share the experience with other travellers and make lodgings in advance, whether you want to escape the summer heat with some mountain air or wish to see the fall foliage.
Your experience in the Smoky Mountains may begin before you ever arrive, whether you’re staying for a short weekend or a whole week.
Take the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s rocky slopes as you travel south on the Blue Ridge Parkway. When you get there, you’ll know. Here, the air smells different. Nature’s sights awaken something in you. Explore our selection of Smoky Mountains attractions and activities to learn more.
25 Best Places to Visit in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
1. Cataloochee Valley
Cataloochee Valley, one of the park’s most isolated locations, is a peaceful area to spend an afternoon. The region has a number of well-preserved historic structures from the 19th and 20th centuries that were formerly part of a thriving pioneer settlement. Visitors can see two churches, a barn, a school, and a number of dwellings.
A self-guided auto tour booklet, available online for $1, provides summaries of the histories of each building. The valley is renowned for its herds of elk, which were brought back into the park in 2001 as part of a programme. For the best chances of spotting them grazing the valley fields, arrive at dawn or dark.
This area of the park offers numerous opportunities to see wildlife, as well as hiking trails, fishing in Cataloochee Creek, and a rustic campground.
While many tourists praised Cataloochee’s breathtaking views and free-ranging elk herds, others criticised the subpar toilets and perilous, narrow gravel route going to the valley. Many travellers advised being cautious while driving (the route is twisting with high drop-offs) and, if possible, utilising a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Cove Creek Road leads to Cataloochee Valley, which is situated in the park’s southeast corner.
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2. Cataloochee Ski Area`
The Cataloochee Ski Area, with its 18 slopes and routes for skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels, is situated in the southwest part of North Carolina. The resort offers courses all season long for beginners and children and includes sections for snow tubing as well.
There is housing available at the ski area, and guests can buy day passes or season passes. All of the slopes are categorised by level of difficulty, and many of them are lit up so that skiers may continue their sport into the gloomy winter evenings.
1080 Ski Lodge Rd, Maggie Valley, NC 28751
3. Chimney Tops Trail
One of the most well-known trails in the entire park is the Chimney Tops Trail, and while it can be challenging at times, the views at the end are well worth it. The distance from the trailhead to the back is only 2 miles, but there is a steep scramble over rocks that can be fairly treacherous in rainy or freezing weather, adding around 1,400 feet to the distance.
Before reaching the granite pinnacle known as the Chimney, where hikers will be rewarded to rewarding views, the trail continues across rushing streams, rugged terrain, and switchbacks along the mountain’s slopes.
4. Clingman’s Dome
The highest point in both Tennessee and the park itself is Clingmans Dome. You might be able to see more than 100 miles on a clear day. Even in the summer, bring a jacket because it will be much colder at the 6,643-foot top than it will be at lower elevations. Clingmans Dome Road, which finishes in a parking lot at the trailhead, has a number of beautiful pullouts.
A paved but extremely arduous trail ascends to a peak viewing tower. The Appalachian Trail, which traverses Clingmans Dome and is the highest point along its journey from Georgia to Maine, is one of many other trails that begin near Clingmans Dome Road and its parking lot.
Despite the difficult trail, recent visitors deemed this to be the most breathtaking mountain scenery. Many suggested going on a sunny day because clouds and fog might hide the breathtaking views from the dome, or going after dusk.
Some people remarked that parking is scarce and particularly difficult to find during the summer and on weekends. Most also suggested packing warm clothing because it can get chilly at the summit.
Early December through late March, as well as other days throughout the year when it’s bad outside, the road that leads to the observation tower is shut down.
Since bikes and pets are not permitted on the Dome Track or the other nearby trails, a bike rack may be found at the parking lot close to the start of the paved trail. Nearly seven miles off US 441 and 0.1 miles south of Newfound Gap is Clingmans Dome Road. For information on routes, weather, and trail conditions, see the NPS website.
5. Cade’s Cove
Many of the early Southern Appalachian immigrants lived in Cades Cove, a remote, rich valley surrounded by mountains. Along with other historic facilities, you’ll see three churches, a running grist mill, and 19th-century cabins.
One of the greatest spots in the park to see wildlife is along the 11-mile, one-way loop road that encircles the Cades Cove valley. The region is today home to deer, black bears, and wild turkeys, although it was once used as a hunting place by the Cherokee American Indians.
Here, a number of hiking paths begin, one of which leads to Abrams Falls. This is also the starting point for longer climbs like those to Thunderhead Mountain and Rocky Top, which are best left to seasoned hikers due to their difficult terrain and incline.
The circular road is a favourite with cyclists since it is off-limits to cars on Wednesdays from early May to early September. Bicycle rentals for adults cost $15.00 per hour at the Cades Cove Campground Store if you don’t already own a set of wheels.
Although there is high traffic during the summer and on weekends in the fall, tourists enjoy the blend of scenery and history. You should allocate many hours to really explore the area, according to previous visitors.
Families and couples take advantage of the loop’s early morning bike rides, and many have seen bears along the way. This is recommended by photographers in especially if you want to get amazing mountain images.
Other travellers advised packing food and drink, cautioning that cell coverage is patchy at best and that it is preferable to utilise a park service map than use your phone’s GPS.
The 11-mile, one-way circle in Cades Cove, which is about 30 miles west of Gatlinburg, is available every day from sunrise to sunset, excluding Wednesdays between May and September.
The campsite has a small camp store, and the visitor centre provides a range of educational activities. The self-guided driving tour brochure, which costs $1, can be purchased online prior to visiting the park as admission is free.
10042 Campground Dr.
6. Forbidden Caverns
The Forbidden Caverns, which are located beneath English Mountain in the eastern Great Smoky Mountains, are not as forbidding as their name may suggest.
The Forbidden Caves, one of Tennessee’s more than 8,000 caves, are open to tourists who want to experience the stunning underground caverns decorated with vibrant and ominous lights.
These caves have served as a place of refuge from severe weather over the ages, a site for illicit moonshine stills during Prohibition, and are currently a popular tourist destination. Beautiful rock formations, peaceful, deep pools of water, a chilly stream, and a sizable wall of cave onyx may all be found in Forbidden Caves.
455 Blowing Cave Rd, Sevierville, TN 37876
7. Dollywood’s Splash Country
Theme parks Dollywood and Dollywood’s Splash Country are owned by the well-known performer Dolly Parton and are situated in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Visitors to Dollywood’s Splash Country can race down waterslides, get wet in the Bear Mountain Fire Tower, or take the Big Bear Plunge through dim caves and winding curves.
The park has 35 acres of slides, pools, and water attractions, as well as places to eat, dine, and unwind after a fun-filled day of water games. The park’s hours can alter depending on the weather and are generally open throughout the warmer months of the year.
2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
8. Elkmont Ghost Town
Elkmont, a deserted village with ageing structures that have been neglected for years, is located along the Little River Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains. Elkmont, which was once known as “the Appalachian Club” in the early 20th century, was crucial to the establishment of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The majority of these leases expired in the 1990s and the early 2000s, leaving all of the buildings vacant, after the residents of the town transferred their property to the government in exchange for a lifelong lease.
Even though the majority of the buildings are scheduled for demolition, Elkmont Ghost Town still stands as an eerie relic of days gone by. However, visitors to the region can now experience something truly spectacular.
9. Grotto Falls
Grotto Falls is a nearly 3-mile roundtrip hike that goes behind a 25-foot waterfall and is situated along the Trillium Gap Trail, which departs from the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
Summer hikers enjoy the cool atmosphere of the old-growth hemlock forest and the falls, although park officials advise against swimming or rock climbing close to the falls.
Even though some recent visitors claimed Grotto Falls was approachable for novice hikers, the majority advised against beginners or young children due to the difficult and treacherous trail and its exposed tree roots.
Many tourists also mentioned the steep ascent and the often treacherous stream crossings, but everyone was in awe of the magnificent cascade. Because of the dirt, some reviewers also advised donning sturdy hiking boots with high traction and keeping a watch out for bears.
10. Harrah’s Cherokee
In Cherokee, North Carolina, there is a hotel and casino owned by Harrah’s. Harrah’s Cherokee is a top place to try your luck and perhaps even return home a little richer than when you left, with more than 150,000 square feet of floor space for slot machines, poker, blackjack, and roulette, among many other games.
The casino also hosts performances by well-known bands and artists, as well as a fantastic buffet with cuisines from around the globe. Harrah’s offers a one-stop shop for all of its visitors’ needs, including a nightclub, a pool, a spa, and shopping.
777 Casino Dr, Cherokee, NC 28719
11. Little River Road
Between Gatlinburg and Townsend in Tennessee, Little River Road offers a tranquil and picturesque drive alongside the Little River. Little River Road, which extends for 18 miles and offers a number of viewpoints and picnic spots, is an excellent route to get to certain trailheads like Laurel Falls or Cades Cove, where the road ends.
There are seven places where the route is signed to let vehicles know where to find waterfalls, picnic spots, and trailheads. This charming route is a wonderful place to enjoy the scenery, have a picnic, or start a fantastic hike.
Little River Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
12. Mountain Farm Museum
The Mountain Farm Museum commemorates some of the homes and structures built by pioneers during the 19th century. Most of the buildings were relocated to the museum during the 1950s, although the barn, built in 1880, is still in its original location.
The outdoor museum features a rustic log home that was constructed in 1900, as well as a blacksmith shop, an icehouse for refrigeration, and two corn cribs. Visitors to the farm can explore the structures and discover more about each one’s particular histories to get a sense of what it was like to live on a farm in the highlands in the 19th century.
Cherokee, NC 28719
13. Noah Bud Ogle Cabin
Near downtown Gatlinburg, at the start of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, the Noah “Bud” Ogle Trail will lead visitors to the cabin once occupied by Ogle and his wife, Cindy, in the late 1800s.
It was once part of a 400-acre farm, but today what’s left standing are two cabins connected by a shared chimney as well as the barn where Ogle once kept his livestock. Visitors can take a look into the past to discover what life was like for a pioneer in the Appalachian Mountains and learn about some of the cabin’s features, such as the flowing water and sink that Ogle installed with the aid of a nearby spring.
Cherokee Orchard Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
14. Ober Gatlinburg
Ober Gatlinburg, an entertainment park that doubles as a ski resort in the winter, is located in the mountains above Gatlinburg. Visitors can ride a mountain coaster or take the aerial tramway at Ober Gatlinburg to experience a bird’s-eye view of the Smoky Mountains.
The entire family will love the water slides, chair swings, and alpine slide, and everyone will enjoy seeing bears, bobcats, and other wildlife up close. This lovely resort region transforms into a thriving ski town in the winter, featuring slopes for skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing.
1001 Parkway #2, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
15. Oconaluftee Indian Village
The Eastern Cherokee Reservation contains the town of Cherokee, North Carolina. Oconaluftee Indian Village, located inside the town, allows tourists to step back in time and experience life as the Cherokee people did in the 18th century.
Visitors can learn about Cherokee customs and culture as they stroll through residences, ritual sites, and other parts of the town with the assistance of a guide.
Visitors can take in traditional dance performances, observe locals working at time-honored crafts like boat building and basket weaving, and watch a blowgun demonstration. From April through November, the Oconaluftee Indian Village is open from Monday through Saturday.
Oconaluftee Indian Village, Cherokee, NC 28719
16. Ramsey Cascades
Beautiful flowing waterfalls abound in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the highest of which being Ramsey Cascades, which has a plunge of more than 100 feet. The Ramsay Cascades Trail, which starts in the Greenbrier area and is 4 miles long in each direction, can be used to hike to the waterfall.
It is advised for experienced hikers in good physical condition to take this hard trek, which climbs by more than 2,000 feet, crosses rivers, and passes through woodlands. The view of the falls, which gather at the bottom in a magnificent pool full of enormous rocks and salamanders, makes all the difficulties worthwhile in the end.
Trailhead: Ramsey Prong Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
17. Ripley’s Aquarium
It’s easy to understand why USA Today named Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies the best aquarium in the country. The aquarium provides a broad range of aquatic life for visitors to enjoy, and its entertaining and instructive live performances are an excellent way for tourists to learn about marine biology and take in some breathtaking sights.
Visitors to the aquarium can watch mermaids in an underwater show, paint a masterpiece with the assistance of an African penguin, and view 12-foot-long sharks via a glass bottom boat.
88 River Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
18. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a road inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, adjacent to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, named for the roaring mountain stream that flows alongside it.
The 5.5-mile Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a beautiful circular road that winds through some old woodlands, past log houses, and other historic structures in the park.
It’s a well-liked destination for tourists who would still like to view some of the stunning natural beauty that the Great Smokies has to offer but aren’t quite up to the effort of some of the more challenging walks in the area.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
19. Seven Islands State Birding Park
Only a short drive from Knoxville, Seven Islands State Birding Park is home to nearly 200 rare bird species. More than 8 miles of paths allow visitors to explore, unwind, and take in the park’s diverse fauna as well as stunning mountain vistas. The park is situated on a peninsula along the French Broad River.
Visitors to the park can go kayaking on the river, explore the paths, and look for the songbirds, raptors, and barn owls that frequent the region. The Seven Island State Birding Park is accessible every day from dawn until dusk.
2809 Kelly Lane, Kodak, TN 37764
20. Alpine Coaster
The Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster is the longest ride of its kind in the country, with a track that is more than a mile long. Riders board a sled that may accommodate up to two people and ride downhill on a gorgeous, brisk route through the Smoky Mountains and the surrounding area.
In order to provide an exceptional experience, the riders control the speed of their own sleds, which may travel up to 30 mph around turns, slopes, and twists. All year long, whether snow or rain, the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster is open.
867 Wears Valley Road, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
21. Deer Farm and Exotic Petting Zoo
At the family-friendly Smoky Mountain Deer Farm, guests may get up up and personal with a variety of creatures, including camels, otters, zebras, reindeer, and many more. Visitors to Smoky Mountain Deer Farm can get up up and personal with a variety of exotic animal species while learning about them.
Deer Farm Riding Stables is located inside the petting zoo and offers horseback riding lessons, pony rides, and guided hikes that provide tourists breathtaking vistas of the Smoky Mountains.
478 Happy Hollow Lane Sevierville, TN 37876
22. Titanic Museum
A singular experience, the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, relates the tale of the fabled sinking ocean liner and the lives lost on that tragic night in 1912. With more than 400 relics from the wreck and the passengers on exhibit, the museum gives visitors a taste of what it was like to explore the cabins and passageways of the large ship.
The museum gives visitors the chance to experience the frigid Atlantic that night firsthand, touch an iceberg, and try to maintain their balance on decks that slope upward at the rate of the sinking ship in a really unique experience.
2134 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
23. Tuckaleechee Caverns
Townsend, Tennessee is home to the stalactites and stalagmites of Tuckaleechee Caverns. A cold, clear underground stream flows through the immense chambers, and the Big Room, which is more than 400 feet broad and has stalagmites that may reach heights of 24 feet, is more than 20 million years old.
Although Tennessee is home to more than 8,000 caves, the Tuckaleechee Caverns have the best reviews of their sort in the eastern US. During a mile-long guided tour of the caves, visitors may witness the Big Room and Silver Falls, a double cascade with a 200-foot drop, for themselves.
825 Cavern Rd, Townsend, TN 37882
24. Hills Cherokee Theatre
The same play has been performed in Cherokee, North Carolina, a town on the Eastern Cherokee Reservation, for nearly 70 years. The historical account of the Trail of Tears, a horrifying and brutal march during which thousands of Native Americans were driven from their homes and sent further west, was originally told through the play Unto These Hills in 1950.
Every evening during the summer, the show is presented in the stunning Mountainside Theatre, an outdoor amphitheatre. Many additional attractions in Cherokee, such as the stores and museums that honour Cherokee culture and heritage, are also available to tourists.
564 Tsali Blvd, Cherokee, NC 28719
25. Walker Sisters Place
Up until the final sister’s passing in the 1960s, the Walker Sisters, a family of six sisters, resided in this 19th-century cottage on the park’s northern edge. Three rooms on the two-story log home are mostly unchanged from how they appeared when the house was first constructed.
Outside, the sisters’ self-sufficient way of life, which once also comprised an arbour, a garden, an orchard, and animals, is represented by a barn, a gristmill, and a smokehouse. A quick climb on the Little Brier Gap Trail will bring you to the Walker Sisters Cabin, which is situated in Little Greenbrier.