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What to Do with Only One Day in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country. There are so many hiking trails, scenic drives, wildlife viewing opportunities, and more for visitors to explore! But, what if you only had one day to spend in the Smoky Mountains? With so many things to do and so little time, it can be hard to decide what you should do while you’re here. That’s where we can help. We’ve put together a guide of what to do with only one day in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

1. Start at the Sugarlands Visitor Center

The best visits to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park always start at Sugarlands Visitor Center. Sugarlands Visitor Center is located in Gatlinburg and is home to everything you need to prepare for a full day in the park. Start your morning by watching a 20-minute film about the park, pick up a park map, explore Smoky Mountain exhibits, and talk to park rangers. There’s also a gift shop where you can pick up some souvenirs!

2. Take Little River Road to Cades Cove

little river road light fall colorsOf course, nothing beats a scenic drive. Begin your journey along Little River Road. This road runs for 18 miles and includes overlooks, trailheads, picnic areas, and more. It runs alongside the Little River, so you’ll have beautiful river views along the drive. Little River Road eventually dead-ends into Cades Cove, which is where we recommend spending most of your day in the park.

3. Enjoy a Picnic Lunch

After a busy morning and a scenic drive into the area, we bet you’re feeling hungry! Luckily, the Cades Cove picnic area is located near the entrance to Cades Cove. We recommend packing a picnic lunch and enjoying it once you get to Cades Cove. You’ll need your energy to explore all the amazing history, views, and wildlife that Cades Cove has to offer! The Cades Cove picnic area has 81 individual picnic sites with a table and grill at each. You’ll get to enjoy your lunch next to two creeks!

4. Explore Historic Structures

Primitive Baptist Church in Cades CoveAfter lunch, it’s time to start your journey along the Cades Cove Loop! The Cades Cove Loop Road is an 11-mile loop that provides visitors with the opportunity to see historic structures, beautiful views, wildlife, and more. Take some time to pull off the road, park and explore some of the historic structures, like the John Oliver Cabin and the 3 Cades Cove churches.

5. Hike to Abrams Falls

About 5 miles into your drive along the loop, you’ll reach the Abrams Falls Trailhead. We recommend parking and enjoying this can’t-miss hike! It’ll take about 2-3 hours to hike to Abrams Falls and back, making it the perfect afternoon activity during your one day in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail is about 5 miles roundtrip and takes you to a 20-foot waterfall. For what it lacks in height, it makes up for in the volume of water rushing down the falls. The water gathers in a picturesque pool at the base of the waterfall. Be sure to take plenty of pictures along the hike!

6. Take the Scenic Drive Back to Gatlinburg

road running next to the Little RiverAfter you complete the hike to Abrams Falls and back, continue your drive through Cades Cove, keeping an eye out for black bears, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and other wildlife. It’s one of the most popular places in the park to see wildlife! You’ll also get to see other famous historic structures, like Henry Whitehead Place and Tipton Place. When you’ve reached the end of the loop, you can stop in at the Cades Cove Visitor Center to use the restroom, grab a drink or some snacks, and then start the drive back to Gatlinburg.

7. Eat Dinner at The Park Grill in Gatlinburg

After a day spent exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it only makes sense to eat dinner at the unofficial restaurant of the park: The Park Grill. The Park Grill in Gatlinburg sits right next to the entrance of the Smoky Mountains and provides a unique mountain lodge atmosphere. We’re sure you’ve worked up quite the appetite exploring, and this is the perfect spot to satisfy your appetite. Enjoy a fresh salad bar, hickory-grilled steaks, and delectable desserts that all offer a true taste of the Smokies!

Visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

great smoky mountains national park signIt’s impossible to fit all the best things to do in the Smoky Mountains into a single day, but this guide helps you experience some of the can’t-miss things in the park. Now that you know what to do when you only have a day to spend in the Smokies, it’s time to start planning your trip! Learn more about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, then come visit!