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scenery in the great smoky mountains national park

The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the United States. There’s no entrance fee to enter the park, and it’s within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the country. It’s no wonder the park is so popular to visit! If you haven’t been to the Smokies, or you want to prepare for the next time you’re here, keep reading to learn more about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

Entrances

great smoky mountains national park signYou’re probably wondering how you get into the Tennessee side of the national park. As it turns out, there are multiple entrances you can take! The most popular one is the Sugarlands entrance at the northern end of the park. You’ll drive through downtown Gatlinburg to get to this entrance, and it is the busiest way to get into the national park.

A quieter way to get into the park is driving on TN 73 through Townsend, Tennessee. This quiet little mountain town has several mom-and-pop restaurants, shops, and attractions you may want to explore before you head into the national park. TN 73 turns into Townsend Entrance Road, and then you’ll come to a fork where you can either go towards Gatlinburg or towards Cades Cove.

Mountain views and a red barn on Wears Valley Road in the smoky mountains

Another less-traveled entrance to get into the park is through Greenbrier, Tennessee. Take US-321 six miles east of Gatlinburg. You’ll go through a town called Pitman Center and cross the Little Pigeon River. There are picnic areas and hiking trails in this part of the park.

There’s actually a secret entrance to the Smokies! This entrance is through an area called Wears Valley. This scenic route will take you past rolling valleys with farmland and mountain homes. Take Wears Valley Road from Pigeon Forge, then turn onto Line Springs Road. This road turns into Wears Cove Gap Road and connects to Little River Gorge Road, which will take you to virtually anywhere you want to go in the national park.

Top Things to Do

The beauty of the area isn’t the only thing that draws people in to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. People enjoy all kinds of fun activities while they’re visiting. Find out what some of the top things to do in the national park are below:

Hiking

A scenic hiking trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.The most popular thing to do in the park is hiking. With over 850 miles of hiking trails, you’ll find the perfect one for you! Choose hikes based on skill level, which range from easy to moderate to strenuous. You can also choose hikes depending on what you want to see, including mountain views, waterfalls, or forest views.

Driving

Another popular pastime in the national park is going for a drive. There are several scenic drives people enjoy doing, including Cades Cove, Newfound Gap Road, Roaring Fork Motor Trail, and Foothills Parkway. Each of these drives provides people with different views of the mountains, the possibility of seeing wildlife, and several spots where you can get out and explore. Driving is a great way to see the mountains if you don’t want to or can’t hike.

Picnicking

picnic area great smoky mountainsEveryone has to eat, so going on a picnic is a great way to spend time in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are several picnic areas where you can eat at a picnic table or use a charcoal grill. There’s an area right outside the Cades Cove Loop. Metcalf Bottoms has a huge picnic area too. Other popular picnic areas include Greenbrier, Cosby, Look Rock, and Chimneys.

Fishing

Fishing is another fun thing to do when you visit the national park. Visitors are allowed to fish in any body of water in the park from sunrise to sunset, as long as they have a valid Tennessee fishing license. You will find all kinds of species, including rainbow trout and small-mouth bass.

Weather and Seasonal Information

smoky mountains and wildflowers at sunsetYou may be wondering what the weather will be like when you’re in the Smoky Mountains. The elevation within the park makes it about 20 degrees cooler than the lower valley areas, such as Pigeon Forge. Rainfall and snowfall vary from year to year, and the forecast can change within a day. We suggest being prepared by bringing a rain jacket and umbrella for rain and packing warm clothes during winter months in case of snow.

Since the area is a temperate time zone, we experience all four seasons. Here is what the weather is like during each season:

Spring – Spring in the Smokies runs from March to May. It has unpredictable weather patterns, especially in early March. It could be warm and sunny one day or snowing the next. Typically, the temperature ranges between below freezing to low 60s.

Summer – Temperatures and humidity spike in June, July, and August. Afternoon showers and thunderstorms are pretty common during the summer. The average temperature during the summer is the mid to high 90s, with nighttime lows averaging around 60s and 70s.

smoky mountains fall foliageFall – The fall season in the Smokies runs from September to the middle of November. The days are typically warm with cool nights. During the day, the temperature averages 70s and 80s with an occasional day in the 90s in September and October. By November, the average temperature falls to the 50s and 60s.

Winter – The winter season ranges from the middle of November to February. Temperatures are typically moderate, but there are extremes, especially in upper elevations. During the days, it can range from below freezing to the 50s. At night, the temperature is usually at or below freezing. Lows of -20 degrees Fahrenheit are possible in higher elevations. Snow is possible in high and low elevations during winter.

You’ll be glad to know how to get into the national park, what there is to do, and weather patterns during the seasons. Learn even more about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park before you visit!