21 Amazing Things to do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Scenic drives, waterfalls, black bears, underground caverns, hiking trails, wildflowers, and mesmerizing overlooks. You’ve made it to Smoky Mountains National Park!

Visitors can explore stunning natural caverns and craggy mountain peaks, as well as discover old log cabins and barns tucked away in the wilderness – making it a perfect destination for nature lovers and history buffs alike.

The Smoky Mountain National Park is a nature lover’s paradise with scenic drives, waterfalls, hiking trails, and wildflowers. History buffs will also enjoy exploring the park’s many old log cabins and barns. And don’t forget to keep an eye out for the park’s black bears!

What are the Smoky Mountains known for?

The Smokies are widely recognized as one of the top hiking destinations in the east, with more than 800 miles of trails meandering throughout the park, including 71 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

When is the park open?

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and boasts the highest mountains in the eastern United States.

Is there an entrance fee?

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is one of a few National Parks that do not charge an entrance fee, making it a great option for those looking to explore nature without breaking the bank.

Things to do in Smoky Mountain National Park

1) Visit the Sugarland Visitor Center

This is the perfect first stop for learning about the history of the area and the national park. You can view local native species, plan hikes, and participate in ranger-led activities. There are also restrooms, vending machines, and a gift shop on site.

To reach the Sugarlands Visitor Center, follow the main Parkway through downtown Gatlinburg. After passing Ski Mountain Road, you will enter the National Park. The visitor center is 1.7 miles ahead on the right side of the road. There is ample free parking near the Sugarlands Visitor Center.

2) Take a scenic drive along Cades Cove

The Cades Cove Loop is an 11-mile drive through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that takes visitors past picturesque mountain peaks and lush, rolling greens. The visitors center is located halfway through the loop and provides a great opportunity to take in the scenery. There are many places along the road to stop and stretch your legs.

3) See the overlooks along Newfound Gap Road

The scenic drive on Newfound Gap Road begins at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and ends at the Mountain Farm Museum in North Carolina. This journey takes visitors through the diverse forest ecosystems of the Eastern United States, much like driving from Maine to Georgia.

The states of North Carolina and Tennessee, along with local communities, paid to construct Newfound Gap Road. This road stretches from Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Cherokee, North Carolina.

As part of the transfer of ownership of the road from the state of Tennessee to the federal government, it was stipulated that there would be no toll or license fee ever imposed for travel on the road.

4) Hike to the top of Chimney Tops Trail

The Chimney Tops Trail is a popular destination for hikers in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail is challenging, but the views at the top are so worth the effort!

A round trip from the trailhead to the summit and back again is only 4 miles, but the elevation gain during the 2-mile trek out is about 1,400 feet, with a steep scramble over rocks that can become slippery in wet or icy weather.

5) Watch the sunset at Clingmans Dome

Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the state of North Carolina. This popular tourist destination offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and forests.

This tall mountain reaches 6,643 feet at its summit and is accessible by a paved trail that leads to the observation tower.

Two observation decks on the park’s north and south sides offer stunning panoramic views of the park and surrounding mountains. Visitors can see over 100 miles of beautiful scenery on a clear day.

Part of the famous Appalachian trail is also connected to the trail that leads to the observation tower!

6) Hike along the Appalachian Trail

This well-known trail runs for 71 miles through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, beginning at Fontana Dam and ending at Davenport Gap.

7) Hike to the Charlies Bunion mountain

The stunning scenery of the Charlies Bunion hike makes it one of the most popular trails in the Smokies. Following a beautiful section of the world-famous Appalachian Trail makes it an even more appealing destination for hikers.

8) Oconaluftee Visitor Center

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has visitor centers at the main entry points, including the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Named after the nearby Oconaluftee River and the site of historic Cherokee village, the visitor center is located near Cherokee.

The visitor center has become a popular spot for the elk in recent years. They can often be seen grazing in the fields next to the visitor center, early in the morning or late in the evenings.

9) Roaring Forks Motor Nature Trail

The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a six-mile one-way looping scenic drive through the park. Drive along the road and soak in the sights of the mossy green rocks and boulders as you gaze at the water rushing through the mountains.

10) Hike to Grotto Falls

This is a beginner-level or beginner-level plus hike. 1.2 miles from parking to the falls, the uphill part of which may have you winded due to the incline if you are not used to hiking. However, the walk is definitely worth the effort.

The falls are a beautiful and relaxing spot. To avoid crowds and get parking close to the trail head, try to arrive before 9am. The cooler temperature in the morning makes for a more pleasant hike. Explore the falls and enjoy the cool mountain water. This is a great hike for couples and families.

11) Hike to Abrams Falls

The Abrams Falls trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to one of the most voluminous waterfalls in the park. Standing at just 20 feet high, the falls make up for their lack of height with the abundance of rushing water falling into the pool below. This is a great spot for a picnic or hike and definitely worth a visit!

13) Laurel Falls

The Laurel Falls trail is one of the only paved trails within the park. The waterfall is particularly beautiful in spring, when the surrounding area is covered in wildflowers.

14) Mingo Falls

Mingo Falls is a 120 feet high waterfall located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in the state of North Carolina, USA. The waterfall is situated on Mingo Creek and considered one of the park’s most spectacular and tallest waterfalls!

15) See the elk in Cataloochee Valley

There is some incredible wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the elk are rather unique to the area!

15) Hike to the Mount LeConte summit

If you’re in the mood for an intense hike, then you should consider hiking to the Mount LeConte summit. To reach the 6593-foot summit of Mount LeConte, hikers will need to climb 2763 feet and hike 5.5 miles from the Alum Cave Trailhead.

There are so many interesting geological features including the Arch Rock and Alum Cave. You’ll also spend part of the trail hiking along Alum Cave Creek.

16) Explore the Tuckaleechee Caverns

There are more than 8,000 caves in Tennessee, but you don’t want to miss the Tuckaleechee Caverns!

The caverns are home to a variety of stalactites and stalagmites, as well as a waterfall.

17) Noah “Bud” Ogle Cabin

The Bud Ogle Cabin, built in the late 19th century by its namesake, Noah Bud Ogle, was a farm and cabin located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The homestead consists of a cabin, barn and tubmill, all of which were built by Bud Ogle. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

18) Drive along Cherohala Skyway

The Cherohala Skyway is a 43-mile long stretch of road that winds through the western foothills of the Smoky Mountains. The highest point of the Skyway is 5,390 feet, and there are several scenic overlooks along the way where you can enjoy panoramic views of the mountains.

19) See the overlooks along the Blue Ridge Parkway

If you drive along Newfound Gap Road toward Cherokee from Gatlinburg, you will eventually see the entrance to the South End of the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are several scenic overlooks located in Cherokee so you don’t have to drive too far to see even more views of the surrounding mountains!

21) See The Road to Nowhere

The Fontana Dam, rising high above the Little Tennessee River in western North Carolina, is the tallest dam in the eastern United States. The journey to getting the dam built was long and winding, and the nearby Road to Nowhere is a reminder of what was lost along the way.

After the original Highway 288 was submerged under Fontana Lake in the 1940s, the National Park Service committed to rerouting the highway along the north shore of the lake through Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The lake project displaced more than a thousand families and cut off access to family cemeteries. Construction of six miles of the road was completed in the early 1970s, but environmental issues stopped construction and started years of debate about completion.

Bryson City is surrounded by stunning natural scenery. The town itself is definitely worth a visit – be sure to check out the Road to Nowhere Tunnel and the surrounding area!

Best Places to Stay

There are lots of places to stay around the park – from cabins to resort hotels and even motels if you’re looking for an affordable place to sleep every night.

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

There are several great places to stay near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you’re looking for a unique experience, you can hike to the LeConte Lodge. This lodge is only accessible by hiking one of the trails (ranging in length from 5 to 9 miles). This charming accommodation offers beds in cute, rustic log cabins as well as meals in a shared dining room.

Near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

For a more traditional hotel experience, you can stay in Gatlinburg or Pidgeon Forge in Tennessee or Cherokee in North Carolina. All these towns are located close to the park and offer various accommodation options to suit any budget.

There are many Airbnb rentals in Gatlinburg and Pidgeon Forge. Be sure to book a cabin with a hot tub for the most relaxing experience!

Bottom Line

Smoky Mountains National Park is one of America’s most beloved national parks. And it’s easy to see why! The park is home to various natural wonders, from scenic drives and waterfalls to black bears and underground caverns.

There are also hundreds of miles of hiking trails, perfect for exploring the park’s stunning wildflower meadows and mesmerizing overlooks. So whether you’re looking for a relaxing day in nature or an adventure-filled vacation, Smoky Mountains National Park is the perfect destination.

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