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Welcome to America's most visited national park, the Great Smoky Mountains! And for good reason. This national park is home to incredible waterfalls, scenic mountain views, diverse wildlife, great hiking trails, and pioneer and Native American history.
With this route through the Great Smoky Mountains, you'll not only hit the highlights, but also visit some hidden gems. I'll also cover where to stay, how long a visit takes, and tips to make your Smoky Mountain trip the best one ever!
1 Best Time to Visit the Smokies
2 How long does it take you to visit the Smoky Mountains?
3 Where should you stay when visiting the Great Smoky Mountains?
4 Map of this route through the Great Smoky Mountains
5 Label 1
5.1 Sugarlands Visitor Center
5.2 Laurel Falls
5.3 Cases of megas
5.4 Bay of Kadesh
5.5 Ghost Town of Elkmont
5.6 Dining in Gatlinburg
6 Label 2
6.1 Alum cave cliffs
6.2 Clingman's dome
6.3 Upper chimney path
7 Label 3
7.1 Other Activities in the Park
7.2 Explore Gatlinburg to the fullest
8 tips for visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
8.1 Refuel before entering the park
8.2 Bring enough water and snacks
8.3 Preparing with bear spray
9 What to pack for smokers
10 Take a look at these related readings:
11 Salve no Pinterest
Best Time to Visit the Smokies
Autumn is undoubtedly the best time to travel.the Smoky Mountains for the best views. The leaves change color dramatically and the temperatures are pleasantly cool for ideal hiking conditions.
However, autumn attracts more crowds and, of course, accommodation is more expensive and can fill up quickly.
That is, if you prefer to opt for aless crowded time, spring is beautiful. Also, the flowers begin to bloom, creating a beautiful scenery.
Summer can also get crowded as the kids are out of school. Winter can be an adventurous time to visit, especially when the mountains have fresh snow. However, beware of road closures as some areas are inaccessible in winter.
In general, fall is better for views, spring is better for less crowds.
How long does it take you to visit the Smoky Mountains?
you will want3 takemost seen in the Smoky Mountains. I recommend maxing out your PTO to add a day to a weekend or visit a holiday weekend if you don't mind fighting the crowds.
Just for my non-hikers (Hello, it's me... I'm the problem, it's me).
Where should you stay when visiting the Great Smoky Mountains?
The nearest big city isknoxville, Tennessee. If you're flying in, you'll likely be flying into Knoxville at McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS).
The town is an hour and a half from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, but accommodation can be cheaper because it's further away. we like themKnoxville Graduatewith a small town, university atmosphere with adorable rooms!
In this regard,forge pigeonit's another larger city (though smaller than Knoxville) just 25 minutes from the park, so look for accommodation there as well.Rota da Música resortIt's in a great location for nearby attractions and has rave reviews for just $115 a night.
To get closer to the park, check outGatlinburg. This is a resort town in the mountains with crazy rides and shops to keep you entertained when you're not at the park. However, it can get crowded as it's closer to the Smokies.
Depending on the season you will find hotels like thisHoward Johnsonfor just $45 a night.
I also recommend camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are several campsites that you can book up to 6 months in advance. Note that not all of them are open year-round due to winter closures, so check them out.Erholung.govfor the last schedule.
We love Elkmont Campground for its proximity to a river (who doesn't love the sound of water?).
Please note that there are very specific rules regarding firewood and you will likely need to bring cash to purchase your pre-treated wood.
Read relatives →Camping tips for beginners
Map of this route through the Great Smoky Mountains
To begin your itinerary, enjoy the northwest edge of the park today.
Sugarland Visitor Center
Visit the Sugarlands Visitor Center to receive a free map of the park. Cell phone service is iffy in the park, so a map comes in handy!
They are printed on the back cover of seasonal newspapers. Therefore, if you cannot find them, look for many newspapers. If you still can't find them, just ask at the counter.
You'll also see some special maps for specific points of interest in the park, such as waterfalls, hiking, birding or historic structures. You can buy one for a dollar or two. They're useful if you want to focus on a specific aspect, but they're not necessary.
At the visitor center, learn about local flora and fauna through the indoor exhibits. Be sure to stop by the baths before continuing on this itinerary.
To start exploring the park, I recommend visiting Laurel Falls first thing in the morning after picking up a map and making a restroom stop. Laurel Falls is west of the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
Parking is limited, and as it can get crowded during the day, it's best to get to this square first.
The trail itself is paved and is 2.5 miles round trip with 400 feet of elevation gain. It's an easy way (If this girl with asthma can do it, I promise she's fine.). It takes about an hour and 15 minutes to complete.
The waterfall itself is beautiful and has multiple levels. There's a bridge to cross and stairs to go down closer to the base. Be careful when climbing the boulders on the trail as they can be slippery and muddy.
You can also see the mountains around the trail when you get a little higher outside the wooded area.
Once you have filled your waterfall (impossible, I know), take Little River Road towards Cades Cove. Along this road, you should stop at Meigs Falls. You can see it from the fairway, so it's a great low-effort, high-reward spot.
Continue on Laurel Creed Road to Cades Cove Loop Road, which you should follow in an anti-clockwise direction. There will be signs to guide you, so don't worry!
Cades Cove is a picturesque valley with many places to stop, mostly for the historic structures and wildlife. You can walk to John Oliver Cabin, Elijah Oliver Place, Cable Mill, and Primitive Baptist Church, among others.
There are also horses, turkeys and the occasional bear that roam this area. Be safe and keep a safe distance no matter what.
The journey to Cades Cove takes about 2 to 3 hours, although it is only an 18 kilometer journey. That's because traffic is extremely slow, especially in autumn and summer. It's a single lane road, so be prepared to pull over and sit in the car for a few hours (no escape).
What we did, and what I recommend, is to pack a lunch (like my favorite deli sandwich). Once you've found a good base, you can stop for lunch amidst the beauty of Cades Cove.
elkmont ghost town
Last on today's agenda is the ghost town of Elkmont.
The area was originally settled in the 1840s and gained popularity in the early 20th century when a logging company was established. However, the national park was established in 1934 and in 1992 the residents' leases expired and the town was abandoned.
Now the historic structures are there for travelers to visit.
Elkmont Ghost Town is near the Elkmont Campground, so first follow the signs to the campground. When you see a sign for the Elkmont Nature Trail, turn left and you will find the Ghost Town parking lot.
Hop off and walk around town to familiarize yourself with these historic buildings. You can enter some of them to see the grandeur of the rooms and feel the creak of the old wooden floor below you. Autumn is an especially spooky time!
Dinner in Gatlinburg
For dinner, I recommend heading out of the park and looking for a place in Gatlinburg. Big Daddy's Pizzeria offers great wood-fired pizzas, or try Delauder's BBQ for cheap barbecue!
Good Morning! Start the day with coffee at Gatlinburg Grind, or if like me you prefer a full breakfast, Crockett's Breakfast Camp is a tasty option in Gatlinburg.
Cliffs of Alaun's Cave
Head through the park to the Alum Cave Bluffs Trail. This is another of the most popular activities in the Smokies. So if you stop first thing in the morning, you'll have prime parking and avoid the crowds.
The trail itself can be walked in different lengths depending on what you want to see. The most popular hike (and one I highly recommend) is the 2.3-mile hike to Alum Cave Bluffs. However, you can continue 14 km to Mount Le Conte for incredible views.
On the Alum Cave Bluffs Trail (the shortest), you'll see log bridges, a narrow tunnel, and a "cave" surrounded by mountains. I put cave in quotes because it's notActuallya cave, but a rocky outcrop that gives the impression of being in a cave.
If you're hungry for lunch after this hike, I'd choose the lunch break! Again, it's easier to pack lunch so you don't have to go in and out of the park multiple times.
Next is Clingman's Dome. This is the highest point in the Great Smokies and has a man-made observation tower with 360° views of the mountains. Depending on air quality, you can see up to 160 kilometers in all directions.
The trail to Clingman's Dome is paved and only 0.5 miles long, but extremely steep.No, seriously... that's how he tricked me into thinking he had asthma.So even if it's short, bring plenty of water and take breaks when you need it.
A fun part of this trail is that the Appalachian Trail (AT) crosses the road to Clingman's Dome. So if you've never hiked the OT before, you can hop into it during this hike.
Tampons da Chimney Trail
Today's last race is the Chimney Tops Trail. It is one of the most popular hikes. It gains 1400 feet of elevation in 2 miles, so it's not for the faint of heart. But you'll be rewarded with breathtaking views of not just the mountains, but the chimney top cliffs themselves!
For dinner when not camping, I again recommend choosing a place in Gatlinburg. Alternatively, drive a little further to Pigeon Forge, which offers endless options and entertainment.
Other activities in the park
For your last day in the Smokies, there are a few things you can do:
- walk toCharles Bunion on the Appalachian Trail(4 miles one way) - Charles Bunion is a stone headland with panoramic mountain views
- Visitrainbow falls(5.4 miles round trip) – On sunny afternoons, a rainbow forms in the mist of this 80-foot waterfall
- Take a car ride- Drive along and backwards around the park to make sure you see it from all angles.
- Use the special cards for this.do something to suit you! Looking for waterfalls, hiking, history? These cards will guide you better!
Explore Gatlinburg to the fullest
Alternatively, Gatlinburg has so much to offer that you could easily spend a day, or at least an afternoon, exploring the city.
A popular spot is Skylift Park, which has the largest pedestrian rope bridge called the SkyBridge and a cable car (called the SkyLift) that you can ride on for more panoramic views.
Skylift Park prices range from $35 to $50 per person depending on the season, unfortunately they do not include student tickets.
Gatlinburg also has some really cute shops to explore. I loved Byrd's Cookie Company, which makes small (crunchy) cookies with lots of interesting flavors like Roasted Pumpkin, Rocky Road, and Cupcake. You can try before you buy, so give it a try!
There are also a few museums like Ripley's Odditorium Museum, the Hollywood Star Cars Museum, and even the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum.
Tips for Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Here are some tips to make your trip to the Great Smoky Mountains safe, convenient, and even better!
Fuel up before entering the park
There are no gas stations in the park, so don't drive into empty spots. It's best (and safest) to start the day with a full tank.
Take plenty of water and snacks.
As with any outdoor adventure, you want to be well prepared in the food and water departments. Since you have a car, invest in a cooler to store cold drinks and food. The closest grocery store is in Pigeon Forge (called Kroger) where you can buy everything including coolers and ice.
As a hiking snack, salty foods are useful for replenishing the salt the body loses through sweat.
And don't forget about electrolyte drinks like Gatorade.
Prepare yourself with bear spray
Wildlife is beautiful, but it can also be scary, so be prepared for the worst. If you come by car, you can buy some in advance on Amazon.
Unfortunately, you cannot carry bear spray in your checked or carry-on baggage as it usually exceeds the volume restrictions. If you're flying in, I recommend stopping at the Nantahala Outdoor Center to look for bear spray. If they don't have it, hopefully they can recommend where to get it locally.
What to Pack for the Smokies
Here are some things to remember when traveling to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
- bone spray(see above for best practices when flying)
- camelbak or algo asiBackpack with hydration bag. Carrying water on your back can make walking easier.
- Fridge for cold drinks and food.
- Small first aid kit (This onecan be attached to your backpack)
- mountain boots
- creme solar
- biodegradable soap(useful when washing hands, dishes, washing hair, etc.)
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