As part of our 59 National Parks Road Trip, we have been sharing mini guides to each of the parks on the Drink Evolve website. Click here to check out the rest of the guides! Below I share with you our guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including hiking tips, itinerary ideas and fun facts.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Guide
Location: Tennessee & North Carolina
Park Tally: 17/59
Orientation: Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located within the Blue Ridge Mountains of eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. These famous mountains and associated scenic parkway are a part of the Appalachian Mountains. The artsy town of Gatlinburg can be found nearby the Sugarlands entrance of the park, and the hipster community of Asheville is within an hour drive from the Oconaluftee entrance.
The world famous Appalachian Trail runs directly through the Great Smoky Mountains for 72 miles, with many choosing to thru-hike or section hike the scenic route. The park offers nature lovers an abundance of outdoor activities, trails, campgrounds and opportunities to view wildlife.
We spent 3 nights exploring the park and fell in love with the scenery within minutes of arriving
Most iconic view: Located roughly in the center of the park, Clingmans Dome is the highest point (6643ft) and arguably the most well-known feature of the Great Smoky Mountains. Visitors can access the dome via a steep 1-mile roundtrip hike from the parking lot (not suitable for wheelchairs or most strollers).
At the top, hikers are treated to 360 degree views of the park and beyond. There is also a Visitor Center at the trail head for those wanting to ask a ranger questions or purchase souvenirs. Note – the road to Clingmans Dome is closed from December 1 through March 31 due to winter weather conditions.
Accessible activity: Cade’s Cove is a real gem and should be visited by all who take a trip to the Smokies. The one-way 11-mile road takes visitors on a magical trip through lush meadows, by historic buildings, under canopied trees and in the shadow of gorgeous mountain scenery. We saw numerous black bears, white tail deer and coyotes during our time exploring the area. There are numerous pull-outs that allow visitors to explore the historic buildings (mills, churches, stables, homes) and hike various trails.
For the adventurous: As mentioned above, the Appalachian Trail is a famous 2,180-mile hike that runs through the Smokies. Many people choose to section-hike the 72-miles that run through the National Park. It usually takes section-hikers around 7 days to traverse the Smoky Mountains section of the Appalachian Trail.
Best photo opportunities: Great Smoky Mountains National Park is very photogenic. Some of our favorite spots were ‘golden hour’ and sunset at Clingmans Dome, sunrise at Oconaluftee Overlook and morning light around Cade’s Cove.
- Great Smoky National Park was officially established on June 15, 1934.
- The National Park Service maintains developed campgrounds at nine locations within the park. There are more than 100 backcountry campsites for those wanting to explore the quieter wilderness areas.
- The signature smoky haze in the park is created by rainfall combined with evaporation and high elevations.
- The Blue Ridge Parkway (469-miles) is one of America’s most famous stretches of road. It runs through the Smokies, connecting it to Shenandoah National Park.
- Around 1,500 black bears live in the park. That is a population density of approximately 2 bears per square mile!
- The park is known as the “Salamander Capital of the World”, being home to 24 species of lungless salamanders.
- Each year there is an eight-day peak synchronous firefly display in the Elkmont area, with the park offering a lottery system to view the popular spectacle.
- During late November of 2016, the Chimney Tops fire burned an area of approximately 11,000 acres in the park.
- Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited park in the US, at a whopping 11,312,786 visitors in 2016.