The Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee offer some of the best sights in the country, and there is no shortage of things to do and places to explore.
What are the best things to do in the Smoky Moutains of Tennessee?
The best things to do in the Smoky Mountains, Tennessee are:
- Clingman’s Dome
- Wildflower Season
- Hiking Trails
- Fontana Lake
- Historic Sights
- Mountain Cabins
- Ober Gatlinburg
- Autumn Colors
After extensively researching national parks in the United States, I have gathered enough information to create a detailed guide for the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at the best activities in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to help you plan your next vacation.
Best Things to Do in the Smoky Mountains
The southern United States is home to a number of great national parks, but few can match the spectacular views and scenery of the Smoky Mountains.
This mountain range stretches along the border of Tennessee and western North Carolina and is a sub-range of the Appalachian Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Most visitors that come to this part of the country arrive with one thing in mind, experiencing the Smoky Mountain National Park.
This is the most visited national park in the country and for good reason. There are so many activities and natural wonders to see, making the Great Smoky Mountains NP a world-class destination for families, adventure seekers, and everyone in between.
The national park is just a short drive away from downtown Gatlinburg and you can check out the visitor center on your way in to get a map of the area from the National Park Service.
If you want to catch the best view of the entire park, don’t miss Clingman’s Dome. At 6,643 feet, Clingman’s Dome offers a stunning view of the Smoky Mountains, and it’s actually the highest point in all of Tennessee.
You can get there by taking the Newfound Gap Road. Once you arrive, there is about a half-mile walk that takes you up to the top of Clingman’s Dome.
From the top, you can see about 100 miles in either direction of this jaw-dropping view from the observation tower.
Keep in mind that this is one of the most popular spots in the entire park and it can get quite busy throughout the day.
If you want to avoid the crowds at Clingman’s Dome, I suggest getting there as early as possible.
The wildflower season in the Smoky Mountains is a very special time to be in the national park. From Mid-April to Mid-May, you can get a glimpse of the Smoky Mountains wildflowers in their full glory as they begin to bloom.
With over 1,500 different plant species to admire, there will be a plethora of elegant and vibrant colors complimenting the already stunning landscape.
Whether you are driving by and experiencing the magic from the car or heading out on a trail to have a more intimate experience in the park, the wildflower season is truly a remarkable time of the year.
The colors and scents from the flowers will add an enchanting element to your vacation in the Smoky Mountains, especially if you arrive in the springtime.
However, the summer season will by no means be a disappointment, as the flowers are impressive regardless.
There are a lot of great hiking trails that you can hit up in Smoky Mountains National Park. The park is loaded with a variety of different trails that are suitable for hikers of all experience levels, making this an activity perfect for adventure seekers and even the whole family.
One of the most iconic trails in the entire country passes through the Smoky Mountains, the Appalachian Trail.
Roughly 71 miles of the Appalachian Trail go through the park, and while you may not feel motivated to walk the entire trek, experiencing a small part is certainly worth it.
If you are committed to a 7-mile hike, hop on the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap to Clingman’s Dome. This is a great way to get a taste of what the legendary trail has to offer without walking the entire 2,190+ mile journey.
With that said, the Smoky Mountains National Park has plenty of other hikes and walking paths that are worth checking out.
These are some of the most popular trails in the Smoky Mountains area:
- Fork Motor Nature Trail
- Chimney Tops Trail
- Forney Ridge Trail
- Trillium Gap Trail
- Gatlinburg Trail
If you don’t want such a rugged adventure, you can always go on a paved trail. This mountain range is loaded with paved paths that are easy to walk, which is one of the many reasons why it is the most popular national park in the country.
The waterfall season tends to peak right around the time that winter starts winding down.
As the snow melts in the spring, the waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Parkway will be roaring.
You have over 100 different waterfalls to explore in the Smoky Mountains area, which can make choosing just one rather difficult.
I doubt you’ll have the time to check out every waterfall in the park, which is why I recommend prioritizing the most popular spots during your vacation, such as:
- Laurel Falls
- Rainbow Falls
- Abrams Falls
- Grotto Falls
On your way to virtually every waterfall in the park, you can enjoy the countless mountain streams that flow from the Tennesse River and Indian Creek.
Whether you want to go for a swim on the lake or simply enjoy the surrounding mountain views, Fontana Lake is one of the most popular spots in the entire park. The 240-mile-long lake stretches through the Smoky Mountains National Park and beyond.
Visitors often pack a picnic lunch and spend the entire day at Fontana Lake. There are also kayaks for rent in case you want to paddle on the water..
Although this is national park, at one point the Smoky Mountains were home to many settlers in the area. This has left a unique aesthetic to many parts of the park given that you can find historic buildings and artifacts scattered throughout.
If you want a break from nature to experience the historic structures of the Smoky Mountains, there are plenty of great areas to check out, such as:
- Elkmont Ghost Town
- Cades Cove
- Chasing Rainbows Museum
- Historic Grist Mill
- Mountain Farm Museum
You can find historic sights around the Smoky Mountains National Park, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg.
For so many people visiting the Smoky Mountains, a getaway into the solitude of nature is what it’s all about.
If you want a break from hectic city life, there is no better way to do it than to rent a mountain cabin for the weekend.
Having a cabin all to yourself in the Smoky Mountains is pure bliss and is hands down one of the best ways to experience the park.
Enjoy days out in the park and return to a comfy and cozy cabin in the evening. What more could you ask for in a trip to the Smoky Mountains?
There are plenty of great lodging options scattered throughout the park and even more to choose from in the surrounding areas such as near Gatlinburg.
Ober Gatlinburg is an amusement park and ski area, which makes it perfect for families. This is a very popular theme park in the Smoky Mountains area and you can spend the day here if you feel like you need a break from exploring nature.
The park is located just outside of the national park, making it very easy to access if you are staying in Gatlinburg. I would not prioritize Ober Gatlinburg as your top pick for the Smoky Mountains but if you have an extra day to spare and want to entertain the kids, you really can’t go wrong with this amusement park.
Although the wildflower season in the spring tends to be one of the most popular times of year to visit the park, I would argue that the fall is equally gorgeous.
As soon as the weather starts cooling down, the Smoky Mountains transition into their fall colors, with beautiful scarlet, orange, and red leaves covering the landscape.
This is a wonderful time to experience the Smoky Mountains before the national park season ends, and you can enjoy the region without dealing with as many tourists.
Most people tend to visit the park in the summer and spring, with autumn having a fraction of the crowds.
Enjoy colorful drives through the park or hop out of the car and get up close and personal with the vibrant fall leaves. I recommend visiting the park from Mid-September to Mid-October if you want to catch the autumn colors in their prime.
Tips for Visiting Smoky Mountains
Be Aware of Crowds
The park can get very busy during the peak summer months, which can be disappointing for some visitors.
I find the best way to avoid crowds is to wake up early before everybody gets there!
If you want to experience hikes and activities that may be less crowded, especially during the peak tourist season, consider checking out surrounding mountains and nature areas such as Shenandoah National Park, Nantahala National Forest, and the Rocky Mountains.
One of the best things about visiting the Smoky Mountains is that the national park does not charge an entrance fee.
You can go to the park completely for free but bear in mind that parking tags will be required for the 2023 season starting in March.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit the Smoky Mountains is in the fall and in the spring. There are not nearly as many people in the park and the weather is quite stable.
I find the summer is the most crowded time of year and the heat can make enjoying some of the park’s main activities rather exhausting.
- The best things to do in the Smoky Mountains are Clingman’s Dome, Wildflower Season, Hiking Trails, Waterfalls, Fontana Lake, Historic Sights, Mountain Cabins, Ober Gatlinburg, and Autumn Colors.
- Visit the park in mid-spring to see the wildflower season and in mid-fall to experience the autumn colors.
- Entrance to Smoky Mountains National Park is completely free, but parking tags will be required as of spring 2023.