By Kristi Parsons

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. With over 11 million people roaming the hills of the Smokies, the park welcomed around 5 million more visitors than the second most popular spot, the Grand Canyon. If you’re heading to Gatlinburg on your next vacation, you’re going to want to make time to experience America’s favorite park! Here are a few tips for truly experiencing every corner of our 520,000-acre playground!

All Roads Lead to Somewhere, But the Best Roads Take You Through the Smokies!

The most popular way to explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park is by road and with the never-ending list of scenic drives, it’s easy to see why! Visitors can even drive to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Smokies and on the Appalachian Trail. Granted, you will have to make the park’s longest half-mile walk to reach the top of the observation tower, but the view from the parking area is still one of the best in the Appalachians! An afternoon drive up Little River Road brings non-stop views of one of the areas most beautiful rivers, Meigs Falls and countless cascades. Visitors can access Tremont, Cades Cove and even slip through Metcalf Bottoms and hop on the Foothills Parkway by using Little River Road.

However, one of the best drives in the Smoky Mountains is tucked away just outside of downtown Gatlinburg! The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a seasonal drive but when it is open, it’s packed with beauty, history, tranquil escapes along the streams and former homesteads that are accessible for exploring! If you’re visiting in the late autumn and winter, go ahead and make time to head up to the Noah “Bud” Ogle Homestead that can be found before you reach the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail gate. The old homeplace is located on the National Register of Historical Places and was also once given the name “Junglebrook” due to the lushness of the Roaring Fork area. If you’re exploring the cabin and barn and want to stretch your legs a bit, take a walk on the nature trail and you’ll find a little hidden gem that’s tucked away down by the creek! Before you head out of town, make sure you take a drive up to the Gatlinburg overlook on the bypass! It’s the perfect photo op spot!

A Walk in the Woods

The next time someone tells you to “Take a hike!” you should absolutely listen to them and head for the hills! Within the boundaries of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you will find over 800 miles of trails to hike! If you’re wanting to explore the hiking trails of the Smokies, then Gatlinburg is your hub for adventure! When staying in our busy but cozy mountain town, you’ll find easy access to the park and a trail for everyone! Easy trails like the Sugarlands Nature Trail and the Gatlinburg Trail are just minutes away and all routes to Mount LeConte are just down the road! Waterfall hikes are abundant and if you’re looking for trails that end with a view, we’ve got those too! The Sugarlands Visitors Center is located in the park but is also part of Gatlinburg and if you’re looking for info and gear, the NOC Gatlinburg has you covered! They also rent hiking gear by the day! If you’re looking for a guided trip, locally-owned A Walk in the Woods can lead you anywhere you want to go! They offer everything from easy walks to guided backpacking trips! A drive through the mountains is always wonderful, but to feel the trails under your feet can’t be beat when visiting the Smokies!

A River Runs Through It

If you think that 800 miles of trails is a lot, then you’ll really be impressed that Great Smoky Mountains National Park has almost 3,000 miles of streams and rivers flowing around every nook and cranny in both the hills and the valley. They say that no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man. There’s only one way to find out if that’s true – put your feet in the river. Wade around the stream on a spring day, float and take a dip in the summer, ride the rapids, chase a few waterfalls, kayak while the flow is rolling or experience fly fishing in the park! We don’t know if it’ll change you, but we do know that you’ll want to return time and time again. Want to try fly fishing? If you’re not sure where to start, visit one of the local guide companies like the Smoky Mountain Angler, Gatlinburg’s oldest fly shop! They can hook you up with gear, the required license, a fishing report and even help you hook a few of the most beautiful trout east of the Mississippi! Outdoor Outfitters can set you up with a ride down the Pigeon River or even a rapids and hiking adventure! The next time you’re in the Smokies, head on down to the river!

 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s experience doesn’t have to end at the park boundary! Within Gatlinburg, you’ll find plenty of ways to not only enjoy the mountains but to learn more about how the park came to be and the history of life in the area. We even have a national park museum that is disguised as a restaurant! The Park Grill is located in downtown Gatlinburg and is filled with historical photographs and facts from the Smokies! The Appy Lodge is one of Gatlinburg’s newest hotels but is also a partner with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and has museum-like displays about the Appalachian Trail throughout the property. Even if you’re not staying at a hotel, stop in and check it out as you’re passing through! You’ll also find cabins like the Roosevelt Lodge that are based on the park and filled with gems that make the national park experience complete! Have we sparked a bit of wanderlust and need for adventure?

The mountains are calling… ( They always are! )

Take a minute to browse the wonderful Gatlinburg Lodging options, find the perfect place to fit your needs, and then start making your Great Smoky Mountain National Park bucket list!