Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Whether you’re looking for a beautiful hike, prefer to bike your way through the park, want to view nature through the windows of your RV or just want to sit and relax watching the sunset at your campsite, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has you covered! Featuring a wide variety of plant and animal life, endless ridges of forest and panoramic views, rushing mountain streams and so much more, it’s no wonder that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited national park.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses over 500,000 acres, making it one of the largest protected areas in the East. It straddles the borders of the states of Tennessee and North Carolina and has three main entrances, in Gatlinburg, TN; Townsend, TN; and Cherokee, NC.
Elevations in the park range from 876 to 6,643 feet. A tour through the park offers a wide variety of sights and terrain, including mountain scenery, over 2,100 miles of streams and rivers, plant and animal life and mature hardwood forests.
In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, weather can vary season to season and even day to day! During spring, temperatures can range from 42-80 F, Summer; 60-90 F, Fall; 50-80 F, Winter can be moderate with most days ranging between 50-70 F, but at high elevations lows of -20 F are possible. Where you are in the park can also have a great impact on temperature, as temperatures can vary 10-20 degrees from mountain base to top.
There is always something to do inside the park, including plenty of ranger-guided programs and special events. Find the full event calendar here. If you’re hoping to explore the park on your own, there are plenty of activities including hiking, bicycling, auto touring, horseback riding, fishing and much more.
Where To Stay
When it comes time to rest your head down at night, there are plenty of campground options both inside and out of the park. To find a full list of campgrounds, click here. We’ve narrowed the list down and chosen some of our favorites:
Keep in mind that during the summertime, many of the campgrounds may be busy and advance reservations are recommended. For registration and reservation information and rules and regulations, click here.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Campsites
RV Rentals Near Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Nearby RV Rentals
Hit the Trails
There is never a bad time to hike at the Great Smoky Mountains, because each time of year offers something special: beautiful vistas and views during the winter, gorgeous fall color during the autumn, wildflowers in the spring and cool retreats in the forest for the summertime. No matter when you’re hitting the trails, there are plenty to choose from, with over 800 miles of trails available, ranging from a half mile to 70 miles long. Here are some of our favorites, but for the full list, click here.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Trails
Distance: 4.0 miles one way to Charlies Bunion
Terrain: Elevation change of 1,600 feet; this is a firm-packed trail that traverses some exposed cliffs
Rainbow Falls Trail
Distance: 2.7 miles one way to Rainbow Falls. The trail continues past the falls for a total of 6.7 miles up to the summit of Mt. Le Conte.
Terrain: Elevation change of 1,700 feet; trail contains switchbacks and is rocky in sections
Alum Cave Trail
Distance: 2.5 miles one way to Alum Cave Bluffs. Alum Cave Bluffs Trail continues past Alum Cave Bluffs for a total of 5.0 miles to just below the summit of Mt. Le Conte.
Terrain: Elevation change of 1,200 feet; the trail is steep and follows the edge of the ridge in sections.
Chimney Tops Trail
Distance: 4 miles round trip
Terrain: Elevation change of 1,400 feet, this is a steep, newly-renovated trail with a rocky outcrop at the summit of the mountain.
Forney Ridge Trail
Distance: 1.8 miles one way to Andrews Bald. Forney Ridge Trail continues past Andrews Bald for a total of 5.6 miles down to Springhouse Branch Trail.
Terrain: Elevation change of 1,200 feet.
Deep Creek Trail
Distance: 1.6 miles round trip to waterfalls
Laurel Falls Trail
Distance: 2.6 miles
Terrain: Moderate, paved but rough and uneven, trail has short, steep sections which can be slippery in wet weather. Portions of the trail have steep drop-offs.
Kephart Prong Trail
Distance: 4 miles round trip
Terrain: Kid-friendly for elementary and up. Moderate difficulty
What to Do
If you’re ready to leave the park but not quite ready for vacation to end, there are plenty of other activities to experience, including museums, delicious restaurants with fantastic views and much more. Here are some of our favorites.
From steakhouses with amazing views to a classic drive-in with burgers and milkshakes everyone is sure to love, there are some great places to eat around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here are some of our favorites from each of the surrounding entrances.
Type: Brewery, American
Type: Vegetarian/Vegan, Farm Fresh Southern Cuisine
Type: Classic Drive-In
Location: Cherokee, NC
Whether you’re looking to bring home a unique souvenir or just want some new items, there are plenty of shops to peruse around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Tanger Outlet Center Sevierville
Looking for some new duds, but hoping for a deal? This outlet mall has over 100 leading stores and premium designer labels.
Location: Sevierville, TN
The Incredible Christmas Place
It’s always Christmas here! This Christmas shopping village is the largest one of its kind in the South, and is the perfect place for holiday décor, collectibles, gifts and much more – no matter what time of year you stop by!
Location: Pigeon Forge, TN
Gatlinburg Village Shops
Swing by this quaint, 27-store shopping center for unique boutiques, eateries, galleries and clothiers. Even better than the shopping is the beautiful European-inspired village atmosphere.
Location: Gatlinburg, TN
Wood Signs of Gatlinburg
This shop has been creating custom wood signs for locals and visitors since 1971. Stop by to check out their already created wood signs or order your custom, hand carved souvenir wood sign – ready in just hours!
Location: Gatlinburg, TN
Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc.
This is the perfect stop if you’re looking to take home authentic Cherokee arts and crafts, handmade by local Cherokee artists
Location: Cherokee, NC
If you catch a rainy day or are just looking to move from the outdoors to inside, there are plenty of museums in the area for some fun and learning. Here are some of our top recommendations.
We’ve found the weirdest place in Gatlinburg! Ripley’s Odditorium is dedicated to anything and everything out of the ordinary, and features 500 exhibits and artifacts celebrating the unusual, weird and bizarre.
We all know about the Guinness Book of World Records, now live it! This museum is dedicated to the incredible feats and stunts featured in the book, including the world’s largest Pac-Man game, seats from Wrigley Field and more. There are also 50 interactive exhibits and challenges.
Whether you love the movies or cars, this museum is a must-see! It features some of the most iconic vehicles from TV and movies, including the DeLorean from Back to the Future and two Batmobiles.
Celebrate the cultural heritage of the Great Smoky Mountains region by strolling through two galleries and 13 historic outbuildings. The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center is a museum that honors the early settlers and inhabitants of the region, including the Native Americans.
Visit the Museum of the Cherokee Indian to learn more about the region’s earliest settlers. View Cherokee art, history and culture presented via exhibits, digital films, photographs & holographs.
There are so many amazing sights in the area, the National Park can’t hold them all! Here are some other places to visit that are sure to provide beautiful scenery and loads of fun.
Located in downtown Gatlinburg, right by the National Park, you can experience the park in a completely different way – from up above! Check out the 9 Line Zipline Canopy Tour and self-guided TreeTrek.
Gatlinburg Space Needle
Likely the most iconic landmark of Gatlinburg, the Space Needle stands 407 feet tall and offers amazing, panoramic views of both the city and the Smoky Mountains. Not just an observation deck, the Space Needle also has an arcade, restaurant and theater.
You don’t have to be a Dolly Parton fan to enjoy yourself at Dollywood! It features two award-winning amusement parks, a theme park and a water park. There is also plenty of music entertainment and a spa, restaurants and much more. It’s the perfect place to have some fun after a long day in nature.
Sky Lift Gatlinburg
Don’t want to hike to the top of the mountains? We’ve got the next best thing! Travel smoothly 1,800 feet high, up to the top of the Crockett Mountain on the Gatlinburg Sky Lift for some of the best views in the region.
Oconaluftee Indian Village
Experience “living history” at the Oconaluftee Indian Village, a replica of an 18th-century eastern Cherokee community located in Cherokee, North Carolina. Guides take you through winding paths full of traditional Cherokee dwellings, work areas and ritual sites.
How to Get There
There are plenty of ways to get to the Great Smoky Mountains. To get to the Gatlinburg, TN entrance, from interstate highway I-40 take Exit 407 (Sevierville) to TN-66 South. At the Sevierville intersection, continue straight onto US-441 South. Follow US-441 through Sevierville and Pigeon Forge into park.
For the Townsend, TN entrance: From the north: From interstate highway I-40 in Knoxville take Exit 386B to US-129 South to Alcoa/Maryville. At Maryville proceed on US-321 North/TN -73 East through Townsend. Continue straight on TN-73 into the park.
From the south: From interstate highway I-75 take Exit 376 to I-140 E towards Oak Ridge/Maryville. Merge onto I-140 E via Exit 376B towards Maryville. Turn onto US-129 South (Alcoa Highway) at Exit 11A and travel towards Alcoa. Turn onto TN-35 and follow it to US-321 North. Follow US-321 North/TN -73 East through Townsend. Continue straight on TN-73 into the park.
To enter the park through the Cherokee, NC entrance, from the north, from interstate highway I-40, take Exit 27 to US-74 West towards Waynesville. Turn onto US-19 and proceed through Maggie Valley to Cherokee. Turn onto US-441 North at Cherokee and follow the road into the park.
From the south: Follow US-441/US-23 North. At Dillsboro merge on US-74 West/US-441 North. At Exit 74 merge onto US-441. Follow US-441 through Cherokee and into the park.
If you prefer to fly, a nearby major airport is the McGhee-Tyson Airport (TYS) in Tennessee. It’s 45 miles from the Gatlinburg entrance to the park. In North Carolina, the Asheville Regional Airport is about 60 miles east of the Cherokee entrance.
Of course, we think the best way to travel to and throughout the park is via RV! Renting an RV lets you see this expansive park in true style and comfort. Plus, you can stay in the park itself, experiencing its beauty from sunrise to sunset. Don’t own an RV? RV rentals are available across the country. Whether you want to start at your location and drive the whole way, or fly in and pick up an RV closer to the park, there’s a perfect option available to you.
Keep in mind that trailers, RVs and buses are prohibited on some secondary roads in the parkView RV Rentals
Entering the Park
There are no fees to enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, although there may be some fees for activities like camping or pavilion rentals. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the few national parks with no entrance fee. For more information, click here.
Now that you’re in the know about all our favorite Great Smoky Mountains National Park sites, things to do and trails, you’re all set for your trip! At RVshare, we love getting outdoors and spending time with friends and family, and we know you’ll be able to do just that on your upcoming trip. We can’t wait to hear all about it - send us photos at [email protected], tag us on social media, share your favorite trails and sights, and anything else you want others to know about your upcoming trip for a chance to be featured on our blog or social media channels.