There are many reasons to check out the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is the most-visited national park in the U.S. This majestic destination is popular for seeing wildlife, hiking, exploring historical sites, and taking scenic drives. If you're headed to the Smoky Mountains from Indianapolis, you'll want to spend time along the way exploring attractions and seeing state parks. There are fantastic camping opportunities all along the I-65/I-75 route, so be sure to bring your RV.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Head southwest from Louisville to arrive at Mammoth Cave National Park in about 90 minutes. This national park, home to the world’s longest known cave system, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve site. Several different cave tours are available, lasting from 1.25 to 2.5 hours and covering 0.25 to 2.25 miles. This park has over 85 miles of mixed-use trails, and if you want to learn more about the local geology, consider taking one of the ranger-led hikes. You'll also want to attend the evening programs with their varying topics at the amphitheater next to the campground. Go on a paddling adventure on 30 miles of the Green and Nolin Rivers. These rivers are also a great place to go fishing.
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
Stop in Middlesboro, Kentucky, to see Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Take the ranger-led tour to see the Gap Cave before heading on to see Hensley Settlement where you can see a springhouse, blacksmith shop, and schoolhouse. There are a variety of trails ranging from 0.25 miles to over 21 miles, and many of these run by historic sites. Learn more about the first settlers in this area by watching the films in the visitor center.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
One of the most challenging decisions you'll need to make when planning your road trip itinerary from Indianapolis to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is which entrance to the park is the right one for you. While there are three main entrances to the park, if you want to get your visit started quickly, skip them and enter the park through one of the entrances that only has a pay station. If you want a traditional tourist experience, then stick to the Tennessee side. If you want a more relaxed vibe, continue east on Interstate 40 out of Knoxville before dropping south to enter the park. Tennessee entrances are located at Abrams Creek on the northwest side of the park, Big Creek and Cosby on the northeast end, and Greenbriar on the north; the North Carolina entrances are located at Deep Creek, Balsam Mountain, and Cataloochee. Once you're in the park, beat the crowds by visiting the most popular attractions first. Consider starting your visit by climbing Clingman’s Dome, exploring the historical buildings at Cades Cove, and fishing in the Little Pigeon River.
Charlestown State Park
Charlestown State Park near the city of Charlestown, Indiana, is a terrific place to go hiking in the Fourteenmile Creek Valley. This park also offers many scenic vistas, which make great places for a picnic. There's also a terrific campground where you may want to stay so that you can hike even longer.
Taylorsville Lake State Park
Taylorsville Lake State Park is just west of Mt. Eden, Kentucky. The lake, which covers almost 5 square miles, is a great place to go fishing for bass, bluegill, and crappie. It's easy to launch a boat onto this lake or fish from shore. Taylorsville is typically the most-stocked lake in the state. If you prefer to stay on dry land, you'll appreciate that there are over 24 miles of mixed-use trails. The picnic shelter in the center of the park is near several loop trails of varying lengths. One of the most amazing hikes in this park is the orienteering course where you need to use a compass and a map to find 12 unique points in the forest located along a 2.1-mile route.
Pine Mountain State Resort Park
Pine Mountain State Resort Park near Pineville, Kentucky, is one of the oldest state parks in the state. Golfers will enjoy playing on the par 72 Wasioto Winds Golf Course, a 7,037-yard course that contains five par-three holes and five par-five holes. There's also a nine-hole miniature golf course. Elsewhere, you'll love hiking along the 12 miles of trails offering stunning waterfall and creek views. Some of the trails pass through old railroad tunnels and along sandstone arches. After a day of exploring, cool off with a swim in the pool.
Panther Creek State Park
Stop and explore Panther Creek State Park near Morristown, Tennessee, right before you reach the Smoky Mountains. There are more than 30 miles of hiking trails at this park located on the 30,000-acre Cherokee Reservoir. The reservoir is an excellent place for a paddling adventure, and riders love the 15 miles of dedicated mountain biking trails. There are also 7 miles of trails for horseback riding. The swimming pool is a spacious space to play on a hot day.
Big Ridge State Park
Don't pass up the chance to explore Big Ridge State Park on your Indianapolis to Great Smoky Mountains National Park RV road trip. You'll love hiking on the 15 miles of diverse trails at this park as they run across dry Appalachian ridges, through lush valleys, and around Norris Lake. The lake is a fantastic place to go tubing, water skiing, and wakeboarding.
Kentucky Derby Museum
If you're a fan of horse racing, the Kentucky Derby Museum on the Churchill Downs Grounds in Louisville is a great place to explore. Films and interactive displays help you understand what goes into training the top Kentucky Derby contenders, and you can see photographs of every Kentucky Derby as well. You can also learn more about the different jockeys who have participated in the race when you stop at this location on your road trip from Indianapolis to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Old Bardstown Colonial Village and Park
Visitors can tour two museums at Old Bardstown Colonial Village and Park in Bardstown, Kentucky. The Civil War Museum explores the Western Theater of the American Civil War while the adjacent Women’s Museum of the Civil War helps you understand the role women played on both sides of the conflict. Then, head next door to see the 10 reconstructed cabins designed to portray those that existed during the late 1700s.
Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park
Gain a better understanding of our 16th president's early life by visiting the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park near Hodgenville, Kentucky. When President Lincoln was assassinated, residents gathered funds and constructed the first memorial to the iconic leader. This memorial is a must-see for any history buff. While the home where Lincoln was born was destroyed, a replica cabin is very similar to his birth cabin. Hike across the karst to see where the family collected water before it dropped into a pit in the ground.
Harland Sanders Café and Museum
When you stop at Harland Sanders Café and Museum in Corbin, Kentucky, you can eat fried chicken where Colonel Sanders first invented his famous recipe. Learn how he first started serving people at his dining room table at the gas station located across the street before having the restaurant constructed in 1940. Colonel Sanders sold this location in 1956 to concentrate on selling KFC franchises.
There are a wide variety of campgrounds in Lexington. If you're looking for a quick stop, consider Whispering Hill RV Park, which is very close to the interstate. Another great option is Camp Nelson RV Park, with its beautiful views and nearby hiking trails. You can find Lexington RV dump stations at Kentucky Horse Park, Elkhorn Campground, and Camping World.
Frankfort’s location along the Kentucky River makes it a scenic place to camp, and there are many Frankfort campgrounds. Stay along the river at Kentucky River Campground & RV Park or Still Waters Campground where you can go tubing. Frankfort RV dump stations are available at Still Waters Campground, Guist Creek Marina and Campground, and Three Springs Campground.
Knoxville is a fun city to explore with an amazing music scene. Consider Knoxville campgrounds like Soaring Eagles Campground where you can rent kayaks and canoes, or Raccoon Valley RV Park, which hosts a clubhouse that offers general camping supplies. Find Knoxville RV dump stations at Melton Hill Dam Campground, Love’s Travel Stop, and Escapees Raccoon Valley RV Park.
When you follow this road trip itinerary from Indianapolis to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you will enjoy historic locations and beautiful scenery along the way. If you want to travel in comfort and style, consider an RV rental from RVshare. From large motorhomes to compact campervans, there is a rig that will meet your travel and budget needs. Once you hit the road, you are protected by our renter guarantee and 24/7 roadside assistance. Find the perfect vehicle for your travel needs in Indianapolis or Great Smoky Mountains National Park.