There are many reasons why the 500,000-acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park draws more visitors than any other national park in the system. Its fame as a destination point begins with the mists that give the mountains their name and continues with each turn of the road, each hike through the hills, and each time you cast a fly or lure into one of its streams. To get this rewarding experience, follow this road trip itinerary from Mobile to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The itinerary leads you to several national and state parks that preserve the lands as they were discovered and through several cities where nature takes a backseat to development. Taking detours to explore naturally preserved areas and augmenting the journey with visits to cities shows the complex relationships between nature and large urban areas. With understanding comes an appreciation of those things given by the world to each individual who lives in it.
Congaree National Park
When you reach Birmingham, AL, 257 miles into your Mobile to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park road trip, detour 384 miles east to visit Congaree National Park. The 26,270-acre park preserves the slow-moving Congaree River and the dense cover of hardwoods surrounding it. The water is so slow that it becomes brackish. Wildlife found in Congaree includes alligators and snakes that occupy the top of the food chain. Visitors to Congaree National Park can choose to hike through forests on dry land or walk through swampy regions via extensive boardwalks.
Mammoth Cave National Park
When you reach Gatlinburg, TN, near the end of your Mobile to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park RV road trip, you have three national parks within easy driving distance. The first of these parks is Mammoth Cave National Park, 257 miles northwest of Gatlinburg. The park covers 52,830 acres of land above massive caverns that go for over 400 miles. These caverns are the most extensive in the world, and their depths have not yet been plumbed. Spectacular flowstone formations, stalactites, and stalagmites are found throughout the caves.
New River Gorge National Park
New River Gorge National Park is the second national park easily reached from Gatlinburg. Located 331 miles north of the town, the park features the New River, one of North America's oldest rivers. The river has carved out a gorge through the granite floor of West Virginia, a gorge that rivals those in the west like the Grand Canyon or the Columbia Gorge. Visitors hike the trails that wander through the hills left by glacial and water erosion over millions of years. Fishing, swimming, and whitewater rafting are among the favorite activities that bring visitors to the park.
Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park is the third national park easily reached from Gatlinburg. The detour takes you 421 miles northeast into the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. The park consists of a maze of high ridges, deep valleys, and incredibly steep hillsides covered in timber. From the top of the ridges, visitors enjoy an intense stargazing experience on clear nights. In the valleys, hikers discover rushing streams that pool between short waterfalls where angling finds elusive and feisty trout. On warm days, these pools are welcome swimming spots where visitors jump in to cool off. Hikers are often shaded for miles under the dense canopy, only to emerge on a hillside meadow where the sun's intensity shocks eyes. Vertical cliffs draw rock climbers who take the whole day to ascend their heights. Many mountains within the park reach over 4,000 feet in elevation. The views from these peaks are magnificent and well worth the hike to the top.
Gulf State Park
Gulf State Park, 48 miles south of Mobile, sits on the Gulf of Mexico. Equipped with meandering boardwalks that take you over the white dunes to the beach, the shore is easy to access. Anglers can fresh-water fish at Lake Shelby or seek saltwater fish from the shore or the ADA-accessible fishing pier. Over 25 miles of hiking and biking trails take you through six ecosystems. Paddle boarding, canoeing, and kayaking are allowed on Lake Shelby, and visitors can book a paragliding tour just off the ocean beach.
Oak Mountain State Park
Oak Mountain State Park sits 237 miles along the direct route from Mobile to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The 9,940-acre park provides over 50 miles of hiking and biking trails. Inside the park boundaries, two 80-acre lakes and one 65-acre lake allow visitors to fish, boat, kayak, or canoe through the heat of the day. The lakes are stocked with crappie, largemouth bass, bream, and catfish. Visitors are welcome to compete at the 18-hole championship-level golf course.
Harrison Bay State Park
Harrison Bay State Park lies 32 miles east of Chattanooga, TN, which is 400 miles into your Mobile to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park road trip. Located on the shores of 35,800-acre Chickamauga Lake, the 1,200-acre park is within 20 miles of Chattanooga, TN. The park proudly hosts a Jack Nicklaus-designed championship golf course, 6.5 miles of hiking trails, and a boat ramp from which boats of any size may be launched. The lake provides excellent fishing with many fish species, including gar, shell cracker, bluegill, crappie, bass, and catfish.
Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center
While you are still in Mobile, stop by the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center for some fun activities for the entire family. The center features over 150 hands-on activities promoting science learning for curious minds. Interactive displays present factual information on how the body works, the properties of magnetism, and ocean ecology.
Rosa Parks Library and Museum
Though Montgomery, AL, is only 168 miles into your road trip from Mobile to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the city represents leaps along the journey toward racial equality. While you are in the town, drop by the Rosa Parks Library and Museum. Witness her arrest, her dignity, and her poise as she sits at the front of the bus and silently refuses to give way.
Stop in Chattanooga, TN, to see one of the most unique sites encountered in the United States. Ruby Falls is a 145-foot waterfall that exists underground. Fed by natural springs and rainwater, this pristine waterfall is located 1,120 feet beneath the surface of Lookout Mountain. The river is accompanied by beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.
When visiting Montgomery, you are at the center of important events. It was the first capital of the Confederacy, a rebellion that cost the lives of over 600,000 Americans. The town experienced many Civil Rights conflicts during the 1950s and 1960s, including that of Rosa Parks, a black seamstress who refused to give up her bus seat to a white male, springing a boycott of the Montgomery transit system that led to the complete desegregation of Montgomery’s public works. While you are here, take advantage of one of its dump stations. There are plenty of campgrounds nearby if you wish to stay a day or two to take in the sights.
From its founding in 1871 to today, Birmingham has been one of the country's fastest-growing and most adaptable cities. With a record of impressive industrial growth in the early 20th century, the town’s small businesses flourished. Since that time, many restaurants in Birmingham developed a unique cuisine combination of Southern and traditional American fare. Try out one of the classic Birmingham restaurants while you visit the museums and points of interest found in this town. While you are here, take advantage of the numerous dump stations and campgrounds that surround Birmingham.
In Chattanooga, visitors find an incredible number of points of interest. From museums detailing the history of the area to Civil War battlefields and the evolution of the steamboat, this city commands the attention of anyone who visits. While you are here, use one of the numerous dump stations provided by the city, or one provided at the campgrounds that surround the area.
When you follow this road trip itinerary from Mobile 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 Mobile or Great Smoky Mountains National Park.