Planning Your First Trip to the Smoky Mountains: A Guide
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Waterfalls, long drives, and wildlife make the Smoky Mountains a place worth visiting. More than 14 million people come to the Smokies annually to experience the natural beauty and delightful attractions. There are over 150 trails in the misty peaks for hikers and nature lovers. These trails range from picturesque tracks to more complex hiking paths. If hiking is not your thing, you can enjoy a leisurely drive with an unrivaled view!
If you’ve chosen the Smokies for your holiday, you won’t be disappointed. Each season brings an abundance of beauty, from the spring wildflowers to the fiery shades of autumn. Many visitors flock to the Smokies to bask in the sun and enjoy picnics in the national park during the summer. A few trails are closed during the winter season, but fewer people visit the Smoky Mountains during the winter. That means smaller crowds and a more tranquil atmosphere. Follow our guide for first-time visitors to the Smoky Mountains to make your vacation memorable!
Best time to visit.
The Smokies are a delight to vacation at any time of the year. When planning your trip, check the attractions on display during that time. We recommend booking your accommodation before arriving since this is a popular tourist destination. You can rent the cabins of the Smokies and enjoy the spectacular views along with modern amenities. The winter season sees fewer visitors, so you might have an easier time finding lodgings than during the busier months.
Fall in the Smokies is gorgeous, with the fiery colors of autumn. This season is bustling, and areas like Newfound Gap and Cades Cove are more crowded than others, like Cataloochee Valley or Tremont. Vacationers can witness plenty of bears and deer, and the beautiful foliage makes the trails very picturesque. During the hotter months, the temperature can reach the 90s, while the winters see snowfall in the higher areas. While packing for your trip, keep an umbrella or raincoat since the mountains have unpredictable weather. We also suggest packing hiking gear like boots, a compass, a flashlight, and sunscreen. Don’t forget to bring your camera along to capture memories!
One of the most popular sightseeing destinations in the Smokies is Cades Cove; hundreds of travelers’ flock to this valley to enjoy the wildlife and views. The Foothills Parkway is another drive that offers breathtaking scenery. Visitors also love to ride along the Roaring Forks Motor nature trail, which gets its name from the stream rushing next to it. This path meanders through a forest, and from here, you can hike up to Rainbow Falls or Grotto falls.
Secondly, the Clingmans Dome observation tower offers an incredible view of the Smokies because it’s the highest point in Tennessee. It takes an hour to reach the top by car, but once there, you can catch a stunning sunrise or sunset.
The Smokies also offer many wonderful trails and forests to trek through. Waterfalls and wildflowers make these hiking adventures even more enjoyable. You can see elks, bears, and deer meandering along the pathways. At night, fireflies present a gorgeous show for campers. When hiking, carry water and some snacks with you. Remember to buddy up because of the bears! If you see a bear, do not approach the animal; simply walk away. Do not throw your trash and be mindful of the rules and signage around the trails. Also, carry a walking stick with you as it can help you on some of the trickier paths.
Another attraction you must experience is the Gatlinburg SkyBridge. This 700-feet long structure is suspended at a height of 1,800 meters and offers a breathtaking view of the mountains. Visitors can reach the bridge through the Sky Lift, which takes them to the top of Crockett Mountain. If you enjoy heights, you will also enjoy the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel. Located in Pigeon Forge, the wheel consists of glass gondolas from which the visitors can enjoy the stunning view.
Other Outdoor Activities
No visit to the Smokies is complete without a trip to Dollywood. This theme park guarantees a fun-filled day for the whole family. There are more than 40 rides in Dollywood, including Lightning Rod, the world’s fastest roller coaster. You can catch performances from Dolly Parton herself, along with other live performances. Dollywood also hosts the largest seasonal festivals, like the Food and Flower Festival and Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas. The fall Harvest Festival is a great attraction too, and you can cool off in the summer at Dollywood’s Splash Country water park.
Located in Pigeon Forge, The Island is another destination where families can enjoy their day. Here, you can enjoy the musical fountain show, shop to your heart’s content, and feast at one of the popular eateries. Entrance to The Island is free, making it one of the more affordable places near the Smokies.
Lastly, you can enjoy a jeep tour of the Smokies. Zip lining, rafting, sun-drenched picnics, horse riding, and camping are also activities you can indulge in while vacationing here.
The indoor attractions near the Smokies mean you won’t have to spend a rainy day stuck in your cabin. Instead, you can visit the Titanic Museum, which carries over 400 original artifacts from the sunken ship. It shows Titanic’s harrowing journey through exhibits and recreations and is an incredible way to honor its passengers. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is another interesting rainy-day activity. Tourists usually spend 2 to 3 hours marveling at various fish and underwater life.
If winter sports are your jam, might we suggest Ober Gatlinburg? During the colder months, this becomes Tennessee’s only ski resort. During the summer months, there are activities like tubing, ice skating, chair lifts, etc.
You can find delectable local cuisine at various spots in the Smokies. The national park does not have restaurants, but there are many in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg. Some restaurants offer international cuisine, while others use locally produced grains and produce to create southern comfort food. Gatlinburg takes pancakes seriously; you can find many restaurants where you can order piping hot and delicious pancakes at any time of the day!
The beauty of the Smokies makes it a great vacation spot. If you’re looking to unwind and enjoy yourself with friends and family, you will not find a quainter destination! From seasonal festivals to various hiking trails and wildflowers to theme parks, there is something for everyone to appreciate.
*This article is based on personal suggestions and/or experiences and is for informational purposes only. This should not be used as professional advice. Please consult a professional where applicable.