10 Things to Know Before Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

10 Things to Know Before Visiting the Smoky Mountains

Springtime is in full swing now, and so will the waves of visitors who will visit the Smoky Mountains. As the most popular National Park in the United States, it draws people from all over the world to witness its incomparable natural beauty and unique wildlife.

If you’re new to the Park, you’ll find the following list of items helpful to your enjoyment of this special place.  Even if you’ve been here before, you just might be reminded of a few old favorites about the Smokies, or discover something new:

1. The Essential Information

Weather: While spring is mostly pleasant, the possibility of rain is always there.  Not surprisingly, summertime gets quite humid and hot.  Temperatures also vary with changes in elevation, sometimes as much as 10 to 20 degrees.  So always check the latest forecast, dress in layers and be prepared for anything.

Fees: Unlike many of the other National Parks in the country, the Great Smoky Mountains NP does not charge admission, thanks to the Tennessee and North Carolina state legislatures both agreeing to this arrangement when the it first opened.  But please feel free to contribute when you see a donation box.

Hours/Seasons/Visitor Centers: The primary roads are open 24 hours a day, weather permitting, while secondary roads are closed seasonally.  The exception to this is Cades Cover Loop, which has sunrise to sunset hours.  Three visitors’ centers make good starting points for your introduction to the Park: Sugarlands, Oconaluftee and Cades Cove.  Clingmans Dome also has a smaller contact station at its base.

2. Cades Cove

With a combination of breathtaking landscapes, abundant wildlife and primitive sites from a long-standing settlement, this area is the most visited point of interest in the Park.  While the 11-mile road circling the 6,800-acre valley is open to cars from dawn to dusk, bicycles only are allowed during the summer on Wednesdays and Saturdays until 10 AM.  Try to plan your visit as early as possible in the day.

3. Gatlinburg locals’ “secret” entrance

If you want to follow those who live around the park and avoid the crowds, then head to the Crosby entrance of the Park.  It may take a little effort getting there, but it will be worth it when you won’t encounter lines of traffic or people waiting.  You’ll find an abundance of spring wildflowers, as well as of hiking trails, including Hen Wallow, Low Gap/Appalachian/Snake Den Trail, and Cosby Nature Trail.

4. Bear safety

Even though it may seem that you’re among many visitors in the National Park, you are essentially still in the wilderness.  Of course, that means you could encounter black bears the further you venture out.  Whether you see a bear or a bear approaches you, remember to take appropriate safety strategies. Above all, never try to approach bears or feed them.

5. Rainbow Falls

This hiking destination is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful waterfall in the Smokies.  Eventually heading up Mt. LeConte, the trail will start out relatively easy and take you over several bridges over LeConte Creek.  It then ascends 1,700 feet through a series of switchbacks, until you finally arrive at the 80-foot falls and don’t-miss photo opp.

6. Primitive Sites

The area encompassing the current National Park was once a community of homesteaders. Many of the former residents’ buildings – including houses, churches, barns and places of business – appear well-preserved enough that people could still occupy them.  You’ll find these sites at Cades Cove, the Chataloochee and Oconaluftee Valleys and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.

7. Appalachian Trail

Just a little over 70 miles of this famous pathway run through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  It starts at Fontana Dam and ends at Davenport Gap, hitting its highest point at Clingman’s Dome at 6,625 feet above sea level.  Along the way, hikers can also view Mt. Cammerer, Rocky Top and Charlies Bunion. To guide your way, look for a series of painted “blazes” on trees to keep you on the “AT.”  At the foggier points on the trail, rock piles or wooden signs also provide direction.

8. Drink, spirits and libations

You won’t just find moonshine here in the Smokies.  There’s also a growing wine growing and producing area that has five wineries worthy of a taste just northwest of Gatlinburg and called the Rocky Top Wine Trail. Of course, you can also sample the strong homegrown spirit – not in someone’s back yard or porch, but in a modern distillery right in town. If you love craft brews and freshly made beers, then try some of these places in and around the Smoky Mountain area.

9. The Sinks

Want to take a dip in an old-fashioned swimming hole?  Then take a second right turn at the Gatlinburg entrance, past the visitors’ center, and head toward Elkmont.  On the right just near the turnoff for the town, you’ll come to the Sinks, a fantastic place to cool off on hot day.  Walk under the waterfalls, or jump off a small cliff to the depths below.  Just be sure to exercise some caution, and wear water shoes.

10. The Road to Nowhere

On the North Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains, the government built a hydroelectric power dam in the 1940’s and displaced some of its residents. For their inconvenience, a road would be built to access the cemeteries where family members were laid to rest.  But it was never completed – just under one-quarter of the proposed highway. But if you go here now, just head to the other side of the long stone tunnel, and you’ll find some of the best hiking in the Smokies.

At Christopher Place Resort, your Smoky Mountain bed and breakfast getaway near Gatlinburg, let us tell you of more interesting tidbits about our wonderful national treasure right in our backyard. Be sure to request our digital Romantic Getaway Guide or check availability for your next Smoky Mountain getaway.

Photo courtesy of Your Reflections Photography.