When it comes down to it, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in an amazing location. The conditions are perfect for growing gorgeous forests, misty rolling mountains, meadows full of wildflowers and year-round waterfalls. It's actually the most visited National Park in America. But just because it's such a popular destination doesn't mean there aren't hidden gems and undiscovered places to explore all around the Smokies. While the scenery is utterly breathtaking, there's even more to The Great Smoky Mountains than just Pigeon Forge, Clingmans Dome and Blue Ridge Parkway, it's a park that's loaded with Southern Appalachian history, mountain culture, and endless fun!
Camping is a great way to experience the Smoky Mountains! Whether you're in an RV or a tent, or you want to book one of Camp Leconte's luxury safari tents or treehouses, for a more "glampy" stay, this place can accommodate you. Seriously, if you're a novice camper, you'll love the adorably-decorated safari tents, which even come with porch swings.
107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN, US
Travel tips for visiting the Smokies: -Hiking, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, and more are all fun activities within the park, but it's also one of the best parks for taking scenic drives. There are hundreds of miles of road that twist and wind through the mountains. -Additionally, the Southern terminus for the famed Blue Ridge Parkway, a scenic drive that links the Smokies with Shenandoah National Park, is found at the edge of the park. -Get to the park early in the morning to see why they're called the "Smoky" Mountains...the mist is so peaceful. -Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, two cities near the park, are loaded with all kinds of kitschy tourist fun, kids especially will appreciate the cultural attractions and shows.
Little River Rd, Gatlinburg, TN, US
When most people think of the Great Smoky Mountains, they usually just think of the mountains, but there are some interesting things hidden among the peaks and valleys...like a ghost town! It's called "Elkmont" and it's actually a historical district with abandoned cabins and the ruins of resort hotels, dotted throughout the town.
Little River Gorge Rd, Gatlinburg, TN, US
There are hundreds of miles of streams in the Smokies, and the urge to cool off with a dip in one is totally understandable. There's a particular bend in the river to head to, known to locals as The Sinks, which is a great swimming hole. The water is deep and cold, and there are rocks to climb on and jump off.
10042 Campground Dr, Townsend, TN, US
Pack a picnic for Cades Cove, a valley meadow that has a one-lane road that's a super popular scenic route. Along the drive, you'll find little historic buildings that you can explore and gorgeous views of the surroundings. In the spring, it blooms with tons of wildflowers.
714 River Rd, Gatlinburg, TN, US
The second you cross the Mason-Dixon line, you're in prime BBQ territory. Bennett's Pit Bar-B-Que has all the usual suspects: pork, chicken, and sausage. But the dark horse of the menu has to be the burger, it's got smoked brisket mixed into the patty, making it unlike any other burger you've ever had.
Great Smoky Mountain Nat'l Park, Gatlinburg, TN, US
The Bud Ogle Cabin is an historic homestead that's a perfect example of the kind of cabins that dotted the Smokies in the 19th century, before the region was turned into a park. A cabin, tub mill and barn are still standing, and have been well-preserved with interpretive signs and tours. It's a peaceful, bucolic setting to learn a little bit about the history that has helped shape the culture of the region.
By now you're probably aware of all the restaurants in Gatlinburg, and most specialize in big, Southern meals served family style. But, if you want to keep it simple, head to Smoky Mountain Shakes N Dawgs, a local mom and pop joint. They mostly just do hot dogs and curly fries, but they offer loads of crazy toppings (they have a Reuben dog and a Philly Cheesesteak dog), fresh buns, and even a hot dog boiled in moonshine.
Clingman's Dome Trail, NC, US
Clingman's Dome is the tallest mountain in the Smokies, and to make it even more impressive, it's got an observation tower built on its peak. The spiral ramp offers 360-degree views that extend up to 100 miles on a good day. If you're pressed for time, you can drive to the peak, and then take a quick, half-mile stroll to the tower.
Big Cove Rd., Cherokee, NC, US
There are tons of waterfalls in the park, each more gorgeous than the last, but Mingo Falls are some of the park's best. They may not look it, but they're 120 feet tall, with stairs that lead up to a viewing platform. Other than the stairs, it's a pretty quick hike, and you can spend hours just soaking in the misty spray!
Oconaluftee Visitor Center is way more than just a visitor center, it's a full historical village and museum! Set right by the river, you can see lots of wildlife around, and if you check their calendar, you can stop by when they have a demonstration or event going on.
The best time to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park: There's no bad time to visit the Smokies: summer brings great weather, and the park is still accessible in the winter, with the added bonuses of lesser crowds and snowy vistas. Fall is far and away the most popular time to visit, thanks to the incredible foliage, but it can get very crowded. Spring is a delightfully underrated time to visit, blooming wildflowers and mild weather make it perfect.