Winters aren't the best time to be here, since most roads are closed owing to snowfall. During the night, especially, the melted snow refreezes on the roads, making for a near-impossible ride.The Great Smoky Mountains are a part of the Appalachian Mountains, and are situated along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. The area is a designated national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park covers an area of 816.28 sq mi, making it one of the largest protected areas in the U.S. An estimated 9 million visitors come to the park each year―a figure which mirrors the popularity of the park. From fishing streams to hiking trails, this park has a little something for everyone who comes to visit.
So, here's all you need to know when you're planning an outing to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
How does one get there?
The main entrances of the park are located in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Cherokee, North Carolina.
The McGhee-Tyson Airport is located south of Knoxville in Alcoa, and is an estimated 45 miles west of the Gatlinburg entrance.
The Asheville Regional Airport is located approximately 60 miles east of the Cherokee entrance.
Taking the road
If you're driving to the Gatlinburg entrance, take the Sevierville Exit 407 to TN-66 South. At this intersection, continue straight onto US-441 South. Follow US-441 through Sevierville and Pigeon Forge into the park.
If you're driving to the Cherokee entrance from the north, take Exit 27 from the interstate highway I-40, to US-74 West towards Waynesville. Turn onto US-19, and proceed through Maggie Valley to Cherokee. Turn onto US-441 North at Cherokee, and follow the road into the park.
From the south, you need to get on to US-441/US-23 North. When you reach Dillsboro, merge on US-74 West/US-441 North. At Exit 74, get onto US-441through Cherokee, and into the park.
When is the best time to visit?
The park is open to visitors 24/7, all year round. But you must note that the weather conditions in winter may make some areas of the park inaccessible, owing to the melted snow refreezing on the roads. The National Park Service runs a helpline for the latest status on park closures; all you need to do is call (865) 436-1200.
Are there any entrance charges?
You'll be glad to know that the park does not charge an entrance fee. Although certain activities like overnight camping or pavilion rentals are charged on a per-night basis, ranging from USD 14 to 23.
What are the staying options like?
Within the park, you'll have to hike up Mount Le Conte to reach the Le Conte Lodge. Also, accommodations at the lodge need to be booked in advance.
Campsites are available throughout the park. These include backcountry, frontcountry, group, and horse camps. The frontcountry grounds are developed areas which also have restrooms.
Communities around the park offer several accommodation options that suit every budget and group size.
How to best enjoy the park?
The number of activities you can indulge in are unlimited. The park's sheer size and topography makes it an apt destination for people of all ages and preferences.
There's a reason why these mountains are named so. Therefore, you just can't come to the park and not check out the reason why. Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the park, and from the observation deck, you'll get to see the entire mountain range spread out―all underneath a blanket of fog which mimics that 'smoky' appearance, which gives them the name, the Great Smoky Mountains.
It would be an understatement to say that the Smokies come alive during the fall season (September-November). This is the time when nature breathes life into the landscape, and the entire area bursts into myriad shades that define the fall season. This also happens to be one of the best times to visit the park, with a lot of travelers coming to experience this wonderful natural phenomenon.
The park is home to around 80 historic structures―homes, barns, churches, schools, and grist mills, most of which are log buildings. The Cades Cove Historic District, with its Methodist Church pictured above, is one of the most visited sections of the park.
Wildlife enthusiasts will be thrilled to know that the park has several resident species that make it a must-visit. The dense tree cover might make wildlife spotting a little difficult, but you are recommended to try your luck in open areas like Cataloochee and Cades Cove for great opportunities to see white-tailed deer, black bear, raccoon, turkeys, woodchucks, and other animals.
The Meigs Falls, pictured here, is along Little River Road, 13 miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center. This waterfall is just one among the 2,000 miles of streams in the Smokies, most of which are dotted with sparkling waterfalls and cascades.
Hiking is a popular activity enjoyed by people visiting the park. Each season brings about a change in the park's landscape, and provides newer vistas for hikers to explore. However, one needs to be cautious while hiking in the backcountry, since the area is entirely susceptible to the elements of nature.
Horseback rides are an interesting way to explore the park's scenic trails. Guided runs are on offer in the park, with rides lasting from 45 minutes to several hours.
As you can see, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has everything you're looking for in a quiet, nature-inspired holiday destination. All you need to do now, is get here as soon as you can.