One of the main reasons why the Smoky Mountains are such a desired place to visit is because we offer an amazing National Park that is completely free to visit! You are sure to fall in love with the stunning views and breathtaking scenery. Those looking for a more budget friendly getaway absolutely love this about our town. There are so many incredible things to do inside the park so you could easily spend days here with the fun and memories never ending. Another great part of our charming area is that a majority of the population in the United States can actually be here within a day’s drive, making a road trip much more desirable. It is an extremely large park so new visitors or even repeat ones may not know where exactly to begin. We’re here to help you out and provide you with a list of our favorite sites to explore while checking out the park. Let’s take a look at Our Guide to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
We all love being able to spend some quality time with the family during our vacations. One of the best things to do inside the park is pack up a delicious picnic and enjoy it with some of our beautiful scenery surrounding you. We’ll list a few of our favorites so you can see what best fits the needs of what you’re looking for during your day of fun!
- Cades Cove – This one is located on Laurel Creek Road at the beginning of the Cades Cove Loop. They actually have 81 individual picnic sites and what makes them so special is that they actually sit between two relaxing, serene, and beautiful creeks (Abrams Creek and Green Branch.) They offer grills if you want to make some tasty barbecue as well as sitting areas. It gets crowded fast so make sure to arrive early!
- Metcalf Bottoms – This site is located right off of Wears Valley Road in one of the prettiest parts of town. This one is actually my personal favorite, it’s surrounded by luscious greenery and a river that runs through. There are picnic tables right by the water so you can swim around before enjoying a bite to eat. Make sure to get here early to claim one!
- Twin Creeks – Located off of Cherokee Orchard Road in Gatlinburg, this is actually the largest picnic pavilion in the park. You’re surrounded by a scenic forest, giving you picturesque views. The pavilion can host up to 150 guests, but keep in mind, big groups can reserve it. If it’s empty, then it’s first come first serve. There are multiple grills and it’s one of the few spots where you can access electricity!
One truly unique experience that we offer is letting them become a Junior Ranger! Kids between the ages of 5 and 12 can take advantage of this amazing program. All you have to do is stop by a visitors center or check out their site online to purchase a booklet (they’re only $2.50 each) for them to complete while inside of the park. Not only is it fun, but it’s extremely educational as well. They’ll be able to do exciting tasks like hunting for special leaves and more. Once completed, you just have to bring it back to a visitors center and they will receive a junior ranger badge and even get to meet and talk to an actual Park Ranger who will have them do the junior ranger promise. They are sure to love this one! There are also some fantastic kid-friendly hikes to check out which include the following: Baskins Creek Falls, Elkmont Nature Trail, Gatlinburg Trail, and Porters Creek Trail.
Scenic and Historic Hikes
One of the best free activities to do inside of the park is hiking throughout some of our beautiful and scenic trails. We know there are so many of them to choose from, so how do we narrow it down?! We’ve compiled a short list of our must do’s for you all to enjoy!
- Abrams Falls – If you’re looking for stunning scenery, this is exactly where you want to be. Here you will see one of the most voluminous waterfalls inside of the park. While it’s only 20 feet high, the water rushing through makes it one of the most beautiful sights to see. It’s a 5.2 mile hike round trip to the waterfall and is considered to be moderate in difficulty.
- Porters Creek – This one offers history and beauty all in one. Enjoy your stroll along a stunning cascading stream before getting to see remnants of the Elbert Cantrell farmstead, Ownby Cemetery, and the John Messer farm site as well as a historic cabin that was built in the 1930’s by the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club!
- Alum Cave – At 4.4 miles round trip, this one is considered moderate in difficulty. Get ready for some of the most incredible views and landmarks in the park. You will feel like you’re actually walking under a nature made arch as you climb stairs that are completely etched in beautiful stone! If you look to the east, you’ll get to view the Eye of the Needle – a nesting ground for peregrine falcons. You then reach Alum Cave, but don’t let the name fool you, it’s actually a concaved bluff with breathtaking views.
There are some extraordinary driving trails inside the park so you don’t even have to leave your vehicle. The Cades Cove Loop is the first one on the list. This eleven mile loop features beautiful views of the mountains and the valley. You may even get to see an abundance of our wildlife including black bears, deer, foxes, and much more. Some even got to see an elk recently! Next up is the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail where you will get to see lush greenery, mountain streams, grist mills, historic log cabins and popular trail-heads like Rainbow and Grotto Falls. Best of all, you’re also greeted with a waterfall called the Place of a Thousand Drips! Finally, we recommend checking out Newfound Gap which actually climbs to about an average of 3000 feet and it’s also the lowest drivable pass in the Smokies. This one offers some of the most beautiful views in the entire park. You will also come across the Rockefeller Memorial where President Roosevelt dedicated the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on September 2, 1940.
If you’re looking to view and snap some photos of the picturesque views that the Smokies offer, we have a few overlooks that you will definitely want to visit while inside of the park. Here are a few of our top favorites:
- Morton Overlook – This is one of the most popular ones in the park and it’s because you are actually located over 5,000 feet above sea level, giving you some of the magical views around! You also get to see both Gatlinburg and North Carolina, a two for one deal. This is also one of the most amazing spots to visit to witness a Smokies sunrise!
- Oconaluftee Valley Overlook – While this one is relatively small, it makes it a lot less crowded when you’re wanting to just take a quick look at all the beauty around you. It faces East, giving you the chance to see some breathtaking sunrises if you wake up early enough to catch one. It’s only ½ mile from Newfound Gap as well.
- Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook – Located on the Gatlinburg Bypass between the Spur and the National Park, you will find an excellent place to visit to see some panoramic views of the mountains and the entire city of Gatlinburg. It’s been known to be called the best kept secret in all of Gatlinburg!
We hope you’ve found Our Guide to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to be handy in helping to plan your next visit! Don’t forget that you can also do a bunch of fishing at all different areas of the park, all you need is a valid Tennessee Fishing License which you can pick up at our local Walmart. We truly are blessed to have such an exceptional park at our disposal with so many exciting activities to do inside at no cost. We hope you’ll plan a visit soon! Book Your Vacation Condo Rental Online or give us a call at 1.800.429.4361 and one of our friendly reservationists would love to assist you with planning your ideal getaway. Don’t forget to bring Our Guide to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with you on your journey!