Great Smoky Mountains National Park Favorites

  • Wildlife in Cades Cove
    Wildlife in Cades Cove
    by DSwede
  • Mushrooms on the Logs towards Chimney Tops
    Mushrooms on the Logs towards Chimney...
    by DSwede
  • Frost Encrusted Moss at Clingsman
    Frost Encrusted Moss at Clingsman
    by DSwede

Best Rated Favorites in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

  • Stephen-KarenConn's Profile Photo

    Get Out of Your Car

    by Stephen-KarenConn Updated Jun 15, 2004

    4 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Favorite thing: For years Great Smoky Mountains Park Rangers have frustrated over the fact that a large percentage of visitors simply drive through, viewing the Park from their car windows. What a shame to be so near the greatest wilderness area in Eastern America, and yet be seperated from it by a climate controlled capsule of glass and steel.

    Get out! Stretch your legs! Breathe deeply of the fresh mountain air! To encourage more people to experience the forest, and especaily for those who are intimidated by the longer more difficult trails, the park service has created a series of Quiet Walkways - circuit paths of a few hundred yards each. Although we often hike the longer trails, we've also taken a few of these and have always found them enjoyable. It's amazing how short a distance from the road one has to go to totally close out the sights and sounds of civilization and become engulfed in the quite beauty of nature.

    The Quite Walkways may be found periodically along any of the main roads of the Park, particularly Newfound Gap Road and Little River Road.

    Signs Like This One Point to the Quiet Walkways
    Related to:
    • National/State Park
    • Road Trip
    • Hiking and Walking

    Was this review helpful?

  • Stephen-KarenConn's Profile Photo

    A Priceless Experience

    by Stephen-KarenConn Updated May 28, 2004

    4 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Favorite thing: The Great Smoky Mountains is the only major National Park in the United States that has no entrance fee. This is due to a agreement reached with the people of both North Carolina and Tennessee, back in the 1920's, when the Federal Government was buying up land to create the Park. Much of the land was paid for by individual gifts of local people, including school children who collected pennies to contribute. (Their gifts were matched by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation) Also, there was a concern that the highway which passes through the park, U.S. 441, could become a toll road. The highway is still a steep, winding two lane road and commercial traffic (like big trucks) is banned.

    To help provide for the needs of the Park, the "Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park," a private organization, was founded in 1993. They now boast 2,000 members, including 80 volunteer park workers, and have raised more than $8 million from individual, corporate, and foundation gifts. They have placed donation boxes, such as the one pictured, at strategic locations within the park for your contribution. Why not drop in a dollar or two when you pass by? The experience of visiting such a wonderful park is indeed priceless.

    Friends of the Smokies Donation Box
    Related to:
    • National/State Park

    Was this review helpful?

  • Stephen-KarenConn's Profile Photo

    Great Smoky Mountains Weather

    by Stephen-KarenConn Updated Jul 7, 2004

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Favorite thing: Weather can vary widely in the Smokies, not only according to the season, but also the altitude, which ranges from 800 to 6,643 feet above sea level. These mountains create their own weather, so forecasts for nearby towns often don't hold true for the Park. I have often seen it raining or snowing "on top of old Smoky," when the sun was shining everywhere but on the peaks.

    Any time you visit the Smokies be prepared for rain, or in winter, snow. This is one of the wettest places in the continental United States, with an average of 88 inches of rain per year on the peaks and 65 inches in the lower elevations. Snow accumulations on top of Mt. Leconte totaled more than 14 feet in 2003. Most years accumulations are less, but the highest elevations can get snow from October through May.

    Summers are very hot and humid in the lower elevations, but pleasant higher in the mountains. Afternoon thunderstorms are almost a daily occurance. Spring weather can be very unsettled, however, it never stops the April wildflowers from putting on a spectacular display. Fall usually has mild days and cool nights and is the driest time of the year.

    Summer Thunderheads Building Over the Smokies
    Related to:
    • National/State Park

    Was this review helpful?

  • Stephen-KarenConn's Profile Photo

    An Abrupt Change as You Enter the Park

    by Stephen-KarenConn Updated Jun 25, 2004

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Favorite thing: Every time we enter the Smokies from either of the two most popular entrances (Gatlingburg, TN, or Cherokee, NC) we are startled by the abrupt change. One minute you are in loud, glaring, crowded touristville, and the next you are engulfed in a quite, majestic, verdant forest. Sure, during the busy seasons US Hwy. 441 which bisects the park may be crowded. But stop anywhere, hike five minutes up virtually any trail, and you leave civilization behind.

    Fondest memory: Many times I have hiked all day long in the Smokies without seeing more than half a dozen other people, and a few times I have seen no one else at all - yet you're within a one day's drive of half the population of the United States.

    Welcome to the Great Smoky Mountains
    Related to:
    • Hiking and Walking
    • National/State Park
    • Backpacking

    Was this review helpful?

  • goingsolo's Profile Photo

    By the dawn's early.... haze?

    by goingsolo Written Aug 12, 2005

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Favorite thing: Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known for several things, one of which is the heavy traffic that converges on the park, creating traffic jams that can be astounding. One good way to avoid the crowds is to get an early start to the day. If you're staying in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg, it can take over an hour to even get into the park. But, in the very early hours of the morning, traffic is virtually non existent.

    There are many good reasons for starting your day early, and avoiding Gatlinburg's tourist attractions is only an incidental benefit. In the early hours, traffic in the park is minimal and your chances of seeing wildlife also increase. Mornings can be hazy, as can afternoons, evenings, weekends and holidays (that's why they call 'em the Smokies, after all), but they can also be a bit cooler and pleasant. There's something to be said for driving on a practically isolated park road in the early hours, even in the haze. After all, the haze is one of the reasons for visiting this park.

    Great Smoky Mountains National Park
    Related to:
    • National/State Park

    Was this review helpful?

  • mrclay2000's Profile Photo

    Rolling Mountain Ridges

    by mrclay2000 Written Feb 25, 2003

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Favorite thing: Whenever you reach the high ground in Smoky, the vistas are generally ones of rolling mountain ridges covered by sturdy hardwood forests. Unlike Rocky and Glacier, there is scarcely a mountain peak here or even a patch that is not covered with trees.

    North Carolina side
    Related to:
    • Family Travel

    Was this review helpful?

  • mrclay2000's Profile Photo

    The Low Country

    by mrclay2000 Written Feb 25, 2003

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Favorite thing: The park service ingeniously constructed the one park road so that it runs adjacent to a creek almost throughout its course. After a spring shower when the leaves literally glow like emeralds, the streams can sometimes become quite turbulent and even violent, making them considerably attractive to kayakers. You follow one road only, and the mountains hand you off from stream to stream, with numerous turnouts that contemplate the serenity and ease of these mountain settings.

    roadside creek, Cades Cove road
    Related to:
    • Family Travel

    Was this review helpful?

  • mrclay2000's Profile Photo

    If You Came for Bears. . .

    by mrclay2000 Updated Mar 30, 2003

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Favorite thing: Smoky has one of the better concentrations of black bears in the lower 48 states, with estimates sometimes climbing to 1,700 animals. Park rangers almost exclusively pin a visitor's best hopes of spotting one by driving the Cades Cove loop on the Tennessee side, which is roughly 30 miles west of the Sugarland Visitor Center just south of Gatlinburg. Unfortunately, though I willingly accepted their advice, the most commonly occurring animal in the Cove was the white-tailed deer.

    white-tailed deer, Cades Cove
    Related to:
    • National/State Park
    • Family Travel

    Was this review helpful?

  • mrclay2000's Profile Photo

    Impeccable Views

    by mrclay2000 Written Feb 25, 2003

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Favorite thing: In the low country, the scenes vary little, as generally being overarched by a generous canopy of green leaves (depending on the season). Near the top of the road (a single winding lane connecting Cherokee NC to Gatlinburg TN), the various turnouts afford space for reflection and tranquility, and to marvel at forests and mountains that stretch to all horizons.

    Great Smoky Mountains National Park
    Related to:
    • Family Travel

    Was this review helpful?

  • Basaic's Profile Photo

    Great Smoky Mountains National Park

    by Basaic Written Dec 27, 2011

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Favorite thing: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park preserves a unique natural area with five different types of forests: Spruce-Fir Forests; Northern Hardwood Forests; Cove Hardwood Forests; Hemlock Forests and Pine and Oak Forests. Each type has its own plant and animal life indigenous to it. Which type of forest thrives in what area depends on several factors including elevation, how much rainfall there is and how the slope controls other exposure factors like wind and sunlight.

    The smokies got their name because of the smoky looking haze that is almost constantly hanging over the mountains. Today, pollution adds to this appearance. If you get the chance, go up to Clingman's Dome for a look at North Carolina and Tennessee.

    Another very interesting attraction in the park is Cades Cove, where you can get a glimpse into the lives of early settlers in the area.

    Fondest memory: Cades Cove and the View From Clingman's Dome

    Sugarland Visitors Center Cades Cove View From Clingman Smokies Mountain Farm Museum
    Related to:
    • National/State Park
    • Family Travel
    • Historical Travel

    Was this review helpful?

  • richiecdisc's Profile Photo

    beyond fashionably late

    by richiecdisc Written Aug 8, 2007

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Favorite thing: This is an easy park to visit by car and you can get into the forest or find great views without even leaving it. But to truly enjoy the splendor of the Smokies by all means get onto one of the many trails. They are well marked, maintained and there is one for every level of fitness. Enjoy!

    Fondest memory: Pulling out of Asheville, I wondered if I’d made the right decision. My wife was pretty certain. She’d gotten me out of a great pub that had very good beer and I was likely to over imbibe if left to my own devices. So, we found ourselves on the road in the early evening with plenty of light for the short drive. We arrived in Kodiak, Tennessee just as the sun went down and saved a bundle on the room by doing so. It was surely a much nicer room than we’d have managed in Asheville; it even had free wireless access. We got a great night’s rest and I awoke early to scope out our breakfast possibilities. I filled the tank while out and decided to treat Doreen to Cracker Barrel rather than the quicker McDonald’s we had discussed the night before to ensure getting down to a trail head as early as possible.

    After a hearty breakfast of grits and eggs we made our way down into The Great Smoky National Park. I’d been before but Doreen was surprised at the crass commercialism of the entry town of Gatlinburg. But once in the park, it was easy to see why it is so popular with great old growth forest and winding roads exploring the gently rolling hills of America’s most popular National Park. We soon found ourselves at the trail head though much later than planned. It was nearly 11 by the time we hit the trail and I’d told my friends in Georgia we’d get to their place around 4:00; pretty much impossible if we did the whole hike we’d planned. The estimated time according to the sign at the beginning of the trek said between 6-8 hours so we hoped to do it in five and at least be able to call and explain we’d be late once back at the car. (continued below in Fondest Memory)

    a deep old forest has D in glee lush, lush, lush
    Related to:
    • Road Trip
    • Hiking and Walking
    • Mountain Climbing

    Was this review helpful?

  • richiecdisc's Profile Photo

    on taking the advice of our elders

    by richiecdisc Updated Aug 11, 2007

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Fondest memory: We set off at a brisk pace on a path that rose steadily and were soon quite happy with it being mostly a forested walk. The shade helped keep us cool on an otherwise warm afternoon. We arrived at the Alum Cave in less than an hour despite it being posted as a two hour climb. We knew we were making great time but wondered whether going to the top of LeConte made sense with friends waiting on us. It was too early to turn back so we figured we’d walk until we got a better view and turn back once it got too late. En route we passed an elderly couple who claimed to have done the walk 80 times and exclaimed we’d have no problems with it. If there had been doubt that we’d finish it up until then it was pretty much put to rest with this passing. There would be no turning back until LeConte was ours.

    With this knowledge we quickened our pace further and passed a few more groups. The trail was beautiful and even more so with a profusion of in roaring bloom enveloping big portions of it. The views were lovely if only intermittent and threatened by an ever darkening sky that forewarned of an encroaching thunderstorm that had us thinking of aborting once more. Trail maintenance personnel explained we were closer to the top than bottom and suggested getting up there to safety rather than turning back. (continued below in Fondest Memory)

    the Alum Cave rhododendrons enveloping the trail
    Related to:
    • Mountain Climbing
    • Hiking and Walking
    • Road Trip

    Was this review helpful?

  • richiecdisc's Profile Photo

    just in time to beat the storm

    by richiecdisc Written Aug 8, 2007

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Fondest memory: We reached the LeConte Lodge in well under three hours and grabbed a spot under a shelter that was perfect for our lunch break. The rain started to pour down and we were happy to be under cover. We enjoyed our food despite the lack of what would have been beautiful views normally and were pleasantly surprised by a young deer who wandered by us gingerly; another sure anomaly in better weather at that hour. I checked my cell phone coverage and was surprised I had a signal since I hadn’t had one since entering the park but Doreen warned me that with the lightning it wasn’t a good idea to make a call.

    After the rain slowed down we walked over to the lodge proper. It was an assortment of cabins, each with its own separate porch with rockers to enjoy what is normally a fantastic view. There is a meeting room of sorts where meals must be served with a huge wood burning stove, lots of things to read, and photos on the walls showing the storied history of the lodge. We set and enjoyed a brief rest and waited for the rain to wane before making the tough decision to head back down. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)

    the LeConte Lodge: who wanted to leave? D enjoying the shelter from the storm
    Related to:
    • Road Trip
    • Hiking and Walking
    • Mountain Climbing

    Was this review helpful?

  • richiecdisc's Profile Photo

    in no time it was ancient history

    by richiecdisc Written Aug 8, 2007

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Fondest memory: The trail down was a bit slippery from the storm and our knees were not quite ready for the decent as we’d not done any hiking in over a year. You can get in the best shape ever and that does help for going up but once you have to come down there isn’t much you can do to prepare yourself for the inevitable pain that follows. We made it down quickly nonetheless and were happy to get back to the car about 4:30, pretty fast considering we were at the top for a good 45 minutes to an hour. Unfortunately I’d forgotten to call my friends before embarking on the return trip and now found myself in the valley with no signal once again.

    We raced as best we could but these were winding roads that would slow us down no matter what our intensions were. It was a beautiful ride we’d have enjoyed if not under time constraints and even passed by a drive in restaurant right out of the 50s. We didn’t get a signal until we got to Blairsville, GA-the town our friends lived in. They’d call numerous times and assumed we didn’t have coverage since we never picked up or returned their messages. It was all ancient history soon enough as we settled in on their big porch and a refreshing beer. They knew me well enough to know that I wasn’t always on time and even better that I wouldn’t likely pass up a hike even if I was running late. Turn back? Not in my nature. Besides it all made for a good story and that’s what they were waiting for anyway. We’d have the next day to discover their little corner of the planet. We could see already that we’d have to come back again and when we did we’d make it the sole focus of our trip. Then we’d be on time or at least a lot closer.

    the rhododendrons after the storm good friends understand the lure of the mountains
    Related to:
    • Road Trip
    • Mountain Climbing
    • Hiking and Walking

    Was this review helpful?

  • bigorange1103's Profile Photo

    Wildlife

    by bigorange1103 Written Jul 15, 2005

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Favorite thing: Most people come to these mountains to see wildlife. Bears are the most sought out animal in the park. I have been many times and either see a lot of bears or none at all. One trip, back in Nov of 2000 we saw almost 10 bears.

    Deers are the most abundant. Cades Cove at dusk or dawn is the best time to see them. They are so tame they walk up to the cars sometimes. BUT PLEASE, dont feed the animals!!!!!! That is stressed the most. It endangers people and the animals.

    Bear in a tree
    Related to:
    • National/State Park

    Was this review helpful?

Instant Answers: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Get an instant answer from local experts and frequent travelers

27 travelers online now

Comments

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Favorites

Reviews and photos of Great Smoky Mountains National Park favorites posted by real travelers and locals. The best tips for Great Smoky Mountains National Park sightseeing.

View all Great Smoky Mountains National Park hotels