Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. World renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, this is America's most visited national park.
Things To Do
Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses over 800 square miles and is one of the most pristine natural areas in the East. An auto tour of the park offers a variety of experiences, including panoramic views, tumbling mountain streams, weathered historic buildings, and mature hardwood forests stretching to the horizon.
There are 384 miles of road to choose from in the Smokies. Most are paved, and even the gravel roads are maintained in suitable condition for standard passenger cars. Travel speeds on most of the park's paved roads average 35 miles per hour.
Backcountry - for backpackers. Requires hiking several miles to a site located in the park's backcountry.
Frontcountry - camping near your car in a developed campground that has restrooms with cold running water and flush toilets. Each individual campsite has a fire grate and picnic table.
Group Campgrounds - large campsites suitable for groups of eight people or more. Located in frontcountry campgrounds.
Horse Camps - Small campgrounds, accessible by vehicle, that offer hitch racks for horses and primitive camping facilities.
Campground facilities and the procedures for obtaining a site in each type are different. Click on the titles above for additional information about facilities, reservations, and operating seasons.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has about 2,900 miles of streams within its boundaries, and protects one of the last wild trout habitats in the eastern United States. Approximately 20% of the park's streams are large enough to support trout populations.The park offers a wide variety of angling experiences from remote, headwater trout streams to large, coolwater smallmouth bass streams. Most streams remain at or near their carrying capacity of fish and offer a great opportunity to catch these species throughout the year.
Fishing is permitted year-round in the park, from 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset. The park allows fishing in all streams.
Didymo is a non-native single-celled algae species that ruins stream and river beds. It has been found in the streams of 16 states, including Tennessee. Protect park streams by not spreading "Rock Snot"!
Done fishing? Use our Angler Creel Survey form to tell us about your experience while fishing in the park. This will provide the park with information on the numbers and sizes of fish caught and harvested here. The results will be used to help park biologists determine angler use patterns, catch and harvest rates, and seasonal patterns. Whether you just caught a few or caught a bunch, please take a minute to fill out a creel survey and let us know about your trip.
Hikers enjoy the Smoky Mountains during all months of the year with every season offering is own special rewards. During winter, the absence of deciduous leaves opens new vistas along trails and reveals stone walls, chimneys, foundations, and other reminders of past residents. Spring provides a weekly parade of wildflowers and flowering trees. In summer, walkers can seek out cool retreats among the spruce-fir forests and balds or follow splashy mountain streams to roaring falls and cascades. Autumn hikers have crisp, dry air to sharpen their senses and a varied palette of fall colors to enjoy.
Here are some of the most popular destination hikes in the park:
Alum Cave Bluffs
One of the most daunting tasks facing hikers is choosing a trail. Start by deciding on what you would like to see. Waterfalls? Old-growth forests? Endless views? Then decide how far you would like to hike. If you haven't hiked much recently, be conservative. Five miles roundtrip is a good maximum distance for novices.
Hiking with children? Kid-friendly hikes are an excellent way to learn and enjoy the outdoors.
Guided horseback rides are available at four concession horseback riding stables in the park from mid-March through late November. Rides on scenic park trails are offered lasting from 45 minutes to several hours. All rides proceed at a walking pace. Rates are from $30 per hour. Weight limits and age restrictions may apply. Please call the stable you are interested in for additional information.
Cades Cove Riding Stables offers a 1.5 - 2 hour hayride around the Cades Cove Loop Road. Passengers sit on a bed of hay in a trailer pulled by a truck and enjoy an open air view of the scenery of Cades Cove. Reservations are generally required and can be made by calling (865) 448-9009.
Carriage and Wagon Rides
Carriage or wagon rides are offered at two of the concession horseback riding stables in the park. These rides provide an opportunity to experience a 20-30 minute horse-drawn carriage or wagon ride on a park trail.
Picnic areas are located at Big Creek, Chimneys, Cades Cove, Collins Creek, Cosby, Deep Creek, Greenbrier, Heintooga, Look Rock, Metcalf Bottoms, and Twin Creeks.
The picnic areas at Cades Cove, Deep Creek, Greenbrier, and Metcalf Bottoms remain open year-round. The remaining picnic areas are closed during the winter.
Picnic pavilions are available at Collins Creek, Cosby, Deep Creek, Greenbrier, Metcalf Bottoms, and Twin Creeks, Pavilions can be reserved for groups one year in advance by calling (877)444-6777
Viewing wildlife in the Smokies can be challenging because most of the park is covered by dense forest. Open areas like Cataloochee and Cades Cove offer some of the best opportunities to see white-tailed deer, elk, black bear, raccoon, turkeys, woodchucks, and other animals. The narrow, winding road of Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail encourages motorists to travel at a leisurely pace and sometimes yields sightings of bear and other wildlife. During winter wildlife is more visible because deciduous trees have lost their leaves.
Because many animals are most active at night, it can be advantageous to look for wildlife during morning and evening. It's also a good idea to carry binoculars. Some people like to sit quietly beside a trail to see what wildlife will come out of hiding. And don't forget to scan the trees—many animals spend their days among the branches.