Situated on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an ideal getaway for families and groups. The park is nestled in the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains, a subrange of the ancient, time-worn southern Appalachians and named for the constant morning fog that lingers over them.
Once you get to the park, you will know why it is the most visited National Park in the nation. It’s free to enter and features over 500,000 acres of wildlife and 80 historic buildings to explore. Before you go, let these 6 tips for visiting the park be your initial guide.
1. Get Parking Passes and Fishing Licenses in Advance
The park is free to enter but parking your car is not. Parking used to be free, but that changed in March of 2023. Official parking areas cost $5 per day for visits over 15 minutes. Get your parking passes at the visitors center or online. Weekly passes are available for $15 and annual passes are $40.
Impromptu fishing is tempting in the park, but you may get a hefty fine fishing without one. Go ahead and get your fishing license online.
2. Create an Itinerary
Create an itinerary for two or three days. If you stay longer, you’ll still have unfinished activities. Some not-to-be-missed activities include exploring Cades Cove and hiking the 11-mile loop trail, the 5-mile round trip Abraham Falls Trail, and driving the Roaring Fork Motor Trail. At the end of each day, enjoy a cozy cabin rental with a spa.
3. Plan Your Trip on a “Shoulder Season”
Twice as many people visit the GSMNP than the Grand Canyon. The summer months(June-August)are the busiest. This translates to millions of visitors each year. The fall foliage season (September & October) also gets crowded. Consider the shoulder seasons of March-May and November-December. Temperatures may be cool but not extreme.
4. Arrive Early to Beat the Crowds
Since it’s more feasible for families to visit GSMNP during summer vacations, avoiding the crowds may not be possible. Fortunately, the park is open 24 hours 365 days a year. It’s up to you how early you arrive for your daily activities. Some of the most popular parking lots fill up by 10 a.m. so plan accordingly.
5. Pack the Right Essentials
Good shoes or hiking boots are a must for your packing list. You’ll also need sunglasses and sunscreen. The mountains are usually chilly at night even in summer so pack a light jacket. If you like to participate in water adventures, bring a wet suit for the icy cold water.
6. Don’t Bother the Flora and Fauna
You will likely spot bears, white-tailed deer, elk, and more along with stunning wildflowers that bloom in spring and fall. Always keep a distance of at least 50 feet between you and the animals. As for the flora, leave it alone as tempting as picking the pretty flowers may be. To do so could cost you up to $5000.