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Divided between North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is over half a million acres in size. It’s home to some of the east coast’s best hiking trails, breathtaking views, an abundance of wildlife, and plenty of Southern charm.
In fact, a Smoky Mountain vacation has so much to offer that this national park is the most visited in the country with over 12 million yearly visits. If you’re planning your first trip to this area, you’re in for a treat.
That said, because there’s so much to do and see, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. That’s why it’s important to have a detailed plan mapped out in advance. Read on to learn everything you need to know about planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains!
Beginning the Planning Process
Your packing list will vary depending on a variety of factors. Will you be bringing a camper, or a tent and sleeping bag? What time of year do you plan to visit? How many days will you be staying? The first step is to answer all of these questions.
The Great Smoky Mountains are home to some fantastic weather, particularly in the spring and fall months. A typical summer in the Smokies is warm and humid, while the winters are cold and snowy.
Though the average high is in the 70-degree range, you should expect the temperature to vary 10-20 degrees depending on where you are in the park. For example, if you hike Clingmans Dome, which takes you to the highest point in the park, you’re going to experience a temperature drop of around 20 degrees.
What to Bring on Your Trip to the Smoky Mountains
With the above questions answered, you’re ready to start building your packing list. Regardless of the time of year that you’re planning your visit, it’s wise to bring a variety of layers because of the temperature variation.
If you’re visiting in the spring or summer, for example, you might find that you’re most comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt during the day but need a sweater and long pants after dark.
In addition to basic clothing items, you should also bring rain gear and waterproof hiking shoes. If you plan to do a lot of hiking during your trip, be sure to pack hiking essentials such as a daypack, refillable water bottles, a flashlight, a compass, and a first aid kit.
Even if hiking isn’t your activity of choice, you’ll need to bring plenty of sunscreen and bug spray. The last thing you want to do is ruin your trip on the first day by getting sunburnt and covered in insect bites at the same time.
Keep in mind that cell phone reception is limited inside the park. If you have the ability to download maps to your phone, do so before your trip. It’s a good idea to bring a few traditional maps as well just in case.
Choosing Your Activities
The best way to approach this aspect of your plan is to start with the number of days you’ll be staying, and then make a list of activities that you could reasonably hit within that span of time. If you’re only staying for 2 or 3 days, you’re not going to be able to see the entire park and surrounding area, so you’ll have to narrow it down to your top choices.
The most popular options in terms of activities within the Smoky Mountains are hiking, tubing, taking a scenic drive, and enjoying the shopping and entertainment in the surrounding towns.
Let’s start with the outdoor activities. Because for outdoor enthusiasts, it doesn’t get much better than the Great Smoky Mountains National park. The park has hiking trails for all skill levels, including numerous family and kid-friendly hikes.
There are tons of options, but some of the best include:
- Chimney Tops Trail – 3.3 miles, strenuous
- Abrams Falls Trail – 5.2 miles, moderate
- Laurel Falls Trail – 2.3 miles, easy
On top of hikes, you can take a stroll across the Gatlinburg SkyBridge (the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the country), cruise along Cades Cove Loop Road, or float down the Little Pigeon River.
Hiking trails obviously don’t require a reservation, but if you’re going to take part in any of the other outdoor activities, you should set an appointment in advance. Activities such as tubing quickly fill up in the peak season, and without an appointment, you might find that you’re unable to participate.
Shopping and Entertainment
For thrill-seekers, a visit to the town right outside the gates of the Smoky Mountains can’t be missed. This town is called Pigeon Forge and is home to some amazing experiences such as Dollywood and Anakeesta, a mountainside adventure park featuring zip lines and a mountain coaster.
If roller coasters and gondola rides aren’t for you, you can take a trip to Sugarlands Distilling Company for a moonshine tasting or Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort for an evening of gambling fun.
If you’re interested in learning more about what the Smokies have to offer, take a look at smokiestravelguide.com. This guide includes everything from rafting to restaurants to accommodation recommendations.
Use This Guide to Get the Most Out of the Great Smoky Mountains
With so much to see and do inside the park, having a plan for your trip to the Great Smoky Mountains is a must.
By planning your trip ahead of time, including a list of attractions that you want to see most, you’ll be able to get the most out of your Smoky Mountain vacation.
Looking for more vacation planning tips and tricks? Be sure to check out our blog!