Are you looking for something new or fun things to do in the Smoky Mountains? In this Smoky Mountains vacation guide, we give you an extensive list of activities and attractions that you can enjoy solo, with friends, or with the whole family.
With breathtaking mountains and tons of family-friendly attractions, it’s impossible not to fall in love with the Smoky Mountains! But with so many amazing aspects about the area, it can be hard to decide which to see or try out first. Here is a comprehensive guide to help you plan the ultimate vacation to the Smokies.
In addition to this massive list of things to do in the Smoky Mountains, we also answer some of the most frequently asked questions about visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Things to do in the Smoky Mountains
The Smoky Mountains or as they are sometimes called, “The Smokies”, refers to the Great Smoky Mountains National park and the surrounding Southern Appalachian communities which include the popular gateway communities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park are the most visited national park in the United States with more than 11 million visitors annually.
It is no wonder the world flocks to the Smoky Mountains with more than 800 miles of trails, including 70 miles on the Appalachian Trail, nearly 400 miles of maintained roadway offering some of the most scenic drives in America, and a diverse population of wildlife and plant life to enjoy.
Aside from having a wide array of natural attractions, Smoky Mountains is home to world class attractions including theme parks like Dollywood, historic structures and lots of educational exhibits. There is literally something for everyone to enjoy.
Where are the Smoky Mountains?
The Smokies is a mountain range located in the Southeastern United States along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. They lie within the Blue Ridge Province of the Appalachian Mountains.
The Smokies are best known as the home of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which protects most of the range. The National Park is connected via the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
If you’re looking at a map, one way to identify the Smokies is by tracing the range of mountains that stretch from the Pigeon River in the northeast to the Little Tennessee River in the southwest.
Why are the Smoky Mountains Smoky?
The Smokies get their “smoky blue” from the fog that hangs over the mountains created by the respiration of trees, themselves. The trees grow so densely in the area that when they “breath” the moisture they produce condenses into a fog.
The blue color also comes from the trees which emit hydrocarbons as a result of tree metabolism. According to gatlinburgweather.com, these hydrocarbons, “bend the shorter light rays, those towards the red end of the spectrum, more than the blue rays, so the result is a bluish tint to the vapor.”
Also, experts have determined that about 80 percent of the fog in the Smokies comes from VOCs given off by the area’s vegetation. Unfortunately, the other 20 percent is air pollution produced by cars and buildings.
Thankfully, there is the National Park Service has worked very hard to decrease the amount of air pollution in the Smokies, and you’d be glad to know that it is the lowest it has been in a very long time!
Best Time To Visit
TODAY!! Today is the best time to visit the Smokies in our humble opinion, but if not today, soon! Okay, I’ll be a bit more specific. Here is my answer to the most commonly asked questions about when is the best time to visit the Smokies.
Are The Leaves Changing Yet?
Mid-October to early November is the best time for fall foliage in the Smokies and as such, Fall is a peak season in the Smokies.
You should expect large crowds, especially on the weekends. There will be road congestion and hotel rates will be at their highest.
However, despite this fact, I have to confess that fall is truly our favorite time to visit the Smokies. We’ve been at least once yearly during the fall for the past 15 years and don’t anticipate changing that.
The best time to visit the Smoky Mountains for Fall colors is between mid-October and November!
Despite the larger crowds, the draw of the Smokies in the fall is hard to resist. This is when they make their brightest debut.
Does it Snow In The Smoky Mountains?
Yes! It does snow in the Smoky Mountains, but not always in the Winter. I like to say, we don’t expect a white Christmas but we fully expect a white Easter.
That’s not entirely accurate, but in the lower elevations, it can be. However, as I am writing this, we have just experienced the largest single snowfall in the Appalachian mountains in December since the 1960’s so, yes, in Virginia, there is a Santa Clause and sometimes it snows in the winter in the Smokies.
It does snow in the higher elevations of the Smoky Mountains and several road closures do occur which we will talk more about in our section on scenic drives, but here is the lowdown on what to expect in the winter in the Smokies.
WINTER- The best time to visit for Christmas lights is the first two weeks of December before schools let out.
Crowds will be largest from mid-November leading up to the Christmas holiday and will begin to thin after New Year’s Day.
Weekends will be crowded throughout the holiday season. After mid-January through early March will be the lowest crowds in the park, but many roads may also be closed.
Is March A Good Time To Visit?
As I mentioned, snowfall can and often does occur in early spring, but Spring is still a great time to visit the Smokies and as the temperatures rise in late April and early May, it’s one of our favorite times because the flowers are beautiful.
SPRING- The best time to beat spring break crowds and enjoy spring flowers in Late April to Early May
Crowds will be lower in the Spring, but you can expect them to swell during the Spring break weeks in March and April, but still be less crowded than in the Fall and Summer.
What Is There To Do In The Smoky Mountains In The Summer?
What ISN’T THERE TO DO in the Summer. The second best time to visit the Smokies is often listed as the summer because most attractions are open, but whether it’s the best time really depends upon your preferences and crowd toleration.
SUMMER- Peak Season is June 15-August 15th. Best time to visit for most attractions & summer fun.
Next to weekends in October, summer will be the second peak season for the Smokies. June 15-August 15th is the busiest time.
If you visit in the summer, we recommend arriving early at the most popular attractions and trails or using some of our tips for finding more off-the-beaten-path ideas.
How much does it cost to get into the Smoky Mountains?
It is FREE to get into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park is one of the few national parks in the United States that does not require an entrance fee.
In the 1930s when the park was established, Newfound Gap Road was one of the major routes crossing the Southern Appalachian Mountains and was paid for by the states of Tennessee and North Carolina as well as the local communities.
When the state of Tennessee transferred ownership of the land to the Federal Government, they stipulate that “no toll or license fee shall ever be imposed…” to use the road. Therefore, there is still no fee to this day to enter the park. Read more on the NPS website.
Smoky Mountains 7-Day Itinerary
I understand how difficult it can be to plan a trip, especially if it’s your first time going. That’s why I created this 7-day itinerary for the Smoky Mountains. It outlines all of the best places to go in the area and comes with insider tips that will save you a lot of stress–trust me, they saved me when I was planning my own trip!
- Our 7-day itinerary takes you to the best places in the Smoky Mountains.
- You’ll get to see all the best sights and attractions with driving directions
- The itinerary is designed to show you the most scenic routes.
- Packing Checklist for every season.
- You’ll have everything you need to make the most of your trip.
- Insider Tips!
Here’s a quick overview of our Smoky Mountains 7-Day Itinerary.
- Day 1: Cades Cove Loop
- Day 2: Rich Mountain Road
- Day 3: Cataloochee Valley
- Day 4: Newfound Gap Road
- Day 5: Roaring Fork Motor Trail
- Day 6: Little River Road
- Day6: Foothills Parkway
Download Your Free Smoky Mountains Checklist
Related Smoky Mountain Resources
- Pigeon Forge Vacation Guide
- Gatlinburg Vacation Guide
- Top 10 Things To Do In Pigeon Forge, TN
- Great Smoky Mountains Family Vacations Facebook Group
MORE RELATED RESOURCES
The Smokies is the perfect vacation destination for the whole family. Keep the kids entertained with our list of the best Things To Do With Kids in the Smoky Mountains.
And after you’re done with your Smoky Mountains vacation, you can take a side trip to North Carolina and visit the must see stops on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville.