Smoky Mountain National Park is well known for its spectacular views of vast rolling hills covered by a lush forest. It encompasses a section of the Blue Ridge Mountains running along the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, offering visitors over 150 hiking trails, campgrounds, and endless opportunities to see wildlife.
Because of its easy access and natural beauty, it comes as no surprise that The Great Smoky Mountains Park is the most visited in the country. It has two main entrances; Sugarlands Visitor Center and Oconaluftee entrance. The Sugarlands borders the fun, touristy town of Gatlinburg, TN, while the Oconaluftee is an hour away from Asheville, NC. There is really no wrong choice about where in the park to visit.
Some of the best views can be enjoyed right from your car and make for the perfect pit stop between hikes. It is highly recommended to visit anytime outside of winter to enjoy the abundance of wildflowers, boundless greenery, and the majestic rainbow of leaves in the autumn.
Clingmans Dome: Not only does the Clingmans Dome provide the most iconic view of the park, but it is also the highest point in the entire state of Tennessee. From this viewpoint you can get an epic 360-degree panoramic view of the rolling hills below, making it the perfect destination for fall foliage. Note that the steep one-mile hike is not wheelchair accessible and it remains closed during winter due to the weather.
Newfound Gap: For the best glimpses without requiring a hike, Newfound Gap offers you a perfect panoramic view of the Great Smoky Mountains from your car. It is open year-round and is the center point along the scenic road between the two main visitor centers.
Cade's Cove Scenic Route: It is an 11-mile one-way road that takes you through lush meadows while you pass historic buildings and an abundance of picturesque mountain scenery. The meadows are a fantastic place to see wildlife, especially grazing deer. This scenic route has several pullovers for you to enjoy and explore the historic buildings and short hikes along the way.
Throughout the park, there are 150 different hiking trails traversing 850 miles. While it would be a dream to see every inch of the park, we have put together our 4 favorite hikes that will give you a good idea of why this park is so distinguished.
Rainbow Falls: This is a moderate to difficult 5.4-mile round-trip hike. On your way to the waterfall, you walk through a flourishing forest and over a handful of other small waterfalls and creeks. At the end is Rainbow Falls, an 80-foot-tall waterfall that, when the sunlight allows, will show a gleaming rainbow throughout the day.
Alum Cave: The hike to Alum Cave is a 2.2-mile hike with an altitude gain of 1200 feet. The cave itself is a massive concave bluff that requires you to go through a small arch to reach. This trail is connected to Rainbow Falls by passing up and over Mount LeConte, for a strenuous full day 11-mile hike in one direction.
Ramsey Cascade: Ramsey Cascade is the tallest waterfall in the park, falling from a height of 100 feet. The hike to the waterfall is quite strenuous and long. The 8-mile round-trip journey takes you past many rushing rivers and through a thick, old growth forest.
Abraham Falls: It is a 5.2-mile round-trip hike that ends at a small waterfall. Although the waterfall itself is not the most impressive in the park, it is still one of our favorite hikes as you have the opportunity to spot wildlife along a good portion of the trail.