Smoky Mountains Getaway – Your Ultimate National Park Guide!

Smoky Mountains Travel guide everything you need to know about the smokies. Photo of bridge over rush stream

Why a Travel Guide is Important for your Smoky Mountains Getaway?

When visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, or any National Park for that matter, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the planning your trip within the park.

Things you may want to use our Smoky Mountains Travel Guide for is planning your hiking, camping, scenic drives, and other things to do with the Smoky Mountains National Park.

Read on for your ultimate guide of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Smoky Mountain National Park Entrances

Let’s begin with which entrance you should use to access the Smoky Mountain National Park as this is a very important step which will save you tons of time and headaches.

There are several factors needing consideration when choosing which entrance to the National Park to use.  Two of the main factors include:

  1. Your current location?
  2. Where in the National Park you plan to visit.

 

To make access and directions easy, we’ve provided a link for directions from your current location. 

Also Provided is the approximate distance from the city center of Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, Wears Valley, Sevierville, and Townsend.

For information on current National Park road closures and conditions, please visit the official Smoky Mountain National Park website.

 

Gatlinburg, TN Entrance (Main Entrance)
  • Distance From Gatlinburg City Center – 3.2 Miles
  • Distance From Pigeon Forge City Center – 9.8 Miles
  • Distance From Sevierville City Center – 16 Miles
  • Distance From Wears Valley City Center – Use Metcalf Bottoms Entrance
  • Distance From Townsend City Center – Use Townsend Entrance

 

Get Directions From Your Current Location

 

Using the main entrance into the National Park will take you to most of the popular hiking trails and also to the Sugarlands Visitor Center. If you are looking to access the North Carolina section of the Park, this would be to easiest entrance to use.

 

Gatlinburg, TN Entrance (Roaring Fork Motor Trail Entrance)
  • Distance From Gatlinburg City Center – 1.7 Miles
  • Distance From Pigeon Forge City Center – 8.2 Miles
  • Distance From Sevierville City Center – 14.7 Miles
  • Distance From Wears Valley City Center – Use Metcalf Bottoms Entrance
  • Distance From Townsend City Center – Use Townsend Entrance

 

Get Directions From Your Current Location

 

The other Smoky Mountain National Park Entrances in Gatlinburg is located very near the other one.  This entrance is merely a loop that provides access to several hiking trails such as Grotto Falls, Rainbow Falls, Twin Creeks Trail, Baskins Creek Trail, along with a few others.

Another popular activity that will be found and ultimately is the reason for this entrance is the Roaring Fork Motor Trail which you’ll learn more about below.

 

Greenbrier Entrance
  • Distance From Gatlinburg City Center – 6 Miles
  • Distance From Pigeon Forge City Center – 12 Miles
  • Distance From Sevierville City Center – 15.3 Miles
  • Distance From Wears Valley City Center – 20.5 Miles
  • Distance From Townsend City Center – 27.7 Miles

 

Get Directions From Your Current Location

 

Using the Greenbrier Entrance will give you access to trails such as the very popular Ramsey Cascades.

 

Metcalf Bottoms Entrance
  • Distance From Gatlinburg City Center – Use Gatlinburg Main Entrance
  • Distance From Pigeon Forge City Center – 12.4 Miles
  • Distance From Sevierville City Center – 15.4 Miles
  • Distance From Wears Valley City Center – 20.5 Miles
  • Distance From Townsend City Center – 8.7 Miles

 

Get Directions From Your Current Location

Using the Metcalf Bottoms entrance to the National Park gives you access to all parts of the Park that the Gatlinburg Entrance will provide but will be more convenient to use if staying in the Wears Valley area. 

It also provides direct access to the Metcalf Bottoms picnic area which is a great spot for a family picnic and enjoying the crystal clear Little Pigeon River.

 

Townsend Entrance
  • Distance From Gatlinburg City Center – Use Gatlinburg Main Entrance
  • Distance From Pigeon Forge City Center – 18.4 Miles
  • Distance From Sevierville City Center – 21.3 Miles
  • Distance From Wears Valley City Center – 7.5 Miles
  • Distance From Townsend City Center – 3.0 Miles

 

Get Directions From Your Current Location

 

The Townsend entrance is by far the easiest entrance to get to Cades Cove, which is one of the most popular scenic drives in the National Park.  More on that below.

Weather In The Smoky Mountains

This is a common question no matter where you vacation to because weather, especially in locations based around nature, can make or break your plans.

For purposes of easy planning of your Smoky Mountains getaway, we will break our weather in the Smoky Mountains section into the four seasons.

 

Winter In The Smoky Mountains
smoky mountains getaway in the wintertime overlooking snow covered mountains
Snow covered mountains during winter in the Smoky Mountains.

 

Winter offers visitors the chance to see some of the most beautiful scenery of the year. Fall is another popular season due to the rich fall colors (more on that later), but being able to see a fresh blanket of snow cover the rolling mountainous landscape can leave you in awe.  

Winter is also a very popular Holiday Season with Christmas & New Years. During this time, the area is presented in a way you typically wouldn’t see it, with decorations and holiday spirit in full force.  

Some call it a Winter Wonderland which is very fitting considering the many light shows, parades, decorations, and overall Holiday cheer that you’d expect from the wonderful folks in Tennessee!  

The temperatures are usually very mild and average around 52 degrees as a high, and 30 degrees as a low.

Most activities, even outdoor activities, can still be enjoyed. Winter also offers activities that are only reserved for the cold such as hitting the slopes for some skiing.

Rates for accommodations oftentimes run a bit cheaper in the wintertime as well so if you’re looking for a vacation on a budget, consider packing your bags in December – February!

 

Spring In The Smoky Mountains

Springtime is a busy travel season in the Smoky Mountains. The weather is getting warmer, the trees, flowers, and vegetation are blooming and turning green, and spring break for the those in school allows for that much needed time off.

The temperatures are usually very mild and average around 70-76 degrees as a high, and 40-45 degrees as a low.

Wildflowers are something you don’t want to miss and every April offers a sight to see.  Bears are also beginning to stir about the area! See all of this with a day trip into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  

Take a hike or go for a scenic drive…both are great ways to take in the beauty of the mountains.  

The temperatures also make spring is a great time of year to partake in many of the attractions, especially those involving the outdoors. Don’t forget to checkout some of the seasonal springtime events as well!

 

Summer In The Smoky Mountains

Summer is considered by many to be THE peak season for a Smoky Mountains getaway (some would argue that the fall colors is peak season but that is a much shorter time frame).  

The temperatures are usually very mild and average around 85 degrees as a high, and 60 degrees as a low.

School’s out and vacations are in full swing for most families. Summertime has more crowds and more traffic but with good reason.  Every activity in the area is great during the summer which makes it the optimal time of year.  

It’s a prime season for enjoying all activities the National Park has to offer including fishing, camping, hiking, scenic drives, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, and much more.

Fresh locally grown fruit and veggies can be bought by the bag full at many local farmer’s markets. Beat the heat by enjoying the many wonderful and entertaining indoor attractions. Grab some BBQ and enjoy devouring it outside with a stunning mountain backdrop!

No matter your liking, you can’t go wrong with a summer vacation to the Smoky Mountains.

 

Fall In The Smoky Mountains
smoky mountains getaway in the fall season during peak summer colors
The colorful landscape of fall in the Smoky Mountains

 

Fall is the season of beauty in the Smoky Mountains. It’s a sight that should be seen by all at least once in a lifetime.

The temperatures are usually very mild and average around 70-75 degrees as a high, and 45-50 degrees as a low.

The rustic colors combine to make a scenic landscape pictures can’t quite do justice to. Sitting on the deck of your own Smoky Mountain cabin rental or the balcony of your hotel or condo, enjoying a cup of hot coffee while overlooking a beautiful sunrise coming over the mountain tops is something everyone dreams of.

Make those dreams come true this fall!  The activities, wildlife, and fun are still in full swing.  Stop by a winery, brewery, or distillery for a tasting of the local brews, or even partake in one of the many tours which spans from Sevierville to Gatlinburg.  Make this fall a memorable one by taking a trip to the Smoky Mountains!

Things To Do in the Great Smoky Mountains

No Smoky Mountains Travel Guide would be complete without a comprehensive list of things to do during your Smoky Mountains getaway. Read on to see just how much the Smokies really have to offer for your vacation.

 

Hiking In The Smokies
hiker during their smoky mountains getaway standing atop rock overlooking the Smoky Mountains
Hiker overlooking the Smoky Mountains from atop Chimney Tops Trail

 

What better way to be at one with nature than to take a hike in a pristine National Park? The Smoky Mountains National Park offers many hiking opportunities for every type of hiker from beginner to advanced. 

With over 800 miles of trails within the boundaries of National Park so careful planning is necessary to ensure you hit the best trailed suited for you during your trip.

There are a variety of trail features to be on the lookout for such as wildflowers, boulder fields, old forest growth, caves, wildlife viewing, rivers, foot bridges, and many hikers favorite…waterfalls.

Waterfall trails are highly sought after and popular places to visit, especially during the hot summer as they offer a GREAT way to cool off.

My Smoky Mountain Travel offers an in depth hiking research tool that allows you to find the perfect trail for everybody accompanying you on your Smoky Mountains getaway.

 

Scenic Drives in the Smokies
taking a scenic drive during a Smoky Mountains getaway with a view overlooking a valley within the National Park
Stunning scenery in the Smoky Mountains as seen from a scenic drive.

 

Scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains are a great way to explore the entirety of the National Park in a quick and comfortable fashion.

Roll your windows down and let the fresh air roll in while the sounds of rushing water from the Little Pigeon River is heard in the background.

Simply driving through the National Park on the main to the North Carolina side is a scenic drive in and of itself. There are many other famous scenic drives to be had as well.

Some of the two most popular scenic drives are Cades Cove and the Roaring Fork Motor Trail.  

Check out our Scenic Drives page for a full list of the best scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains.

 

Camping in the Smoky Mountains
tent overlooking the smoky mountains national park during a smoky mountains getaway
Backcountry camping within the Smoky Mountain National Park

 

Backpacking and camping in the Smokies is a popular activity for the nature lovers at heart.

There are many different styles of camping and backpacking that can be had in the Smoky Mountains including:

  • 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 Camping – 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.

 

Research all of the campgrounds in the Smoky Mountains.

 

Fishing in the Smoky Mountains
brook trout caught in the Smoky Mountain National Park during a smoky mountains getaway
Brook Trout caught in the Smoky Mountains National Park

 

Many anglers visit the Smoky Mountains National Park to partake in fly fishing for rainbow trout. 

The National Park contains approximately 2900 miles worth of streams within its boundaries. Ensure careful planning when fly fishing for trout as only about 20% of the Parks streams contains enough volume to house trout.

Douglas Lake to the north of Pigeon Forge offers great fishing as well.  Fish to be caught in Douglas Lake include largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappies, walleye, and sauger.

Animals Of The Smoky Mountains

In this section of our Smoky Mountains getaway Guide, we’ll be discussing the many different types of animals you can expect to see while visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Because the Smokies are a National Park, all wildlife within the Parks boundaries are protected.  Protected within the park are 65 species of mammals, more than 200 varieties of birds, 50 native fish species, and more than 80 types of reptiles an amphibians.

Some of the most common and desired animals of the Smoky Mountains on a travelers “Must See” include:

 

Smoky Mountains Black Bears
black bear cub pawing tree as seen during a smoky mountains getaway
Smoky Mountains black bear cub.

 

While many travelers visit the Smoky Mountains with hopes of spotting a black bear, they are often disappointed to leave empty handed. Bears are most active in the early morning and late evening of spring and summer. To increase your chances of seeing one, take a visit to Cades Cove during these times.

It is estimated that roughly 1500 bears live within the Park which averages out to about 2 bears per square mile. 

Their size averages about 250 lbs for a male, and 100 lbs for a female.  These numbers could increase greatly as fall approaches as they prepare for their winter hibernation.

If you are lucky enough to see a bear, please us the proper precautions. For a full list of precautions please visit the National Parks Guide for bears encounters.

 

Smoky Mountains Elk
elk within the National Park as seen during a smoky mountains getaway
Smoky Mountains Elk within the National Park

 

Long ago, elk once roamed the Appalachian Mountains and many area of the eastern United States. They were eventually eliminated from much of the area due to over hunting and loss of habitat. 

The Smoky Mountains National Park is a safe have for the elk as they are protected within the Parks boundaries. Elk are amazing animals and are even more stunning to see in person.  

Extreme care must be taken if you see a Smoky Mountain elk as they are very large and can become aggressive when approached. Please view the National Parks guide for safe elk viewing.

 

Smoky Mountains Salamanders
Red Cheeked Salamander in the Smoky Mountains National Park during a smoky mountains getaway
Red Cheeked Salamander.

 

Salamanders can be found in abundance throughout the park. Fun Fact! The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is actually known as the “Salamander Capital of the World”! 

There are 5 total salamander species within the Park. One very interesting type is called the “lung-less salamander”.  It gets its name from the fact that it has no lungs and actually breathes through the blood vessels in their skin.

Another fun fact about salamanders is that while they look like lizards, they are in fact amphibians.

 

Cades Cove Horses
wild horses in cades cove during a smoky mountains getaway
Wild horses located in Cades Cove

 

If you decide to venture into Cades Cove during your trip into the Smoky Mountain National Park, there’s a good chance you’ll come across a few wild horses roaming the open landscape.

 

White Tailed Deer
smoky mountains getaway shows a White tail deer in cades cove within the Smoky Mountain National Park
White Tail Deer Smoky Mountain National Park

 

Cades Cove is by far the best location to lay eyes on most of the wildlife on this list, including white tail deer. Also like many animals on this Smoky Mountains travel guide, they are more often seen when the day is cooler including early morning and late evening.

Sometimes they will be out an about in the open fields of Cades Cove for grazing immediately after a rainstorm and even on foggy afternoons.

 

Wild Turkeys
smoky mountains getaway shows wild turkeys roaming an open field withing the Smoky Mountains National Park
Wild Turkeys roaming the Smoky Mountain National Park

 

Turkeys are one of the easiest animals to find throughout the Great Smoky Mountains.  They thrive in the area and will often be spotted in flocks while searching the ground hunting for insects, nuts, and berries. 

They are mostly seen during morning and early afternoon hours. As the evening approaches your chances of spotting them lower drastically as turkeys typically roost in trees during this time.

Anywhere in which an open field exists, you have a great chance of spotting them. This includes Cades Cove, Visitor Centers, and even driving throughout the Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg area.

 

Timber Rattlesnake

When you think rattlesnake, you typically don’t think of a destination like the Smoky Mountains. Usually rattlesnake reminds folks of the desert and western United States destinations. 

The Smoky Mountain National park is actually home to a couple of venomous snake species.  One of these which just so happens to be the most venomous of the two, is the Timber Rattlesnake.

Care should be taking when hiking throughout the National Park. Luckily, the timber rattlesnake gives a warning rattle if they feel threatened. If you hear this rattle, be on the lookout and try to avoid it as much as possible. 

During the day, the timber rattlesnake will bask in the sun, oftentimes on large rocks.

 

Northern Copperhead

The northern copperhead is the other venomous species of snake within the National Park. Their venom is far less toxic than that of the rattlesnake but care should still be taken when hiking.

Copperheads will bask in the sun as well but they are oftentimes found on wooded hillsides and also near rock outcrops near streams and ponds.

Smoky Mountains Safety Considerations

Anytime you plan to partake in activities within the Park during your Smoky Mountains getaway, care and forethought should be taken to ensure you maintain proper safety and are also prepared in the event of an accident.

This is an extremely important section of our Smoky Mountains Travel Guide and below we will highlight certain considerations for your trip into the National Park.

 
Prevention

Prevention is always the first step for your own safety and also for the safety of those around you. Careful planning can ensure you have a safe trip and also help you through a crisis if one were to occur. Preventative measures include:

  • Following the basic rules of the park. There are warning signs located throughout the park and it is highly recommended to heed these warnings as they are there to protect the visitors of the Park.
  • Make a responsible person aware of your day plans and when to expect you back. People can easily get lost within the Park so having someone aware who can alert the rangers of a suspected issue is key.
  • Never hike alone if at all possible.
  • If exploring in a group, keep your group together.
  • Bring appropriate clothing with you in a backpack . Rain gear should be seriously considered as weather can quickly change in the park and hypothermia is a real risk during certain times of the year.
  • Consider giving children a whistle in case they get lost.
  • Bring waterproof matches and a small fire kit. Burning fires are technically only allowed in designated areas, but in a crisis, may be needed outside of these designated areas. Ensure proper fire safety as wildfires are a huge risk in the Smoky Mountains.
 
Hypothermia & Heat Stress

These are often overlooked illnesses that can result in serious injury or death.

Heat exhaustion is caused by water deprivation in a hot environment and this is most common during the hot summer season.  Hike within your body’s capabilities and listen to your body’s signs if you feel you may be suffering from heat stress or exhaustion.  Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Weakness
  • Feeling Faint
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Fainting

If left unchecked, it could progress into heat stroke which is very deadly.

Hypothermia is the lowering of your body’s core temperature to a point that it no longer functions properly and begins to shut down.

Hypothermia is very dangerous as it can occur on a relatively nice day and within conditions you wouldn’t expect.  It’s important to stay dry, as wet clothing and cooler temperatures, even in the 50’s, can cause hypothermia. Symptoms of hypothermia include:

  • Shivering
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Hallucination
 
Dead Trees

Be aware of dead trees overhead while hiking and especially when setting up a back country campsite. A falling tree can easily become deadly upon falling and they are often overlooked as a potential safety risk when setting up camp.

 
Wildlife & Plantlife

DON’T PET THE WILDLIFE! Plain and simple, just don’t attempt to approach, pet, or feed the wildlife. This especially applies to black bears and elk!

Care should also be taken to avoid poisonous insects and venomous snakes. If you are allergic to certain insects or plants, ensure proper precautions are taken such as having an epipen and wearing pants and long sleeved shirts.

 
Drinking Water

Don’t assume that water coming from the crystal clear and cool waters of the rivers and streams within the Park is safe for drinking without proper treatment. Never drink water directly from streams, ponds, rivers, and lakes without proper treatment first.

 
Stream Crossings and Waterfalls

Use extreme caution when crossing streams. Never attempt to cross unless you know you can make it to the other side without issue.

During heavy rains, floods can quickly occur. Rocks, boulders, and even footbridges within the streams can become very slick and falling is always a potential. 

Never climb on rocks near waterfalls as they are extremely slick. Many deaths have occurred within the Smoky Mountain National Park from climbing on these rocks.

 
Getting Help If Required

If you find yourself in need of help while within the National Park, don’t panic. Take a few moments to assess the situation and carefully plan your next actions.

If you have pen and paper accessible, write as much information as possible down about the victim, their injuries, their location, and nearby safety concerns at their location that would help responding personnel (this is assuming you’re not alone because you should never hike alone!) and immediately proceed to the nearest trail head for help.

If you have phone service and feel it is appropriate, 911 should be called immediately.

While the chances of injury or problems within the Park remain very low, being prepared is always a good idea!

In Conclusion

We hope that you found our Smoky Mountains getaway guide useful in planning your trip to the Smoky Mountains. Please ensure you use our Hiking Trails, Scenic Drives, and Camping research tools to learn about all of the opportunities of fun within the Smoky Mountain National Park.

For questions about this guide, please reach out to My Smoky Mountain Travel using our Contact Us Page.

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