The Great Smoky Mountains National Park extends along the borders of Tennessee and North Carolina. Spread across 500,000 acres of the Southern Appalachian trail and mountain range, making the park a four-season wonderland that serves up wildflowers in the spring and fiery blazes of reds in the fall.
It is easy to see why the Great Smoky Mountains national park is the number one visited national parks, year after year. The park is full of panoramic views, wandering wildlife, and a host of southern charms.
The national park carries the most visited national park title with pride.
It is accessible and can be driven from almost anywhere in the southeastern United States, and it attracts well over 11 million visitors annually.
To put this in context, you can find the second most visited national park, the Grand Canyon and Death Valley. Which only draws about 6 million visitors each year, and only in recent times for hiking or more than a daily trip.
No matter where you are from, you can find the many exciting park trails during the summer, and now the cooler weather is here, the scenery is quite different, and a new range of rich colors is setting in. (Read Backpacking Checklist)
There are so many unmissable attractions in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surrounding areas; from falls you can see in a day, you can hike on trips over several days or more.
There is something for everyone, and outdoor nature lovers can live with nature while enjoying the countless hiking trails down the Pigeon River, or even for a quick glimpse, you can go on many of the scenic drives.
For long term visitors, there are many places you can go camping in the Great Smoky Mountains national park, up Mount Leconte, or closer to ground level.
Although many tourist attractions are to be tasted and enjoyed, it is the natural wonders that attract visitors.
Newfound Gap to Charlies Bunion on the Appalachian Trail
Here you will taste the AT, which may leave you dreaming of further continuing your hike and continuing to Maine. (Read What to Put in a Survival Kit)
Here’s an eight-mile round trip along the famous Appalachian Trail featuring some of the park’s best views from Charlies Bunion and Newfound Gap.
Clingmans Dome Point
Once you make your way up to Clingmans Dome, you have reached the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and passing Deep Creek on your hike.
The views are endless and get there at the right times, and you can experience some breathtaking sunrises. At the other end of the day, the sunsets can reveal glimpses of the Blue Ridge Mountains in ways you can only dream of and want to see again and again.
You can take the 1-mile round-trip walk up the observation tower, and as you make your way down the path, you can pull over and take a peek at the Clingmans Dome Nature Trail to pay your respects to the local gnomes.
Hiking to the top of Mount Cammerer trail has become one of three of the best hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
When you arrive at your destination, not only will you be welcomed by a stunning ocean view, but a watchtower will also welcome you on the ridge of the summit.
It was built by the CCC back in 1937 and is still open for exploration or maybe only for a break from the weather, and even grab a nap before descending the mountain on your way home.
Big Creek Loop
The Big Creek loop area to the northeastern tip of the park has something for every hiker. You can tackle the 21.5-mile loop trail over large peaks, or you can cut the miles and the elevation by pulling over at a creek-side campsite in the park.
If you hit Big Creek trail at night, you have campground amenities such as restrooms, picnic tables, and backcountry camping sites with fire rings.
In the morning, at the crack of dawn, you climb up Chestnut Branch Trail, which is around 2 to 5 miles to the Appalachian.
Turn south toward Mt. Cammerer fire tower spur trail, and from the tower, you have a descent of 2.1 miles to Low Gap Trail.
You can extend a day and hike head up to the Mt Sterling Ridge Trail. Then take another 1.4 miles upward to an elevation of 5,842 feet on Mount Sterling.
Here you can scale the Mount Sterling 60-foot park service Smoky Mountain fire tower for panoramic views in the distance of Cataloochee Valley, the Black Mountains, and more of the Appalachians further south.
20 Mile Loop
Deep in the southwest corner of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you will come across a not so often used trailhead leading to a section of the Appalachian and one if not the best scenic balds the park has to offer.
From the trailhead, you head 17.6 miles along some of the best Smoky Mountains National Park backpacking toward Gregory Bald and camping on the AT for one night and the other night on the bald.
Kick-off, your backpacking trip on Friday, starting by the Twenty mile Ranger Station close to the border of North Carolina and Tennessee.
A slight climb takes you around 4.5 miles to cross the AT at Sassafras Gap. Not far away is Campsite #113, and you find this at Birch Spring Gap.
Day 2 takes you northward along the AT and over Doe Knob to the next trail junction. Here, you can take Gregory Bald Trail west to campsite #13 on the bald.
The area is known for spectacular flame azalea blooms in mid to late June. You can see stunning views of Clingmans Dome, Cades Cove, and Fontana Lake from the high elevation.
On Sunday, you have the final 6.3-mile descent on the Wolf Ridge Trail. Pull over for a stop at the local Fontana Village, and then you have a quick dash for the 6 miles back to Highway 28.
The Smokies has many more trails to offer and places to stay while the Smoky Mountains hiking. You have Rainbow falls, the Fontana Dam, Davenport Gap, and tons of old-growth forest that gives a dreamlike setting along the way.
Many trails are less than 5 mile in length, and some are 8 miles or over for the few extended trails along the AT. (Read How to Use a Camping Coffee Pot)
The Smoky Mountain National Park is best seen in October when the weather is a little cooler, and trips are more comfortable. There is plenty of Great Smoky Mountains backpacking trips up Mount Leconte or fantastic camping at Smoky Mountains in more than enough areas to cater to everyone.