The Great Smoky Mountains are the United States’ most visited National Park, with over 14 million visitors in 2021. With that amount of people it can seem like you may not have the tranquil, nature experience that you hope to have. While there are definitely instance where you just have to brave the crowds, there are many ways to plan to help make your trip the enjoyable, nature experience you’re looking for!
Read on to hear my tips to enjoy exploring the Great Smoky Mountains!
1. Start Early (or Late)
This may seem like a complete no brainer but it’s very true! Start early, before sunrise, and opt for breakfast on the trail. This is a bonus because you could catch a gorgeous sunrise through the mountains. Or head into the park after dinner for a relaxing evening hike. Additionally look at the season you’re heading to the park. Spring Break through Fall color change tend to be the busiest times of the park. If you’re comfortable with cooler temperatures and less greenery throughout the park I suggest visiting just after color change and before schools have spring break.
The Great Smoky Mountains are a family oriented park.
Families often don’t head in until after breakfast and will head home around dinner time making the earlier and later hours optimal for less crowds! Avoid time entering the park after 8 AM and before 6 PM. Always be cautious when heading out later, making sure you won’t be stuck on the trail when dusk sets.
2. Head out on the weekdays instead of the weekend
Another no brainer, but something that can make a world of a difference. People that head into town for a long weekend, may all be out and about during those weekend times. If work allows you to plan around the weekdays I would absolutely go for it! Additionally, lodging can be cheaper and easier to find during the week, whether you’re looking for an AirBnB, hotel, or camping!
3. Avoid the busy areas
Of course everyone likes to see the best parts of the park, in turn making these areas crowded, difficult to find parking, and can possibly lead to a less than ideal experience. Avoid these areas, or only plan to visit them at non-peak times (before 8 AM, after 6 PM)
Most Frequented Areas of Great Smoky Mountain National Park:
- Alum Cave Trail
- Chimney Tops Trailhead
- Clingman’s Dome and Visitor Center
- Laural Falls Trail
- Newfound Gap
- Sugarlands Visitor Center
Instead, visit these areas:
- Cades Cove
- Oconaluftee Visitor Center
4. Check out UNDESIGNATED trails via Alltrails
If you’re an experienced hiker and feel confident tackling an undesignated trail, head to the AllTrails app to find numerous trails that are unmarked throughout the park. These trails often involve parking your car along one of the numerous turnouts along the road. Although trails are unmarked they are often easy to follow. I recommend downloading the trail on the AllTrails to be able to follow along while you hike!
We tackled an undesignated trail this most recent visit to the park and we only ran into 3 other groups of hikers the entire 3 mile trek! We had mountain views, found a waterfall, and super cool rock formations. This is something I HIGHLY recommend.
And when all else fails…
5. Expect the crowds
Put on your patience pants and understand that you are visiting the most visited National Park in the United States. This may be some people’s first experience in nature and it’s important to respect everyone’s time in the park!
Let me know here or on Instagram what you’re favorite National Park to visit is and comment what your tips are to have a fun time no matter the conditions!