Wondering which National Park to visit this summer? Looking for beautiful views and wildlife encounters? Nature enthusiasts flock to this park with good reason and so should you!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited Park. It is also the most biodiverse park in the National Park System, making it easy to view wildlife. National parks have become valuable sanctuaries for wildlife because of prominent human impact.
Why the Smokies are a Prime Wildlife Destination
Great Smoky Mountains National Park contains some of the largest wilderness in the Eastern part of the United States. These protected lands are refuges for some 65 species of mammals, over 200 varieties of birds, 67 native fish species, and more than 80 types of reptiles and amphibians (source).
The most famous wild animal at this national park is the American Black Bear. Luckily for this species, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park provides the largest protected bear habitat in the East. Biologists estimate approximately 1,500 bears live in the park.
This was our first bear sighting (our second one was a little more surprising)! If there is a traffic jam inside this park, it is most likely caused by visitors stopping to get photos of wildlife.
*Remember, do not get out of your vehicle when wild animals are present. Do not feed wild animals.* Enjoy this experience from a distance so not to disturb the animals.
How to Spend a Day in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
1. Stop by the Visitor Center
Visit one of the 4 visitor centers for park information. Pick up maps, get a list of daily events, and up to date news on road/trail closures.
Like all US National Parks, the jr. ranger program is available. This is a fun and educational opportunity for kids (many adults participate too) to earn a badge. Booklets are available in every visitor center.
Don’t forget your US National Park passport book to record the visit.
2. Summit the Highest Peak in Tennessee
Clingmans Dome Observation Tower is the most popular attraction at this park. It’s best to get there early for optimal photo options. It is the highest point in the state of Tennessee and the third highest east of the Mississippi. Once at the top, you will be rewarded with spectacular 360 degree views.
The trail to the top is paved but steep, but there are benches along the way for resting. It is not wheelchair accessible. Bikes and dogs are prohibited. Allow at least 1 hour for this excursion.
This is the highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
3. Stand in Two States at Once
The Great Smoky Mountains NP spills in Tennessee and North Carolina. Nearby Clingmans Dome is the Newfound Gap Overlook, where it is possible to stand in two states at once.
If visiting this park is part of a road trip, this is the perfect place and time to enjoy a picnic. Restrooms are available.
4. Take a Hike
There are over 800 miles of hiking trails in this national park. Some trails offer views of waterfalls, historical features, and wildlife. Check out this guide to help decide the best options.
The Appalachian Trail, which runs from Maine to Georgia, winds through this park. Many visitors wish to walk a small section of this famous trail during their visit. Longer hikes will take more preparation, so plan accordingly.
When to Visit
The best time to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park is during the summer or in October for fall colors. If visiting during these peak times, to avoid crowds, visit during the week and head out early in the morning. Only the primary roads are open year round. If you are looking to visit a national park during the winter, visit the Everglades National Park instead.
*If it’s an options, visit the park in late spring or early fall for more solitude. The weather is still great for hiking and wildlife viewing.
Visiting the Smokies with Pets?
These rules are put in place for wildlife conservation efforts. For more information about pets in the park, click here.
Off the Beaten Path
We opted for one of scenic drives. It was worth it but it didn’t compare to driving on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
Where to stay
Stay overnight at the campgrounds or choose to hike 5-8 miles to the only lodge in the park for a more raw experience.
If you are looking for more entertainment in the area. The surrounding communities offer activities such as mini golf, museums, and shopping Choosing to stay in on of the surrounding towns is recommended if traveling with kids because there is so much to do. The mirror maze is a blast!