Our first trip to the Great Smoky Mountains was in 2015. After that, we fell in love with the area and have returned at least once a year since. Year after year we find that we keep visiting the same places.
These places have become our favorites and thing that we can’t miss. These are our top 10 must do things each time we visit the Great Smoky Mountains.
Goats on the Roof Mountain Coaster
Great Smoky Mountain Auto Tours
Cades Cove is a broad, verdant valley surrounded by mountains. It is one of the most popular destinations in the Great Smokies. It offers some of the best opportunities for wildlife viewing in the park. Large numbers of white-tailed deer are frequently seen, and sightings of black bear, coyote, ground hog, turkey, raccoon, skunk, and other animals are also possible.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Parkway and All-American Road in the United States, noted for its scenic beauty. The parkway, which is America’s longest linear park. It runs for 469 miles through 29 Virginia and North Carolina counties. Linking Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Foothills Parkway is a national parkway which traverses the foothills of the northern Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee, located in the southeastern United States. The 72.1-mile parkway will connect U.S. Route 129 (U.S. 129) along the Little Tennessee River in the west with Interstate 40 (I-40) along the Pigeon River in the east. This parkway offers the most breathtaking views.
New Found Gap Road
A trip over the Newfound Gap Road has often been compared to a drive from Georgia to Maine in terms of the variety of forest ecosystems one experiences. Starting from either Cherokee, North Carolina or Gatlinburg, Tennessee, travelers climb approximately 3,000 feet, ascending through cove hardwood, pine-oak, and northern hardwood forest to attain the evergreen spruce-fir forest at Newfound Gap (5,046′). This fragrant evergreen woodland is similar to the boreal forests of New England and eastern Canada.
Roaring Forks Nature Motor Trail
The narrow, winding, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail invites you to slow down and enjoy the forest and historic buildings of the area. The 5.5-mile-long, one-way, loop road is a favorite side trip for many people who frequently visit the Smokies. It offers rushing mountain streams, glimpses of old-growth forest, and a number of well-preserved log cabins, grist mills, and other historic buildings.
Waterfall Hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains
Laurel Falls Hike (Easy)
Laurel Branch and the 80-foot high Laurel Falls are named for mountain laurel, an evergreen shrub which blooms along the trail and near the falls in May. The waterfall consists of an upper and a lower section, divided by a walkway which crosses the stream at the base of the upper falls. Laurel Falls is one of the most popular destinations in the park and parking at the trail head is limited. The area is especially busy on weekends year-round and on weekdays during summer.
Abrams Falls Hike (Moderate)
Although Abrams Falls is only 20 feet high, the large volume of water rushing over falls more than makes up for its lack of height. The long, deep pool at its base is very picturesque. The waterfall and creek are named for a Cherokee chief whose village once stood several miles downstream. The trail to the falls traverses pine-oak forest on the ridges and hemlock and rhododendron forest along the creek. The hike is 5 miles round trip and considered moderate in difficulty.
Great Smoky Mountain Visitor Centers
Here you can pick up a park map or newspaper, have your questions answered by a ranger, and purchase books and guides to the park.
Sugarland Visitor Center & Animal Museum
Indoor and outdoor exhibits of Southern Mountain life and culture. Includes Cable Mill, a grist mill which operates spring through fall, the Becky Cable house, and other historic structures.
Oconaluftee Vistor Center & Farm Museum
Visitor center museum exhibits tell the story of life in these mountains from native Americans and early European settlement time periods through the Civilian Conservation Corp and the development of the national park. The adjacent Mountain Farm Museum contains a fascinating collection of log structures including a farmhouse, barn, smokehouse, apple house, corn cribs and others. Demonstrations of farm life are conducted seasonally.
Lastly, don’t forget about the Junior Ranger Program if you are traveling with a kiddo. The Junior Ranger books are very affordable. They also offer them a way to get involved and learn at the same time. You can find the books at any of the Visitor Centers within the Smoky Mountain National Park.
If you want to learn even more about Great Snoky Mountain National Park or any of the other National Parks in America check out our popular Traveling the Parks curriculum. It’s fun for kids and a great way to learn more!