Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, with both sides offering incredible views. The park is similar to Shenandoah National Park in that it was mostly purchased from private landowners before its establishment by the federal government in 1934. With around 11-million visitors annually, it is easily the most visited of the 62 National Parks in the National Park Service system, perhaps because it has no entrance fee.
Clingman’s Dome, Cades Cove, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Foothills Parkway, Oconaluftee, Appalachian National Scenic Trail
Many interesting sections of Great Smoky Mountains National Park preserve the human history of the region, like the popular Cades Cove with its iconic old grist mill. To learn more about the Cherokee indigenous to this region, visit Oconaluftee Visitor Center on the North Carolina side. While there you might also spot a herd of reintroduced elk.
Even on the bumper to bumper Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, all you have to do is park and take a hike to find some solitude. Grotto Falls Trail passes through old-growth hemlock forest, an area very popular with black bears.
As you can imagine, this park is incredibly popular in October and November because of the beautiful fall foliage. Early in the season, head to 6,643-foot Clingman’s Dome, then drop in elevation as the autumn progresses.
Summer and fall
Newfound Gap Road is the major thoroughfare connecting the two sides of the park and it is plowed throughout the winter. The 11-mile loop road through Cades Cove is open year round, but the 7-mile spur road up to Clingman’s Dome and the 6-mile one-way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail are seasonal.
There are 10 campgrounds within Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but if you need RV hookups you will have to find a private campground outside the park.
Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Tennessee-Kentucky)
Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina-Virginia)
Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)
Explore More – While most National Parks do not allow dogs on trails, what are the two trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that do?
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