Great Daytrips to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park


Who doesn’t love a spectacular view and lungsful of fresh mountain air? Whether or not you consider yourself ‘outdoorsy,’ don’t miss the chance to explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park while vacationing in Sevierville, Tennessee. The most-visited national park in the U.S. is just a short drive from Dolly Parton’s hometown. There’s much to explore throughout the park’s more than 800 acres, but if you only have one day you can still enjoy some of the park’s highlights. Here are five fun daytrip ideas.

Exclaim “oh wow!” a lot during a scenic drive through the park with views of mountains, rippling streams, tumbling waterfalls, historic structures, and mature forests as well as the chance to spot seasonal blooms and native wildlife. Among the park’s 384 miles of roads is the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail , a 5.5-mile, one-way loop road passing through old-growth forest past rushing streams, several log cabins, gristmills, and other historic buildings. Want to stretch your legs? Step onto the Noah “Bud” Ogle nature trail for a self-guided tour of an authentic mountain farmstead. Feeling more adventurous? Head to nearby trailheads to two of the park’s most popular waterfall hikes, both “oh wow!”-worthy: Rainbow Falls is a moderately strenuous 5.4-mile roundtrip trek while Grotto Falls is a moderate 3-mile hike.

Work your muscles on an epic, day-long hike on the Ramsey Cascades trail. This strenuous 8-mile roundtrip trek climbs 2,200 feet and can take 5 to 7 hours. Much of the trail follows rushing rivers and streams. The last two miles pass through the park’s largest intact old-growth cove hardwood forest with tuliptrees, basswoods, silverbells, and yellow birches. According to the Eastern Native Trees Society, some of the park’s largest trees are along this trail. Once you reach Ramsey Cascades—the tallest of the park’s 100 waterfalls—watch water tumble 100 feet down rock outcroppings and collect in a small pool enjoyed by salamanders.

Connect with nature while you ride horseback on some of the park’s 550 miles of hiking trails that are open to horses. Guided horseback rides are offered by three concessioners in the park from mid-March through late-November. Rides can take 45 minutes to several hours, depending on which option you choose. Cades Cove Riding Stables hosts several different guided trail rides plus carriage rides and hayrides. Smokemont Riding Stables offers rides that last from one to four hours. Sugarlands Riding Stables leads guests on scenic trail rides of one to two hours. Want to ride your own horse in the park? Download the trail map to identify designated trails. Five drive-in horse camps , open April through October, provide quick access to backcountry horse trails.

Snap amazing photos during your climb to Clingmans Dome , the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the tallest point in Tennessee, the highest point along the Appalachian Trail, and the third-highest mountain east of the Mississippi River! Clingmans Dome Road is a seven-mile route that leads to a large parking area; from there, climb a steep 0.5-mile trail to reach the observation tower. On clear days, from the observation tower you can see up to 100 miles in any direction—overlooking seven states! Get a closer look at the surrounding area on the nearby Spruce-Fir Nature Trail, an easy 0.35-mile path that leads through its namesake trees to several large quartz rocks.

Delve into history at Oconaluftee Valley , adjacent to the Visitor Center at the park’s southern entrance near the North Carolina border. To get a sense of how people lived over a century ago, take a self-guided tour through the Mountain Farm Museum’s collection of 19th-century log buildings. The farmhouse, barn, apple house, springhouse, smokehouse, and blacksmith shop were relocated to this site from throughout the Smokies in the 1950s for preservation. Of special interest is the Davis House which was built from chestnut wood before the chestnut blight decimated the American Chestnut during the 1930s and 1940s. The property also demonstrates historic gardening and agricultural practices. Visit the nearby Oconaluftee Visitor Center for more information including maps to nearby trails like the 3.2-mile Oconaluftee River Trail (one of only two pet-friendly trails in the park) and the 0.75-mile Smokemont Nature Trail.

Any day in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a day well spent!

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