GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK: SEVIERVILLE'S INSIDER’S GUIDE
Sevierville, Tennessee is nestled in the foothills of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most-visited national park in the U.S.
A stunning natural beauty, the park straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains and at 522,419 acres ranks as one of the largest protected areas of the eastern U.S. Dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and an International Biosphere Reserve in 1988.
The park offers 384 miles of roads, 850 miles of trails (including 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail), 342 structures (including 97 preserving Southern Appalachian heritage), 730 miles of fish-bearing streams (plus another 1,300 miles of tributaries), 16 mountains soaring over 6,000 feet in elevation (including three of eastern North America’s highest peaks: Clingmans Dome, Mt. Guyot, and Mt. Le Conte), several cemeteries, wildflowers, waterfalls, wildlife, and much more. There’s always something new to discover!
To help you make the most of your visit, here are some insider tips.
Stop by any of the park’s four visitor centers for new parking passes as well as restrooms, concessions, maps, souvenirs, and answers to questions from park staffers. Each visitor center covers the basics plus has some unique features:
offers a free 20-minute orientation film,
natural history exhibits, seasonal ranger-led programs,
and is home to the Backcountry Permit Office.
• Oconaluftee has cultural history exhibits, seasonal ranger-led programs, and a Mountain Farm Museum with several log structures including a farmhouse, barn, smokehouse, and corn crib. An elk herd sometimes lingers in the nearby open field—keep a safe distance when they’re visiting.
• Cades Cove showcases Southern Mountain life and culture, has a gristmill that operates spring through fall, and is home to several historic structures including the Becky Cable house. Ranger-led programs are offered seasonally.
• Clingmans Dome boasts sweeping views of the Smokies and offers the popular observation tower from which you can see up to 100 miles in any direction on clear days.
There are 384 miles of roads to drive in the park—most are paved but even gravel roads are maintained for standard passenger vehicles. Travel speeds average 35 miles per hour. Among the options:
• Newfound Gap Road
(US 441) is a 31-mile route that passes through tunnels, weaves through a variety of forest
ecosystems, reaches an elevation of 5,046 feet, and offers several spectacular lookout points
where it’s free to pull over and park for 15 minutes or less.
• Cades Cove, a valley surrounded by mountains, is an 11-mile, one-way loop that passes by historic buildings including three churches, a working grist mill, barns, log houses, and several other restored 18th- and 19th-century structures. Pick up a self-guided tour information booklet at the entrance and allow at least two hours to enjoy the scenery.
• Clingmans Dome is the highest point in 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 half-mile trail to reach the observation tower.
• Foothills Parkway East and Foothills Parkway West, both on the park’s north side, offer stunning views. (East runs from Cosby to I-40 Exit 443; West runs from Walland to Chilhowee.)
• Rich Mountain Road, a gravel road favored by motorcycle drivers, is an 8-mile, one-way, steep, winding route that heads north from Cades Cove over Rich Mountain to Tuckaleechee Cove and Townsend.
• Upper Meigs Falls, located on the far side of Little River, is accessible by car as well as by foot. A pull-off is located along Little River Road between the Sugarlands Visitor Center and Townsend Wye. The 15-foot waterfall drops into a small pool shaded by rhododendron.
Hiking trails range from easy to challenging, from less than a mile to many miles—choose a trail that suits your endurance level. Hike smart and stay safe: follow trail maps and markers, stay on the trails, wear appropriate hiking clothing and footwear, bring water, take nothing and leave no trace behind. Options include:
• Alum Cave
crosses log bridges along the climb to Peregrine Peak. The trail stretches
5 miles from the trailhead past Alum Cave Bluffs to just below the summit of
Mount Le Conte. The full hike is10 miles roundtrip.
• Appalachian Trail, threads 70 miles through the park; a two-mile stretch is accessible near the Newfound Gap parking lot.
• Charlies Bunion is an 8-mile, out-and-back trek along the Appalachian Trail that boasts breathtaking mountain views and reaches a picturesque stone outcrop.
• Chimney Tops, is a steep 4-mile hike up to an impressive lookout point.
• Forney Ridge, can be a 3.6- or 11.2-mile hike. The trail begins at the Clingmans Dome parking lot and drops elevation to reach Andrews Bald in 1.8 miles. Turn around for a shorter hike or continue down to the Springhouse Branch Trail for a longer trek.
• Little Brier Gap, one of the park’s easier trails, is a 2.6-mile route located in Metcalf Bottoms. It passes some historical buildings (including an 1882 schoolhouse and the Walker Sisters’ vintage log cabin), a stream, and seasonal wildflowers along a path with minimal elevation gain.
• Rocky Top and Thunderhead Mountain, is a strenuous, 13.9-mile roundtrip trek that climbs more than 3,665-feet in elevation up three separate summits. Start at the Anthony Creek Trailhead in the Cades Cove picnic area. Rocky Top’s panoramic views are considered among the Smokies’ best.
Prefer hikes leading to a cascading waterfall? Options abound, including:
• Abrams Falls
drops 20 feet over a rocky cliff into a long, deep pool at its base.
The well-worn trail is a moderate 5-miles round-trip.
• Cataract Falls is an easy one-mile round-trip trek from the Sugarlands Visitor Center
• Fern Branch Falls is a 60-foot waterfall that drops off a ridge at the 2-mile mark along the Porters Creek Trail.
• Grotto Falls is a 25-foot cascade on the Trillium Gap Trail. Rated moderate, this hike offers the park’s only opportunity to walk behind a waterfall—but step with caution since the ground is always wet and slick.
• Hen Wallow Falls is a 95-foot waterfall that fans out to 20 feet wide across its bottom. The trail is 4.4 miles roundtrip; the waterfall is on a short side trail off the Gabes Mountain Trail—look for the wooden sign pointing where to turn.
• Husky Branch Falls is at the 2-mile point on the Little River hiking trail, a relatively easy walk on a level footpath.
• The Middle Prong TrailHusky Branch Falls is a moderate 8.3-mile hike that follows the route of an old logging railroad and passes two spectacular waterfalls: Indian Flats Falls and Lower Lynn Camp Falls.
• Laurel Falls is an 80-foot cascade with an upper and lower section divided by a walkway over a stream. The 2.6-mile trail climbs 314 feet in elevation and is the park’s longest paved trail.
• Rainbow Falls is a 2.7-mile one-way path to an 80-foot waterfall named for what can be seen in its mist (weather cooperating). The falls occasionally freeze into an hourglass shape in winter.
• Ramsey Cascades is the park’s tallest waterfall dropping 100 feet over rock outcroppings. The 4-mile trail follows rushing rivers and streams most of the way. Its last two miles pass through some of the park’s largest old-growth forest.
While no mountain biking trails exist in the park, two options welcome cyclists:
• Cades Cove
is an 11-mile, one-way drive loop that passes by the park’s widest variety of historic buildings.
• Gatlinburg Trail runs 1.9 miles one-way from the Sugarlands Visitor Center to the outskirts of the city of Gatlinburg along the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River.
Some 240 species of birds have been spotted in the park with 60 residing year-round. Nearly 120 different bird species breed in the park, while others stop during migration. Avian populations and diversity change with the seasons, with springtime songbirds, fall warblers, and winter purple finches to name just a few.
The park protects one of the last wild trout habitats in the eastern U.S. and offers a wide variety of angling experiences. Fishing is permitted year-round in all streams from 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunrise. A valid fishing license is required.
The park hosts special events including Wildflower Pilgrimage, Music of the Mountains, Smokies Harvest Celebration, Holiday Homecoming, Festival of Christmas Past, and Junior Ranger days. Check the park’s event calendar for more information about these and other events throughout the year.
Horseback Riding Trails…
About 550 miles of the park’s hiking trails are open for horseback riding. Guided horseback rides that last from about 45 minutes to several hours are available mid-March through late November at four horseback riding stables in the park. Carriage and wagon rides that last about a half-hour are offered by two vendors. You can also bring your own horse: 5 drive-in horse camps that are open April through October offer stabling plus access to backcountry horse trails.
Dogs are allowed on only two trails and both are relatively flat. Dogs must remain leashed and remember to clean up after your pet.
• Gatlinburg Trail
runs 1.9 miles one-way from the Sugarlands Visitor Center to the outskirts of
the city of Gatlinburg along the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River.
• Oconaluftee River Trail runs along the Oconaluftee River 1.5 miles one-way from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to the outskirts of the city of Cherokee, N.C.
There’s no admission fee to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As of March 1, 2023, however, parking tags will be required for all vehicles parked longer than 15 minutes as part of the new “Park It Forward” program to fund sustainable, year-round support for the popular national park. All revenue from the “Park It Forward” parking program will stay 100 percent in the park to help improve the visitor experience, protect resources, and maintain trails, roads, historic structures, and facilities.
Each tag is valid for a single vehicle; the license plate number displayed on the tag must match the vehicle. Tags can be purchased online or in person.
Parking tags are not required for visitors with a handicap license plate or placard or for motorists who pass through the park or park for less than 15 minutes—so you can stop to snap photos at overlooks while driving through. If you’ll be parked for longer than 15 minutes, however, you’ll need a daily ($5), 7-day ($15), or annual ($40) parking pass.
• Annual tags
can be purchased at
The tag will be mailed to you, so order it at least 14 days before your planned visit.
• Daily and weekly tags can be purchased at recreation.gov. Tags will be emailed and you must print it out and display it in your vehicle.
In addition, automated fee machines are available year-round, 24-hours/day for credit card purchases of daily and weekly parking tags. Find them at the Cades Cove entrance parking area, Deep Creek parking area, Metcalf Bottoms picnic area, Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Sugarlands Visitor Center, and Newfound Gap overlook.
Daily, weekly, and annual tags are available for in-person purchase during business hours at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Cades Cove Visitor Center, Clingmans Dome Visitor Center, Gatlinburg Welcome Center, Swain County Visitor Center, Townsend Visitor Center, and Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont Store.
Parking tags will not guarantee a parking spot at a specific location. Parking will continue to be available on a first-come, first-serve basis throughout the park.
Head to the Robert A. Tino Gallery for a Smokies-inspired work of art by one of the Southeast’s most celebrated artists. Tino’s watercolor, acrylic and oil paintings are available in a range of schemes, styles, sizes and prices.
Get an eagle’s-eye view of the Smokies with Scenic Helicopter Tours, which has flown FAA- and National Park Service-approved flights over The Smokies since 1972. Your personal tour of the Smokies will ascend up to 1,200 feet into the air and offer amazing views.