Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be summed up in three words: “It’s worth it!” If you love nature, hiking, and photography, then this National Park has it all! With over 11 million visitors last year, according to National Geographic, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has ranked #1 as the most widely visited US National Park year after year. It’s no wonder why! Minutes from Dollywood and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the park quickly transports you into another world. Upon entering the National Park, dense forests surround you. Scenic byways take you atop stunning mountain vistas. Hidden hiking trails lead you past cascading waterfalls deep within black bear country. All in all, this park does not disappoint!
In addition to beautiful mountain vistas and waterfalls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park also contains amazing biodiversity.
The National Park Service claims that with its “over 800 square miles in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, no other area of equal size in a temperate climate can match the park’s amazing diversity. Over 19,000 species have been documented in the park and scientists believe an additional 80,000-100,000 species may live here.” About 1,000 of these documented species have only been found in this National Park and nowhere else in the world. That’s pretty amazing!
As with all the National Parks, you could spend a lifetime in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and still not see it all. That said, there is plenty that can be done! No matter how much time you have, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is sure to capture your heart. Here are some tips to help make your visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park a good one!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Details & Location
Location: Tennessee & North Carolina | Area: 816.28 mi²| Established: June 15, 1934 | Visitors: 11,338,894 (in 2017)
Directions: Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located in Tennessee and North Carolina. While there are several entrances, the main attractions are located along the Newfound Gap Road. I would enter Great Smoky Mountains National Park via Gatlinburg, TN from the north or via Cherokee, NC from the south, along US-441. As both Tennessee and North Carolina share this National Park, there is no fee to enter. Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville, TN all offer plenty of sleeping accommodations and eating establishments.
I only have a few hours to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
If you only have a few hours to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park, here are my top recommendations for must-see attractions:
- Drive the Roaring Fork Motor Trail
- Hike to Grotto Falls
- Visit the Sugarlands Visitor’s Center
- Drive Newfound Gap Road and pull off at the amazing vistas
- Stand in two states at once at the Newfound Gap Pullout
- Climb to the top of the Clingman’s Dome Observation Tower
I have a day to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
If you have a full day to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park, then I recommend the following:
- Do all of the above PLUS
- Watch and photograph the sunset over the smoky mountains at Clingmans Dome or the Morton Overlook
- Hike to Laurel Falls
I want to live at Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
If you have more than a day at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the opportunities are countless! Here are some options for things you can do:
- Do all of the above PLUS
- Do a longer day hike, like the hike to Ramsey Cascades
- Hike the Porter’s Creek Trail
- Drive south of the park to Cherokee, NC and watch the live show Unto These Hills
- Hike to the top of Mt Le Conte
- Hike to Rainbow Falls
- Watch and photograph the sunset at Morton Overlook on Newfound Gap Road
- Hike to the top of the Chimneys or picnic at the Chimneys picnic area
- Watch and photograph the sunrise at the Oconoluftee Valley Overlook or the Newfound Gap Overlook
- Visit Cade’s Cove
- Hike to Abrams Falls
- Hike to Arch Rock and Alum Cave Bluffs
Best Sunrise Locations along Newfound Gap Road at Great Smoky Mountains National Park
If you can wake up early enough, catching the sunrise at Great Smoky Mountains National Park is worth it! But it only lasts for a short amount of time, so you want to choose your location ahead of time. I did my research and asked about sunrise locations at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. According to a park ranger there, the best sunrise locations at Great Smoky Mountains National Park along Newfound Gap road are the following:
Best Sunset Locations along Newfound Gap Road at Great Smoky Mountains National Park
In addition to amazing sunrises, sunsets at Great Smoky Mountains National Park are spectacular! I spoke with a park ranger to get the inside scoop, and he told me that the best sunset locations at Great Smoky Mountains National Park along Newfound Gap road are the following:
- Clingmans Dome Tower and Parking Lot
- Morton’s Gap Overlook
- Newfound Gap Overlook (photographic sunrise opportunities are better here in my opinion)
- Parking at Mp14.4
I hope you get the opportunity to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park for yourself. If not, at least you can see it through my photos! Thanks for reading and sharing my adventures with me!
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