It's easy to experience the great outdoors in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the most biodiverse of any national park in the USA. On the North Carolina side near Asheville, find so many adventures outside in the park and the neighboring national forests. From a hike deep in the wilderness to enjoying the views from your car, everyone can enjoy the grandeur of the Smokies. Tube down a river or zipline above the forest canopy. See our top picks below! Pic above: Clingmans Dome
Great Smoky Mountains National Park contains some of the largest tracts of wilderness in the East, making it a sanctuary for a wide variety of animals. The park is also a world-renowned preserve of wildflower diversity with 1,500+ kinds of flowering plants - more than in any other North American national park. More than 19,000 species of animals and plants have been documented in the park, and scientists believe an additional 80,000+ species may live there. The extraordinary diversity led to the park’s designation as a United Nations World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve.
Of all the animals, the Black Bear is the most famous resident of the park with about 1,500 in the park (see our bear safety tips). People travel from around the world each spring to watch the Synchronous fireflies.
In addition to the half million acres of the national park, you have access to an additional half million acres in neighboring Nantahala National Forest in western North Carolina.
Top Outdoor Adventures in Great Smoky Mountains, NC
Tips for Outdoor Adventures in the Great Smoky Mountains
- Inside the park are the tallest mountains in the Appalachian chain, with elevations ranging from about 875' to 6,643', with sixteen peaks rising more than 5,000 feet. This creates drastic changes in weather. Temperatures are often 20 degrees cooler in the highest peaks. Since the lush park is a temperate rain forest, be prepared for sudden storms year round. Snow can fall in the highest elevations in September through May.
- Dogs are allowed in campgrounds, picnic areas, parking areas and along roads, but must be kept on a leash at all times. Pets are not allowed on hiking trails in the park, except for the Oconaluftee River Trail in Cherokee.
- Since this is the most visited national park in the USA, expect crowds at overlooks especially on Newfound Gap Road. But you can easily leave the crowds with a short walk on one of the trails. At Newfound Gap, walk north or south on the Appalachian Trail for a more personal experience with the Smokies.
- There are no stores, gas or restaurants inside the park, so plan ahead for supplies. Both Cherokee and Bryson City have plenty of options for food and shopping just outside the park.
- Find picnic areas at Collins Creek (near Cherokee), Deep Creek, Heintooga. Or you can tailgate along one of the scenic drives. Be sure to take all scraps so you don't encourage bear visits.
- Guided horseback rides are available at Smokemont stables inside the park near Cherokee, mid-March through late November.