The Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the Tennessee and North Carolina border right near Asheville. Come see why this is the most visited national park in the United States with 11+ million visitors each year. Plan your vacation and adventures with our guides below. There are 520,976 acres of natural beauty filled with artifacts of early mountain culture to explore in GSMNP, so you are unlikely to run out of fun things to do while you are here.
An International Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to rugged mountains (many peaks in excess of 6,000 feet), historic homesteads, old-growth forests, famous hiking trails (including the Appalachian Trail, which passes right through the park) and 100,000 different types of plants and animals (including the most famous animals in the park–black bears). Since the park is so large and has so many places to explore during a vacation, where do you begin? (Pic at top is the highest point in GSMNP Clingmans Dome.)
Five entrances to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are within 70 miles from downtown Asheville: Cataloochee Valley, Oconaluftee, Road to Nowhere, Balsam Mountain, and Big Creek. Here are our top things to do in the Smokies on the North Carolina side.
Great Smoky Mountains NC Things to Do
For more outdoor adventure tips, go to our Great Smoky Mountains Hiking & Camping Guide.
Can I Bring My Dog to Great Smoky Mountain National Park?
Yes and no. There are strict rules (and laws) about where you can and cannot take your pet dog in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Dogs are NOT allowed on any hiking trails or in the backcountry anywhere in Great Smoky Mountain National Park (including the Appalachian Trail).
Service animals, including trained guide dogs for visually impaired or hearing-impaired people, are an exception to this rule. Emotional support animals are not considered service animals. Read the NPS Guide to Service Animals in National Parks here.
Dogs ARE allowed in Great Smoky Mountain National Park campgrounds and picnic areas and along roads BUT they must always be kept on a leash of fewer than 6 feet in length. Allowing your dog to run off-leash in the park is against federal law and may be punishable by a fine. Pets that are caught running loose in the park may be impounded–so don’t risk it.
There are also two short walking trails in the park that allow leashed dogs: the Oconaluftee River Trail near Cherokee and The Gatlinburg Trail just outside of the town of Gatlinburg in Tennessee.
Plan to bring poop bags with you, as pet owners are required by law to immediately clean up any waste left by their dogs.
Visit NPS.gov to learn more about the GSMNP’s pet policy.
Entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is FREE. The park is one of the only major national parks that does not charge an entrance fee. Fees are charged for activities such as overnight camping and pavilion rental at picnic areas. If you plan to camp in the park, reservations or permits may be necessary (backcountry camping, car camping, LeConte Lodge, horse camps, campgrounds). Reservations may be made for picnic pavilion use in picnic areas for group outings.
Overview of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Famous for the beauty of its ancient mountains, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is also an ecological treasure that is home to a number and diversity of plant and animal life unsurpassed in the National Park Service (NPS). The Park also offers a glimpse into the lives of early Southern Appalachian farming families and community lifestyles. Seventy-seven historic structures concentrated in five historic districts include a collection of log cabins, barns, churches, grist mills and various outbuildings. The Smokies offer activities for visitors of various ages and interests. Recommended activities include camping, hiking the park's more than 800 miles of trails, picnicking, sightseeing, fishing, auto touring, horseback riding, nature viewing, and photographic opportunities abound.
In addition to its role in preserving the rich natural and historical heritage, the Park is a place for outdoor recreational pursuits. These range from a short stroll in the woods to a more extensive hike in the backcountry. Camping, fishing, picnicking, and horseback riding, or just viewing magnificent scenery are favorite pastimes. Every season in the Smokies can be the best time to visit: spring wildflowers, summer camping along cool mountain streams, fall foliage, and winter's crisp, blue skies are all reasons to visit. More than 4,000 species of plants grow here. A walk from mountain base to peak compares with traveling 1,250 miles north. Several resident plants and animals live only in the Smokies. The Park is an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site. These international recognitions represent the Smokies' importance to the planet.
Visitor Centers in GSMNP
Want to get trail maps and info on the park directly from Rangers? There are four Visitor Centers in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, two in North Carolina, and two in Tennessee. The two that are closest to Asheville are the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Cherokee, NC, and Clingmans Dome Visitor Center in Bryson City, NC. Just a bit farther away you can visit the Sugarlands Visitor Center in Gatlinburg, TN, and Cades Cove Visitor Center in Townsend, TN.
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