The Great Smoky Mountains near Asheville is one of the most visited national parks in the USA with 10+ million visitors each year. There are 520,976 acres to explore, so there's plenty of room for all! This International Biosphere Reserve is home to rugged mountains (many peaks in excess of 6,000 feet), historic homesteads, and 100,000 different types of plants and animals. Since the park is so large with so many places to visit, where do you begin? 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 Great Smoky Mountains on the North Carolina side. (Pic at top is Clingmans Dome.)
Also see our Great Smoky Mountains Hiking & Camping Guide.
Great Smoky Mountains Top 20 Things to Do
Dogs are allowed in campgrounds, picnic areas, and along roads, but must be kept on a leash at all times. The leash must not exceed 6 feet in length. Dogs are only allowed on the short walking path near Cherokee, the Oconaluftee River Trail.
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
These ancient mountains are home to a wide variety of plant and animal life unsurpassed in the National Park Service. 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 pasttimes. 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.