Great Smoky Mountains National Park Vacation Guide North Carolina

Great Smoky Mountains Park NC Top 20

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.)

Great Smoky Mountains

2016 Updates

  • Celebrate the Centennial of the National Park Service with the park's 100-mile hike challenge. Read more.
  • Restoration of the Alum Cave Trail continues, so the popular hike will be closed every Monday-Thursday Spring-Fall.
  • Monthly guided hikes with the Friends of the Smokies return. See dates and locations.
  • During 2015, the park had a record attendance of 10.7 million visitors!

Great Smoky Mountains Top 20 Things to Do

Mountain Farm Museum
Mountain Farm Museum & Oconaluftee Visitor Center
Located at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, see historic farm buildings is an open-air museum and great plenty of information from rangers.
Elk in Great Smoky Mountains
Elk in Cataloochee, Great Smoky Mountains
Watch the elk in beautiful Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with best times just before sunset. Take a picnic and tailgate. Also, tour historic buildings or hike.
Deep Creek Tubing
Deep Creek Tubing
Rent a tube and float down Deep Creek on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Bryson City. Float by one waterfall and hike to two others.
Indian Creek Falls
Tom Branch Falls, Indian Creek Falls and Juney Whank Falls
See three waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the Deep Creek area with a two-mile hike. Deep Creek is also a popular tubing spot each summer.
Newfound Gap Road
Newfound Gap Road
Drive the very popular U.S. Highway 441 through Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Cherokee. First stop should be the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum. Then drive 18 miles and climb 3,000 feet to Newfound Gap on the Tennessee border. Many turn around here or you can drive up to Clingmans Dome. Another option is a hike on the Appalachian Trail.
Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome
(1 mile roundtrip, moderate) At 6,643 feet, this is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. An uphill, paved trail takes you to the top for panoramic views from the observation tower.
Mingus Mill
Mingus Mill & Smokemont Church
See two historic structures within a few miles of each other in the Great Smoky Mountains, both located near the North Carolina entrance on Newfound Gap Road / US 441 near Cherokee.
Andrews Bald
Andrews Bald
(4 miles roundtrip, moderate) At an elevation of 5,920 feet, this is the highest grassy bald in the Great Smoky Mountains. The hike near Clingmans Dome is not overly strenuous, but includes a good bit of uphill and rocky sections. And you won't see the crowds that you find on other hikes in the Smokies.
Charlies Bunion
Charlies Bunion
(8 miles roundtrip, strenuous) Hike on the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap north four miles to this rocky ridge with spectacular views of the Smokies. You climb about 1,600 feet in elevation, but it's gradual.
Heintooga
Heintooga & Balsam Mtn, Great Smoky Mountains
The less-crowded Heintooga picnic area and campground at Balsam Mountain is located off the Blue Ridge Parkway. And go "car hiking" on the 14-mile Heintooga-Round Bottom Road that starts at an altitude of 5,535 feet and descends through the lush forest to Cherokee.
Road to Nowhere
Road to Nowhere Hike
(3.2 miles, moderate) This loop hike in the Smokies includes a 1,200-foot tunnel at the end of Bryson City's Lakeview Drive, known locally as the "Road to Nowhere." Lakeshore Trail starts here too, a 35-mile long trek to Fontana Lake Dam.
Mt. LeConte & Alum Cave
Mt. LeConte & Alum Cave
(11 miles roundtrip, strenuous) The Alum Cave Trail is the most hiked in the Great Smoky Mountains. You'll see why with interesting geological features and stunning views. To reach the 6,593-foot summit of Mount LeConte (third highest peak in the Smokies), you'll climb 2,853 feet in elevation in 5.5 miles.
Fontana Lake
Fontana Lake & Dam
Located in the Great Smoky Mountains, enjoy fishing, boating, camping and swimming in this beautiful lake. Or walk the Appalachian Trail across the highest dam east of the Rockies.
Chimney Tops
Chimney Tops
(4 miles roundtrip, strenuous) One of the most popular and rewarding hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains. With an elevation of 4,800 feet, the rare rock summit is one of the park's most recognizable geological structures. Great views from the summit. It's all uphill with 1,700 feet in elevation with intimidating rock cliffs at the top.
Purchase Knob
Purchase Knob
(7.5 miles roundtrip, moderate) Hike the Cataloochee Divide Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains along the ridge to Gooseberry Knob and Hemphill Bald for great mountain views.
Mt. Cammerer
Mt. Cammerer
(11.8 miles roundtrip, strenuous) The hike up from Big Creek is a 5.9-mile constant climb with a gain of about 3,000 feet in elevation. The stone fire tower on top affords fabulous views as your reward for the climb.
Mt. Sterling
Mt. Sterling
(5.4 mile roundtrip, strenuous) Atop Mt. Sterling (5,842 ft elevation) is the historic, 60-foot tall steel fire lookout tower with nice views. You will climb 2,000 feet in elevation.
Wildland Guided Hikes
Wildland Trekking Company
This award-winning adventure tour company specializes in guided hiking and backpacking tours to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A top-rated company on TripAdvisor with all-inclusive trips and expert guides, they are one of the Smokies' premier adventure options.
Bryson City
Bryson City
Check out our favorite small town near Asheville! Ride the train on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad before you explore their downtown shops and galleries or paddleboard down the river. Nearby Deep Creek in Great Smokies features camping, hiking, trout fishing and the popular tubing. Raft the Nantahala River. And that's just the beginning!
Pigeon River Zipline
Pigeon River Adventure Center
Zip over the Pigeon River and through the woods of the Great Smoky Mountains! This Canopy Tour takes you into the Smoky Mountain Creek Gorge exposing a lush forest of ferns, wildflowers, towering trees, rock cliffs, waterfall and moss covered bolder gardens. It includes 12 zipline sections between elevated platforms and treetop decks, four sky bridges. The Express Zip Tour has seven zips including two zips across the Pigeon River. Combine your zip rides with whitewater rafting or Jeep tours!
Bryson City Cabins
Find a big variety of vacation rentals next door to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Fontana Lake and the Nantahala River Gorge. From one-bedroom romantic hideaways to group lodges and even yurts, stay beside a babbling creek, in a peaceful mountain valley, or on a mountain top. Bryson City is a cool little... read more
Graham County NC
Graham County Places to Stay
Find great places to stay in Graham County, home to Robbinsville, Lake Santeetlah, Fontana Lake and Stecoah in the Nantahala National Forest. Stay in log cabins, friendly B&Bs, luxury lodges, lakeside campgrounds and small hotels. 
Vacation Rentals NC Great Smoky Mountains
Come to the North Carolina Smokies and explore the mountains from an amazing cabin rental with top-notch amenities and convenient locations near Waynesville and Maggie Valley. 7 cabins, rates from $203, sleeps 2-8, hot tubs, pet-friendly, mountain views, wi-fi, includes attraction passes, river access, tennis. These vacation... read more

Great Smoky Mountains

Updates
For road closures, trail updates and more: Read the latest Great Smoky Mountains News.

Dogs
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.

Fees
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.

What is the hemlock woolly adelgid that is killing the hemlock trees in the Smokies? 

Read more about bear safety.

Robbinsville (population 620) and Graham County is located in the western tip of North Carolina. If you are wanting to escape the crowds, head to this "wild" west where the Nantahala National Forest... read more
Fireflies definitely bring out the kid in us. And you'll find some rare species in the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains, but they only come out for a short visit! Fireflies (also called lightning... read more
The Blue Ridge Parkway (part of the U.S. National Park Service) near Asheville, North Carolina, offers plenty of spots for roadside picnics, breathtaking vistas, easy to... read more
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers scenic train excursion trips through the North Carolina mountains along Nantahala and Tuckasegee Rivers, across valleys and through tunnels. All of the train... read more
Just 50 miles from Asheville is Cherokee, located in Jackson County at the main North Carolina entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (via US Highway... read more