One of our family’s goal is to visit as many National Parks as we can. This summer we made our way to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just right outside Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. What an amazing time it was! Although we only had a day to explore, we were impressed with what we saw. Read on to find out what we did!
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Buy a parking tag
Order and print a parking tag online, buy it at the store, or purchase at the kiosk. Tags cost only $5 per day.
ACQUAINT YOURSELF AT THE VISITORS CENTER
As with all National Parks, I think it’s best to start at the Visitor Center. The Smokys have a few, but the largest one is the Sugarlands Visitor Center. (1420 Fighting Creek Rd., Gatlinburg). The rangers are super helpful, plus there are plenty of souvenirs. Official National Park maps are $1. Bathrooms are located in a separate building.
Tip: Don’t forget to get your National Park Passport Book stamped here.
CATARACT FALLS TRAIL
If you’re looking for an (mostly) easy trail with views of a waterfall, you can’t go wrong with Cataract Falls. Located at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, the trail is just under a mile with little to no elevation. We crossed bridges while following the creek most of the time. Loved that the trail was mostly shaded, too. Our end result was the small 25-ft. waterfall, Cataract Falls. Since it’s close to the visitor center, they say this trail is congested. We did not experience that on our early June trip.
Drive Newfound Gap Road
At the recommendation of the ranger at the Visitor Center, we drove Newfound Gap Road (US 441.) Connecting Cherokee, NC to Gatlinburg, TN, the 33-mile winding road through the mountains gave us all the scenic views and quite honestly a nice introduction to the magnificent Smoky Mountains.The drive takes about 30 minutes from the Visitor Center but longer if you decide to stop at the scenic view stops right off the road..
Stop at Newfound Gap
The Newfound Gap overlook was perfect to stretch our legs. Lots of parking spots. As the highest elevation on Newfound Gap Road at 5,048 feet, the views here were incredible!
Walk a little bit to find the Rockefeller Memorial, a stone terrace that straddles the Tennessee-North Carolina border. This is also the spot where Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the park. If you feel like hiking, there is a trailhead to part of the Appalachian Trail.
Tennessee/North Carolina Line
If you truly want to say you’ve been in two states at one time, then find the Tennessee-North Carolina sign marker.
The highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains is at Clingmans Dome. At 6,643 feet, you can expect marvelous views from here. If you’ve made it this far to Newfound Gap (and it’s not December 1-March 31 when the road is closed), drive the extra 7 miles or so to the Clingmans Dome parking lot. It is a small and busy parking lot, so practice patience and wait for a spot. Once you’ve parked, the paved trail is a steep .5 mile up. Feel free to stop to the right every so often if you need a breather (we sure did!)
Walk 300 ft. up the ramp and you’ll find the best views from the observation tower.
Fun fact: The observation tower, built in 1959, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
ENJOY THE VIEW
We lucked out with clear views on our visit. Absolutely breathtaking!
Have you been to Great Smoky Mountains National Park before? What is your favorite thing to do there?
Looking for a place to stay? We really liked the Inn on the River in Pigeon Forge.