Great Smoky Mountains Overview/ Shutterstock Image

Great Smoky Mountains Overview/ Shutterstock Image

Know Before You Go, Great Smoky Mountains National Park


Great Smoky Mountains is the most popular national park in the county–it sees over 14 million visitors a year! As you can imagine, the park can get pretty busy, especially in the summer and fall months. Here’s our handy guide to maximize your time!

Start Planning!

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  • There are two unofficial “peak seasons” in the Great Smoky Mountains–the summer months (June, July, and August) and October, when the leaves are in full color. Expect large crowds in the park during these times.
  • There are 8 campgrounds inside the park. Each requires prior reservations that can be made here.
  • If camping isn’t your thing, there are endless hotel options in Cherokee, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge that fit every budget!
  • Our tour has starting points at both Cherokee, North Carolina, and Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The park is easily accessible from major highways I-40, I-26, and US-441.
  • The tour takes about 6-8 hours to complete. 
  • The climate in the park is generally mild, but it can be unpredictable. It's important to check the weather forecast before your trip. Summers are typically hot and humid, while winters can be cold and snowy. It’s best to dress in layers, especially when starting your park adventure early in the morning
  • The park is open year-round, but some roads do close in the winter months.
    • Clingmans Dome Road: Open April 1 - November 30, 2023, weather permitting.
    • Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail: open April 7 – November 26, weather permitting
  • Cades Cove Loop Road: Vehicle-free access along the Cades Cove Loop Road each Wednesday, from May 3rd through September 27th. 
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park does not require an entry fee! But if you want to stop the car for longer than 15 minutes, you’ll need a parking tag pass. These passes are only $5 per day, and they’re available at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Sugarlands Visitor Center, and Cades Cove information kiosk.
  • Cell reception is spotty in the park. Signals will be better the closer you get to the major towns (Cherokee, Gatlinburg, and Townsend)
  • Beginning March 1, 2024, you'll need a parking tag to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Learn more here

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What to Expect

river in the forestnps.gov

So, what can you expect from a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Here’s what you need to know!

To Get an Early Start

Great Smoky Mountains National Park gets busy quickly, even in the “off-season.” It’s best to get an early start—preferably before the sun comes up! Pick an overlook to watch a Smoky Mountain Sunrise (our favorite place is Maloney Point), and head to one of the places that get very busy later in the day—Clingman’s Dome or Cades Cove. 

To Spend 8-10 Hours Exploring

…each day! Between historic sites, hikes for all skill levels, and amazing wildlife viewing, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is jam-packed with fun for the whole family.

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To Learn

Long before they became a national park, the Great Smoky Mountains were home to Cherokee tribes, homesteaders, loggers, European settlers, and more! They built entire towns here, and those buildings are still here to this day! Be prepared to take a fascinating walk back in time and explore historic churches, homesteads, grist mills, and more!


  • $10 per person: Snacks
  • $10-15 per person: Lunch
  • $20-30 per person: Dinner
  • $20-50 per person: Souvenirs! 
  • $5 per vehicle per day: Parking

Packing List

As with most national parks and monuments, a little preparation can make all the difference in your experience at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Check off this list for suggestions on what to bring before you set out on your adventure.

  • Headphones 
  • Camera! (phone cameras are great, but if you wanna snap some incredible wildlife shots, a camera with a zoom lens is your best bet)
  • Car Charger- Very important!
  • Layered Clothing - Easy on-and-off layers are a must for changing mountain temperatures.
  • Refillable Water Bottles
  • Hiking/Walking Sticks
  • Good Shoes/Boots
  • Sunscreen
  • Snacks
  • Hats/Sunglasses
  • Camera/Phone Cleanser - Those trails can get pretty dusty!

Leave No Trace

overview of mountainsnps.gov

Leaving no trace" is basically the golden rule of outdoor adventures. It's all about having a blast in nature without leaving your mark – in a good way, of course! So, when you hit the trails, remember: to pack out what you pack in, respect the wildlife, and keep the wilderness wild for everyone to enjoy.

Ready to take the tour? Check out Shaka Guide's Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

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We hope that we’ve given you all the information you need to make the most of your day. Your vacation is extremely important to us so if you have any questions feel free to reach out at aloha@shakaguide.com.

For more detailed information to help you plan, check out our Great Smoky Mountains National Park Itinerary.

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