You must’ve been on several mountain vacations, but The Great Smoky Mountains will etch a special place in your heart once you go there. The breathtaking mountain silverbells, the ethereal beauty of the misty waterfalls, and the unending vistas of blue mountains will make you want to come back for more. And if you’re lucky, you might spot a wild elk in the park!
When the destination is so beautiful, you want to make the most of it. And so, here are some first-hand tips so you can have the best trip.
1. Know Where You’re Staying
First and foremost, pre-book your campsite. When you know your travel dates, log on to the National Park Service website and book a site. The park has 12 campgrounds, and all accept reservations for tents, RVs, and group sites. While some campgrounds are open year-round, others operate on a seasonal basis. So, if you’re visiting during the peak season (May to October), make sure you have a reservation.
The best part about staying in the park is being immersed in nature. You can wake up to birds chirping, and the fresh mountain air will lull you to sleep every night. But, if you’re looking for more subdued surroundings, several lodges, cabins, and Airbnbs are outside the park. Pick the mountain town you wish to be closer to before finalizing your accommodation. For instance, if you want something a short drive from Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, the Wear Valley cabins rentals will be a good pick.
2. Check the Weather
Always check the weather, no matter which season you visit The Smokys. The conditions in the mountains can be unpredictable and a little dangerous if you’re not prepared for them. For instance, if you’re visiting during the winter, be aware of the possibility of ice and snow. Also, ensure you have the right gear, like traction devices for your shoes, warm clothes, and a collapsible shovel.
In the summer, afternoon thunderstorms are common in The Smokys. The blooms are at their best during this time, but you don’t want to be caught in the rain (or worse, a hailstorm) without an umbrella. So, if you’re planning on going for a hike, start early in the morning and be back before noon.
3. Check All the Rules and Regulations
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most visited parks in the country. And so, several rules and regulations are in place to ensure everyone has a safe and enjoyable experience. For instance, you’re not allowed to feed the animals or leave your food unattended (even for a minute). That’s because it habituates them to humans and can be dangerous for you and the animal.
Similarly, there are restrictions on where you can camp and how big your group can be. If you’re traveling with your pet, know they’re only allowed on specific trails and in developed areas. Plus, a leash is mandatory at all times.
4. Know What You’ll Be Doing
It’ll be a shame to miss out on one waterfall or scenic vista while in The Smokys. So, research before you go and make a list of all the places you want to see and things you want to do. Then, break them down by day so you can make the most of your time.
And, if you’re short on time, there are The Great Smoky Mountain tours you can take. These will offer a good overview of the park and hit all the major highlights. Just make sure to book them in advance as they tend to fill up quickly, especially during the peak season. You can also carry a map if you plan on being your tour guide. It’ll help you navigate the backcountry trails and find your way back to the car. Finally, pick up a Junior Ranger Activity Booklet from any visitor center if you’re traveling with kids. It’ll keep them engaged and teach them a thing or two about the park.
5. Sort Your Food and Drinks
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is massive, but there are only a few places to stop for food or drinks. Yes, you can grab a bite at a restaurant in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, but that’s about it. So, it’s best to carry your food and drinks with you.
And, when we say drinks, we don’t just mean water. The Great Smoky Mountains are located in a temperate rainforest, which can get quite humid. So, carry plenty of fluids with you, especially if you’re going for a hike. And, hot drinks are a must in the winter to keep you warm.
As for food, non-perishable items are your best bet. Think snacks that won’t go bad in the heat or the cold. Fruits, nuts, and energy bars are all excellent options. And, if you plan camping, you can bring some canned goods and instant noodles. Once done, pack out all your trash.
6. Reach Everywhere Early
Early risers are at an advantage in The Smokys. Not only do they avoid the crowds, but they also get to see the park in all its glory. So, it’s best to start your day as early as possible if you can.
That being said, reaching your destination early is also important. The Smokys are huge and popular, so the parking lots fill up quickly. So, be punctual and find a spot. The same goes for popular trails and lookout points. So, plan your day accordingly and give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination. But it doesn’t mean you have to stick to your plan strictly. If you see something interesting on the way, then feel free to stop and explore.
Mountains have a way of putting things into perspective. From up there, all your problems seem so small and insignificant. And, for a moment, you can sit back and appreciate all the beauty surrounding you. So, if you ever get the chance to visit The Great Smoky Mountains, make sure you take some time to soak it all in. You can chase waterfalls and go on hiking trails but don’t forget to stop and admire the view.