The Great Smoky Mountains sit along the border of eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. The mountain range has been a national park since 1940, and today it’s not only the most-visited national park, but also the largest park east of the Rocky Mountains.
Beautiful views, unique Appalachian culture, an easy-going way of life, outdoor adventures and cozy cabins are just a few of the reasons why people opt to take a Smoky Mountain vacation every year. If you’re planning to see the area soon, here are some of the most popular spots to stay and play while you’re here.
Cities Surrounding the Great Smoky Mountains
If you’re looking for a place to stay that gives easy access to the Smokies, check out these cities and towns below. Each city has its own attractions outside of the national park, offering a wide variety of things to do on vacation.
- Pigeon Forge, TN
To say Pigeon Forge is family-friendly would be an understatement. Starting with Dollywood, the biggest attraction in town, you can stay for a whole week and still not do everything there is to do at the theme park, water park, and resort. This includes thrill rides, entertainment for the little ones, parades, seasonal activities, museums, live shows, crafts, shopping, and restaurants. When you’re not at Dollywood, check out some of the museums in the area dedicated to Titanic and old cars.
- Gatlinburg, TN
For anyone who wants to see unique sites, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg should definitely be on your list of things to do when you visit. It’s been rated one of the top aquariums in the country by travelers, and you can hang out with penguins, sharks, rays and more when you visit. Check out the ski resort and amusement park at Ober Gatlinburg and the Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway.
- Sevierville, TN
Sevierville, located in Sevier County and known for being the hometown of Dolly Parton, doesn’t have quite as many big adventures as Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. That said, it’s known as one of the most affordable places to stay if you’re looking for a local mountain adventure. In Sevierville, you’ll find an exotic petting zoo with kangaroos, camels and zebras. Of course, the nearby Smoky Mountain National Park provides you with plenty of outdoor adventures too, like horseback riding, hiking, fishing, wildlife watching and rafting.
- Wears Valley
Wears Valley isn’t a city or town, but it is a quiet little community that attracts locals and visitors alike. Located within a three-by-five-mile area, Wears Valley is known as one of the most beautiful places in East Tennessee, especially in September, October, and November when the leaves on the trees turn red, orange, and gold.
- Bustling Waterfalls
Discover just some of the hundreds of waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains. Choose a Smoky Mountain cabin rental near the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail to be near the Grotto Falls. Hike the trail through hemlock forests, and find yourself standing behind this cascading waterfall. You can also witness the Ramsey Cascades, the tallest waterfall in the park. Start your hike along the Ramsay Cascades Trail in Greenbrier, traveling through forests and across rivers as the elevation increases. The water drops over 100 feet into a beautiful rock-filled pool with salamanders in it.
Venture underground in Townsend to see a double waterfall known as the Silver Falls in the Tuckaleechee Caverns. Take the guided mile-long tour to see the spectacular sight of the 200-foot drop waterfall.
- Ever-Changing Scenery
Stay in the lower elevations to see beautiful wildflowers in bloom, with the best blooms to be seen between mid-April and mid-May. See wild geranium, rhododendrons, flame azaleas, trout lilies and trillium among the many colorful displays. When staying in higher elevations, vacation during June to see the picturesque floral scenery.
Fall is another fantastic time to stay in the Great Smoky Mountains. Over a hundred tree species color the mountainsides with hues of yellow, orange and red. When renting a cabin at a lower elevation, take your vacation in mid-October for the best fall views. Choose mid-September when staying at a higher elevation.
- The Appalachian Trail
When vacationing in the Great Smoky Mountains’ subrange, be sure to hike its famous trail. Over 70 miles of it scales the national park so you’ll have easy access to the Appalachian Trail when renting a cabin in the park. Choose different sections for varied views and difficulty levels.
- Clingmans Dome
Be sure to visit Tennessee’s highest point, Clingmans Dome, which is accessible from the Appalachian Trail. This popular round-top peak has an elevation of 6,643 feet. Hike the paved trail near the summit to reach the observation tower at the top. Gasp at the spectacular 360-degree views of the mountains and park around you.
- Cades Cove
Visit this stunning valley surrounded by the Smokies to see amazing views, wildlife and historical buildings. Travel along the Cades Cove loop road around the valley, and visit the old buildings along the way, including cabins, barns, mills and churches. Spot the local wildlife, such as deer, black bears, turkeys, and coyotes. Explore the Cades Cove Nature Trail, and venture to nearby scenic areas, such as Thunderhead Mountain and Abram Falls.
Exploring the Smokies
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park literally serves as a common ground between Tennessee and North Carolina, covering a total of 520,000 acres in both states. With a vast amount of land to explore, you might be overwhelmed with where to start. Take the time to marvel at each of these sites when you visit the Smokies.