6 Things You Need to Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

August 28, 2023

Spanning the border of two states, North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is full of breathtaking mountain scenery for visitors to explore. Make sure there’s enough time during your visit to see and do what interests you most. Before your trip, set goals to visit specific spots within the park to do the activities you’ll enjoy. If there’s time left over, check out additional fun things you discover along the way!

Planning a Trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Here’s What to Do

Pink flowers along a mountain trail with foggy mountains in the distance in the Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

1. Wildflower Walks

Nicknamed “Wildflower National Park” for its over 1,500 flowering plants, Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s many forest hiking and walking trails get visitors close to what’s in bloom all year long. See the largest concentration of blooming flowers in spring when orchids and violets appear. Stop by in the summer and fall to see brilliant red cardinals and sunflowers dance in the breeze. A short walk through native trees, shrubs, and ferns reveals a diverse selection of colorful buds throughout the park.

Horizontal shot of a new blacktop road going through a tunnel in the Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.

2. Go on an Auto Tour

Going on an auto tour of some of Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s most gorgeous landscapes, from valleys to mountaintops, is a quick way to cover a good portion of the park’s 800 square miles. On the Gatlinburg, TN, side of the park, drive the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail for a smooth, winding ride into the lush forest with characteristic misty clouds hanging overhead. Pass over rushing streams on wood plank bridges and pull off the road to visit historic log cabins or catch a trailhead to a cascading waterfall.

Black bear cubs playing on a tree in Cade's Cove in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.

3. Watch Wildlife Roam

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to all sorts of animals: mammals, birds, reptiles, and more! Valley meadows are a great spot to stop and watch animals graze in the morning or evenings. Take a leisurely drive around Cades Cove at the northwest Tennessee side of the park, an 11-mile loop road where White-tailed deer and black bears wander through. Or tour Cataloochee Valley by car on the North Carolina side of the park. You’ll find historic farming structures along with elk and deer herds and flocks of wild turkey.

Clingman's Dome mountaintop observatory in the Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee, USA.

4. Scale Clingmans Dome for Amazing Views

Ascend into the clouds on a short steep hike to Clingmans Dome observation point, the highest point in the park. Bring a jacket because it’s often chilly and wet at the top. You’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of forested mountain ridges and verdant valleys. On the drive up, stop at scenic overlooks to take in a variety of spectacular views.

The Kephart Prong Trailhead with a wooden footbridge crossing a small mountain stream in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

5. Go on a Family Hike

Avid hikers spend multiple days trekking the Appalachian Trail running through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but it’s far from the only hiking option. Nature trails, overlooks, and short scenic walks abound in the park for multi-generational families to enjoy together. Try Kephart Prong Trail off Newfound Gap Road following a stream with fun wood bridges to cross, plentiful spring wildflower viewing, and aquatic life to discover. There’s also Porters Creek Trail in Gatlinburg, TN, winding through hardwood forest on a two-mile round trip to see old settlement structures, including a barn and log cabin.

Leaking Trough at Mingus Mill in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

6. Tour the Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill

Learn what life was like on a farm over a hundred years ago at the Mountain Farm Museum. Original buildings around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park were relocated to farmland next to the Oconaluflee Visitor Center. Explore a log barn, apple house, and a working blacksmith shop and learn about the region’s agricultural history from period costumed docents. Take a half-mile walk to the 1886 Mingus Mill for ranger demonstrations of how its water-powered turbine powered the machinery used to grind corn into cornmeal.

Where to Stay Near Great Smoky Mountains National Park

As you’re exploring Great Smoky Mountains National Park, KOA campgrounds make for a perfect stay to enjoy the great outdoors. Whether you’re traveling in an RV or want to kick back in a Deluxe Cabin, our campgrounds make the perfect basecamp for exploring this busy national park.

Cherokee / Great Smokies KOA Holiday

Townsend / Great Smokies KOA Holiday

Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg KOA Holiday

Gatlinburg East / Smoky Mountain KOA Holiday

Eva Barrows

Eva Barrows is an accomplished San Francisco Peninsula freelance writer and book editor. She writes for regional magazines like PUNCH and Edible Silicon Valley and was editor-in-chief of Live&ThriveCA magazine. She founded the online literary journal Imitation Fruit in 2007 and has enjoyed promoting fellow writers and artists ever since. Read more of her travel writing at






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