Smoky Mountains Vacation Guide

Are you one of the millions of vacationers planning a Smoky Mountain getaway this year? With scenic pull-off spots, nature trails, Southern comfort food and one-of-a-kind attractions, it is no surprise the Smoky Mountains are a popular tourist destination. 

The Smoky Mountains are one travel destination you can visit over and over again because:

  • It is beautiful all year long: The mountains are beautiful, no matter the season. Spring comes early and brings welcomed sunshine and mild temperatures, while summer brings the heat. Autumn foliage makes the region especially popular for tourism, and festive displays and light shows offer a jaw-dropping wintertime getaway.
  • You will find fun for all ages: You could visit the Smoky Mountain region multiple times and never do the same thing twice. Both the North Carolina and Tennessee sides host various types of recreation, including everything from rural sightseeing and nature experiences to action-packed towns and live events.
  • It is accommodating for all travelers: With cozy tent camping sites and furnished cabins galore, you can customize your Smoky Mountain stay to fit your desired comfort level and requirements, including pet-friendly options. Many Smoky Mountain shops, restaurants and trails even welcome furry friends!

Smoky Mountain Travel Guide — 4 Must-See Destinations and Activities

These are four stops you should include in your must-see Great Smoky Mountains travel guide.

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

As America's most visited national park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is sure to be the star of your vacation. While you will find unlimited things to do inside the park, two things that draw in crowds are bear sightings and Cades Cove.

Black bears inhabit all areas of the park, scattered across Tennessee and North Carolina, and provide a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse into how they interact with their natural environment. Always maintain a safe distance from bears and never attempt to feed them or draw them near. 

Cades Cove is in the Tennessee portion of the park, but it is well worth the short drive from Cherokee. Cades Cove Loop Road is a specially designated area for driving, biking or walking that takes you through miles of preserved historic homes, churches, mills and cemeteries. You will also get plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities.

2. Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad takes riders on a train journey through the Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains, surrounded by more than 100 types of trees, blooming berries, wildflowers and flowing rivers. The train itself has retained much of its original style, and you can even enjoy lunch or appetizers while you travel.

Reserve a ticket and hop aboard in Bryson City, North Carolina, for this year-round adventure.

3. Clingmans Dome

Clingmans Dome — located in Tennessee, about 25 miles from Cherokee — is the highest point in the park. The mountain sits at 6,643 feet tall, and you can drive a road to the near-top to see it all. Access an even better vantage point when you hike up the half-mile walkway that leads to an observation tower. On a clear day, it is possible to see for more than 100 miles.  

4. Cataloochee Valley

Cataloochee Valley is an isolated valley in North Carolina, famous for its historic homes, buildings, churches and school, all of which you can tour at your own pace. It is also considered the best place in the mountains to see elk and other wildlife in the mornings and evenings. 

Cherokee Is Your Gateway to Smoky Mountain Memories

No Great Smoky Mountains visitor guide is complete without exploring everything Cherokee has to offer. Here are some of the top things to do when you make Cherokee your Smoky Mountain basecamp.

Hit the Hiking and Biking Trails

Whether you prefer hiking on-foot or exploring trails via mountain bike, Cherokee and the surrounding area have plenty of places to choose from, such as:

  • Pink Beds Trail Loop in Pisgah Forest.
  • Fires Creek Recreation Area and Trails near Murphy, North Carolina.
  • Purchase Knob Hiking Trail in Waynesville, North Carolina.
  • Big Snowbird Hill in Cheoah, North Carolina.

Add a few of North Carolina's finest falls — like Mingo, Soco and Yellow Creek — to your hiking itinerary for a breathtaking view.

Explore Local Farms and Shops

The Smoky Mountains and their surrounding towns are perfect for an agritourism-themed vacation. Depending on the season, you can tour and shop things like:

  • Christmas tree farms.
  • Preserved wildflower fields.
  • Farmers markets.
  • Shops with locally made honey, jam, sauces and spreads.
  • Orchards and vineyards.
  • Specialty gift shops.
  • Locally made wine, pottery and edibles.
  • Local farm eggs, fresh produce and meat.

Shopping from local shopkeepers, artisans and farmers supports the community, and the items make great gifts or souvenirs.

Take a Scenic Drive

Rainy days are no excuse to stay in on a mountain vacation. Pack a car-friendly picnic, start the playlist and hit the road for these scenic drives:

  • The Blue Ridge Parkway: Easily one of the most famous driving paths in the country, the Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles of roadway that leads you through mountains, rivers, farms and forests, at various elevations. Though the parkway is often closed during winter, it is a stunning trip to make in early autumn or any of the warmer months.
  • Newfound Gap Road: Newfound Gap Road is the ascending drive near Clingmans Dome Road. You can stop along the way for pictures, views and see the Tennessee and North Carolina state line.
  • Road to Nowhere: The Road to Nowhere in Bryson City — officially known as Lakeview Drive — is a car or bicycle-friendly scenic route with nearby hiking trails, horseback riding paths and lake views. At the end is an old stone tunnel.

Visit Nearby Attractions

Part of what makes Cherokee so special is that it has plenty of local entertainment while being only a day's drive or less from other popular Smoky Mountains destinations, including:

  • Gatlinburg, Tennessee: Gatlinburg is a favorite day-trip for many because it offers an unforgettable mountain-town experience, packed full of music, distilleries and shops, all surrounded by views of the mountains. It is also where you will find Ripley's Aquarium and Ober, two cannot-miss attractions for families.
  • Pigeon Forge, Tennessee: Pigeon Forge is the place to go for bumper cars, mini golf and live, family-friendly comedy shows. The Pigeon Forge Parkway is lined with unique stores, roadside attractions and a copious amount of pancake houses and other eateries.
  • Asheville, North Carolina: Asheville is just an hour from Cherokee and offers a unique take on a mountain town. Instead of the rustic charm you see in other Smoky Mountain destinations, Asheville has a funky, colorful vibrance with world-class eateries, breweries and stores. While you are there, be sure to tour the historic Biltmore Estate.
  • Dollywood in Sevierville, Tennessee: Dollywood is Dolly Parton's theme park in Sevierville, Tennessee — located right next to Pigeon Forge and only a short distance from Cherokee — where you will find thrill rides for all ages, a water park, live music and events and concessions.

Go Camping at Kampgrounds of America

Camping is an all-ages activity that is bound to entertain every traveler in your group. KOA makes it more enjoyable than ever, pairing on-site recreation with easy access to nearby points of interest. Cherokee KOA has fun, family-friendly amenities such as:

  • Indoor and outdoor swimming pools.
  • A relaxing hot tub and sauna.
  • On-site fishing options.
  • Bike and river tubing rentals.
  • A Jumping Pillow for kids.
  • An outdoor movie screen.
  • Tour and day trip options to nearby attractions.
  • Themed seasonal events on select weekends.
  • A brand new playground.

Cherokee KOA is also pet-friendly, with an on-site KampK9® dog park. Breed and specific site restrictions may apply — contact Cherokee KOA to learn more.

Reserve a Stay at Cherokee KOA

Stay close to the action without sacrificing your peaceful mountain retreat at Cherokee KOA in the Great Smoky Mountains. Learn more about lodging options and site amenities, and start planning your vacation today! Do not forget to check out current deals to make your planning even easier.

Share This: