Best Spots at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

smokey mountains

A widely popular vacation spot, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a gorgeous, scenic mountain getaway located on the borders of North Carolina and Tennessee. The park holds both historic and cultural significance and is filled with beautiful landscapes, wildflowers, and wildlife. Encompassing more than 500,000 acres, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has an endless amount of things to do and places to see. A visit to the park means making sure to see all the very best it has to offer, and this list will allow you to make the most out of that next trip.

Cades Cove 

Cades Cove is a valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park full of historical buildings to visit. In the valley, you can find three churches, a grist mill, barns, log houses, and many more buildings from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Wildlife in Cades Cove is abundant, with white-tailed deer, black bears, coyotes, and turkeys wandering around the area for visitors to see. Hiking trails sprawl for miles and include Abrams Falls and Cades Cove Nature Trail for a shorter hike. Camping is also welcome in Cades Cove, with multiple campgrounds available to visitors looking for the full, immersive experience.

Clingmans Dome

Perhaps the most visually striking spot of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Clingmans Dome puts you at the highest point of the park at 6,643 feet. On clear days, visitors can see viewing distances of up to 100 miles with a 360-degree view. The area is often much colder than the lowlands and has high amounts of precipitation, so it is best to bring a jacket with you even in the warmer months. 

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Newfound Gap

Not only can you visit the highest point, but you can also visit the lowest of Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Newfound Gap. Many visitors recommend it for its amazing views and photo opportunities as you take the scenic drive through the gap. It runs through the center of the park for 31 miles and has stops along the way including Mingus Mill, Oconaluftee Visitor Center, and Mountain Farm Museum, among others.

Laurel Falls

One of the most popular spots to stop at is Laurel Falls. The scenic 80-foot tall waterfall is a sight to behold and attracts some of the largest crowds. Laurel Falls is named after the mountain laurel, an evergreen shrub that grows in the area in May. Visitors can take the 2.6 mile hike up to the waterfall and take some beautiful shots on the walkway. The area, known for having active black bears, allows for great wildlife sightings (so long as done safely).

After spending so much time indoors, a trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park will give you the reinvigoration we’ve all been needing. If you’re looking to spend some time with family and friends while sight-seeing at some of the most beautiful spots in North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has you covered with endless things to do and see.

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Abrams Falls

This moderately strenuous trail takes hikers on a beautiful five-mile round trip trek through pines and oak to a 20-foot high and very powerful waterfall. Here, visitors can escape the crowds and take in the serenity of this truly gorgeous park. Be sure to enjoy the calm pools below the waterfall as well.

Deep Creek Trail and Waterfalls

This beautiful area on the Bryson City side of the park is a must-visit. It can be a little crowded if you don’t get here early but the trail is well worth it. It is an easy trail to walk with all ages and offers three wonderful waterfalls: Juney Whank Falls, Tom Branch Falls, and Indian Creek Falls.

Mt. LeConte

If you like hiking and had to do one hike in the Great Smoky Mountains, this is probably the trail you have to do. It’s a long eleven-mile round trip hike that has so many beautiful natural features. Hikers can enjoy impressive views from the nearly 6,600 ft. high elevation at LeConte’s peak.

Ramsey Cascades

Experience one of the gems of the Smokies with this eight-mile round trip trail to the largest waterfall in the park. This waterfall is over 100 feet tall and is surrounded by old growth forest. There are plenty of opportunities on this trail to enjoy a cold mountain stream and take in wildlife.

great smoky mountains

Chimney Tops

This short four-mile round-trip trail is not for the faint of heart. However, it offers some of the best views in the Great Smokies. That’s why it’s one of the most popular hikes in the park. Just be sure to take the final section slowly, as the trail is very rugged and steep. The payoff is worth it though.

Mingus Mill

One of the gems of the park is located less than a mile from the entrance to the park. The Migus Mill, a historic grit mill dating back to 1886, uses a water-powered turbine. The grounds are really interesting. There is staff on location to demonstrate how the mill works, and you can also purchase cornmeal.

Elk In Cataloochee Valley

The wildlife in the park is absolutely amazing and probably your best chance to see both black bear and elk on the East Coast. The elk herds tend to stay in several places in the area. You might find them in the Cataloochee Valley and the fields by the Oconoluftee Visitor Center. You won’t want to miss the elk on your trip, but please respect the animals and do not get close to them. Bull elk can be especially aggressive.