The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the busiest and most visited National Park in the country, averaging around 13 million visitors annually! In fact, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park receives more annual visitors than Glacier, Yellowstone, and Rocky Mountain National Parks COMBINED! That puts things in perspective to how popular the park is! So, because of crowds it’s important to have a plan before you go!
For this trip 2020 we avoided most of the large crowds due to COVID-19 (which basically meant avoiding Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg)- though the towns looked like a lot of fun – minus eating at one restaurant upon arrival we stayed to hiking and scenic byways! We plan on making a return visit sometime in the future to explore those towns!
My suggestion would be to hit the Newfound Gap Road Scenic Byway (Route US 441). The 31 mile route is the most traveled road in the park and for good reason. Some of the biggest things to see are along its route –
If you are a hiker – you could park along the route and hike Chimney Tops – pictured above.
Further down the road as you climb over the mountain top there is a great scenic outlook directly on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina – pictured below
It’s at this same outlook that you can encounter the Appalachian Trail as it intersects the Scenic Byway on its 2,190 journey from Georgia to Maine.
About 9 miles further down the road sits Clingmans Dome which at 6,643 feet, is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi.
Here’s a short video I put together in celebration of Newfound Gap Road.
Take in Clingmans Dome and make sure you have water and are ready for the half-mile hike (which sounds short – until you are hiking nearly STRAIGHT UP) so make sure you are in shape. It’s a paved trail and there are benches along the way and a few places to stop and gather your strength and breath!
However, once you get to the top, there is an observation tower that gives you quite the view! In fact, it was rumored that before much of the air pollution in the area that you could see up to 100 miles on a clear day! We weren’t that fortunate as the clouds made it a bit hazy – but the view was still worth it!
A short video of hiking Clingmans Dome!
There are plenty of options to do along this route – including crossing over the mountain into North Carolina, or turning back a few miles back and taking the Laurel Trail-head for a hike and exploration of Laurel Falls (which I will include in another blog post!). Most importantly its the scenery of the Smoky Mountains that is so alluring and breath taking. While they are not as rugged and wild as the Rockies or some other mountains in the world, they are still mountains and offer plenty of lush green views with their tree covered appearance and their fresh moving, gentle and vibrant rivers and waterfalls.
If you have time – don’t forget Cades Cove Loop – another highlight of the National Park! We didn’t have time as we were traveling through this day – but would advise it – just be prepared for large crowds and slow moving traffic. What might take an hour normal time could easily take 3 hours – half a day, especially if you are taking the full loop and taking time to stop and explore.
I love having you network with me and coming along with either my vlog or blog journey’s! Feel free to comment or reach out if you have any questions or thoughts – and don’t forget to hit the follow or subscribe buttons on either channels. I’m thankful for you taking the time to read or just browsing through our pics and videos.
Be safe and Happy Travels or Dreams of Travel!
Dan – The Country Pilgrim