Timing Your Trip
When is the best time to visit the Smokies?
Basically, anytime is a good time to visit the Smokies. The determining factor for deciding when to visit is: What are your likes and dislikes? For example, the color extravaganza of Fall appeals to nearly everyone–evidenced by the crowding at that time. The floral show of Spring attracts lots of people too. But consider the relative non-crowding of the wintertime. Winters are very mild in the Smokies. Mountain vistas are enhanced by the lack of foliage on the trees. And hiking is easier in some ways. For example, in the winter, one can dress in layers and remove layers as the need arises.
When is the best time–and where is the best place–to view wildlife?
Without question, the best place and time to see deer, wild turkey, and other small wildlife is Cades Cove. In years past, wildlife were very shy and you had to time your searches for the feeding times at dawn and dusk. However, through the years the wildlife have become more tame as Park visitors have grown in number and you can now even see the deer feeding at midday in Cades Cove.
Bear can be found out on some trails and near campgrounds–looking for food. A word of caution, however: Don’t feed the bears. It shortens their lives and creates dangerous circumstances for other travelers. Remember–don’t feed the bears. Also, avoid the mother bear with her cubs. She might sense a threat to her cub and become unpredictable. (see Bearly Survived).
Does everything close in the winter?
No, not nearly as much as in years past. Visitors to the Smokies number approximately 10 million–and visitation continues to grow yearly. Businesses are remaining open longer (many all year) to accommodate travelers. So, while a few owners take January and February off, many are open. The National Park remains open all year, with only a few unimproved roads closed due to storm damage or harsh weather. Parson’s Branch and Rich Mountain Roads (off the Cades Cove loop road) and the road to Clingman’s Dome are two examples. Call the Park at 423.436.1200 for specific questions.
Do I need a special license to fish in the Park? Where can I purchase a fishing license?
A regular fishing license that is good all year in both the Tennessee and North Carolina sides of the Park can be purchased in any town adjacent to the Park.
What does a fishing license cost?
Ten dollars–and it’s good all year.
NOTE: More of your fishing questions might be answered by visiting our fishing pages.
What’s the best hike in the Smokies?
The answer to this question will vary depending on who you talk to. However, our favorites include Abrams Falls and Mt. LeConte.
NOTE: More of your hiking questions might be answered by visiting Rod’s Guide hiking pages.
Are lodging accommodations available in the Park?
The only true lodging in the Park itself is LeConte Lodge, which can only be reached by hiking trail. There are 5 major trails to Mt. LeConte. The most popular route is the Alum Cave Bluff trail. Accommodations are spartan and should be made a year in advance by contacting Wilderness Lodging at 423.429.5704 or write to 250 Apple Valley Road, Sevierville, TN 37862. The cost is about $80 per person and includes bed, breakfast and dinner.
The Park also maintains developed campgrounds at ten locations in the Park. Sites at Elkmont, Smokemont, and Cades Cove can be reserved by calling 1.800.365.2267 (park code:GREA). Group sites are available at Big Creek, Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Cosby, Deep Creek, Elkmont, and Smokemont. Reservations are required–call 1.800.365.2267 or 423.436.1266.
Are there any special places for honeymooners?
Nearly very lodging provider boasts of special acommodations for honeymooners. However, most popular are the private and secluded cabins, chalets and cottages available from the numerous rental companies in the surrounding towns.
NOTE: More than 800 cabins, chalets, bed and breakfast and motel roomsare described in the lodging directory.
Where are the best places to eat?
We don’t generally like to recommend particular restaurants as opposed to others (questions of bias involving advertisers); however, we’ve never had a bad steak at the Peddlar in Gatlinburg, or fresh trout at the Tuckaleechee Trout Farm in Townsend (on the Cades Cove side of the Park). Bennetts (Gatlinburg) is great for barbeque.
When do the leaves reach peak color?
Peak color varies slightly each year, but you can pretty much count on great color at the higher elevations during the first two weeks of October and in the valleys in the second half of October to early November.
When do Rhododendron, Flame Azalea, and Mountain Laurel bloom?
Rhododendrons bloom in June and early July, and mountain laurel in May-June.
Where are the largest trees in the Park?
Some of the largest are found in the Greenbrier section of the Park. From Gatlinburg, drive east along US 321 (stop-light #3 in Gatlinburg) for approximately 6 miles. Turn right on Greenbrier Road and travel 3.1 miles along the Little Pigeon River to Greenbrier Cove. Turn left at Ramsay Prong Road and travel 1.5 miles to the parking area. An eight-mile roundtrip hike will take you through virgin stands of chestnut oaks, poplars, and black cherry.
NOTE: Visit our wildflower pages, and see our fall foliage hotline page.
Can we get married in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
Yes–if you can hike or drive to it, there are ministers who will accompany the wedding party to conduct the ceremony. Restrictions do apply, as always.