Did you know that more than 11 million people visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park last year?
That number of visitors makes it the most visited park in the National Park System! (Yes, ahead of the Grand Canyon!)
The park stretches over 520,000 acres between two states- North Carolina and Tennessee. And the beautiful landscape is home to a lot of wildlife. However, what I love most is the diversity of activities.
I’ve never claimed to be a super outdoors-y person. I love a good “hike” (probably other people’s version of a walk) to a waterfall followed by a hot shower and dinner in an actual restaurant. I can even handle a campfire where I roast marshmallows and smush them between chocolate and a graham cracker. But then I prefer to return to civilization.
So the beauty of this national park is that it’s sandwiched between a couple super cute, happening towns. This is a place where it’s absolutely normal to see bears and then go to an amusement park an hour later. It’s a place where you can fish in the creek, see sharks at an aquarium and then go to a fancy seafood restaurant for dinner.
There’s a lot of history in these mountains. Driving around the Cades Cove loop you’ll see some of the earliest settlers’ homesteads and businesses. And 15 minutes away in Gatlinburg, life is about as modern as it comes.
But that’s why I love it. Your vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains won’t lack anything.
My kids have grown up visiting the area. I can honestly say there isn’t a bad time of year to spend time in the park. We love seeing the town lit up with Christmas lights and snow on the mountains. In the summer the creeks run high and the park is full of wildlife- including synchronized fireflies. And of course, the trees are gorgeous in both the spring and fall.
I will say, our family has the most luck seeing wildlife early in the morning. We prefer to do the Cades Cove loop first thing in the morning. On Wednesday and Saturday mornings it’s only open to bikes (like pedal bikes, not motorcycles) and walkers. The following pictures were taken from my car window early one morning- and no, I don’t have a super zoom lens on my camera!
To help you plan, here are 15 Fun Family Activities that you don’t want to miss:
- Cades Cove
- Skybridge Gatlinburg
- Ripley’s Aquarium of The Smokies
- Clingman’s Dome
- Abrams Falls Trail
- Pigeon Forge Snow Tubing (year round!)
- Roaring Fork Motor Trail
- Chimney Tops
- Laurel Falls
- Newfound Gap Road
- Lower Pigeon River Float Trip
- Titanic Museum
- Grotto Falls Trail
- EAT- there are about a million good restaurants in the area! Use Yelp for guidance in making a selection.
You will also want to be sure you have a Passport To Your National Parks so that you can collect stamps from the various visitors centers in the park. This is probably one of my kiddos favorite activities and they have a lot of cool stamps in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
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