National Park

AO Review: Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Seventeen years ago, my wife and I honeymooned in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, which sits on the northern edge of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We were able to hike the Smokies on this trip, at which time my wife said she would like to bring our (yet unborn) children one day to see the beauty that unfolded before us. Fast forward to June 2022, we finally achieved that goal as my wife suggested years ago. Let’s take a walk through our experiences at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

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Great Smoky Mountain National Park Review

GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK REVIEW

Needless to say, my wife and I had a great time at Great Smoky Mountain National Park on our first visit, but we made sure to see more of the park than we had before. One thing that struck us right away on this trip was that the number of people visiting the park was a little daunting, but encouraging at the same time. In our own rural area, we’re not quite used to seeing other people using the hiking trails a lot, which is nice, but at the same time brings a lack of trust in society. Part of the reason for the mass migration to the Smoky Mountains was that it was June, and people were eager to vacation with their families, as well as people eager to explore after years of covid restrictions variables.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park Review

There are all types of scenery and scenery to admire in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, but we quickly discovered that most of the traffic seemed to be focused on the waterfalls and the highest peak in the park. It was also a bit of a double edged sword, in that everyone on the trails was nice and polite, but that made the experience less of a leisurely one. However, once we moved to the less notable spots and trails, the vehicular and foot traffic lessened and we felt a little less rushed and took our time to smell the flowers, take pictures , swing on the vines and catch butterflies.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park Review

Great Smoky Mountain National Park Review

GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS: FUN FOR ALL AGES

We entered Great Smoky Mountain National Park through the Gatlinburg, TN area entrance which has a great visitor center where you can stock up on maps for $1 or $2 each, visit the museum which gives you insight into the flora and fauna to look out for on your hikes, or pick up a Junior Ranger booklet, which when completed can be redeemed for a Junior Ranger badge. We took our five youngest children aged between five and fifteen and each had a blast, of which the three youngest worked on their books and got their Junior Ranger badges, just before the visitor center closed on the last day , soaked as they recited the promise.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park Review

Speaking of getting soaked, another attraction that was a welcome sight on a 90+ degree day was “The Sinks”. The wells are the result of dynamite being used to clear a traffic jam in the river in the late 1800s, which created a deep hole and altered the course of the river. As a result, this allowed an excellent leap in place of around 15 to 20 feet. Two of my kids surprised me when they decided they wanted to take the plunge, which left my wife as the only one in our clan who didn’t, but she was perfectly happy to watch us. There are drowning warnings there, so be careful if you decide to jump or swim. There are also plenty of streams and rivers to get your feet wet in Great Smoky Mountain National Park if you don’t make it to The Sinks.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park Review
The author’s daughter surprised everyone by taking the plunge.

Wildlife was fun to spot, from butterflies, beetles and centipedes to box turtles and birds. Our two eldest saw a bear from afar, then later in the week we saw a bear while driving.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park Review
Even if you don’t want to hike or camp in the Smokies, the drives are spectacular and fun, with plenty of stops to take in the views.

GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS: ALL UP

One of our park adventures was heading to the highest peak, Clingmans Dome, on the park side in North Carolina. Clingmans Dome features an observation tower that gives visitors a magnificent 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains, as long as it’s not shrouded in the clouds that helped name the Great Smoky Mountains. While we were on the tower there were a few minutes here and there that weren’t obscured by cloud cover, although I liked being in the cloud too! Coming mostly from flat country, I hardly checked the weather before leaving, but luckily I remembered and saw that we would be about 20 degrees cooler than what our cabin would experience that day, so we brought our jackets for the day.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park Review

The Appalachian Trail intersects just below the Clingmans Dome lookout tower, and we decided to take a short walk on it. This section of the trail straddles the state lines of Tennessee and North Carolina which was a fun geographic aspect, in addition to walking along part of the Appalachian Trail. This is where I saw our first bear sign of the trip.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park Review

During our few mile walk on the Appalachian Trail, there were very dense pockets of forest that looked like something out of a storybook, which was enhanced by occasional patches of cloud that shrouded us. When there were openings in the trees it was fun to look to our right and see Tennessee and then North Carolina to our left.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park Review

Great Smoky Mountain National Park Review

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you love hiking, mountains, great views, and refreshing mountain rivers, I highly recommend visiting Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We didn’t do any camping on this trip, but the park offers plenty of campsites for backpacking, tenting, RVing, and horseback camping, which you can find HERE for whatever style you want. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are touristy, but there’s also plenty to do if you want to switch up some activities or use them as a base like we did on this trip.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park Review

Great Smoky Mountain National Park Review

Were you hoping to get to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, or have you ever been? If so, what was your favorite place, sight or discovery?

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

  • Location: 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
  • Itinerary: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the state borders of Tennessee and North Carolina. The park’s three main entrances are in Gatlinburg, TN; Townsend, TN; and Cherokee, North Carolina.
  • Hours: 24 hours a day, open most holidays
  • Entrance fees: Free
  • Visitor Centre: open 9A-5P, 7 days a week
  • Weather: Check NPS.gov before and during your visit
Avatar Author ID 302 - 715574695

Doug E

Doug has been a lifelong outdoorsman, spending a lot of time camping, hiking, paddling and shooting. He and his wife have raised their children exploring all of creation, and they feel at home in the middle of nowhere. You can reach Doug at his email: battleshipgrey61 AT gmail.com, or on Instagram @battleshipgrey61