Up until 4 days before our visit, this place was a secret to us. People would always talk about the big parks like Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, etc., but I’ve never heard about the Great Smoky Mountains before. A friend told us about it because the park was on the way to our next stop on the road trip: Mammoth Caves National Park. Funny fact is that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the nation’s busiest park. They count up to 60,000 visitors on a summer weekend day. And I haven’t heard about this place before… Embarrassing, isn’t it?
Why are they called the Great Smokies?
The trees on the mountains exude water and hydrocarbons, which cause a smoky film just above the treetops. This mystical smoke is the reason for its name and the tourist crowds. When we were there, we only had a misty view, but no mystical smoke. Mornings will probably have a thicker layer.
Where is this place and what’s nearby?
It’s sitting in the middle of two states. Tennessee and North Carolina share this beautiful and huge piece of earth. The location is one reason, why it draws a lot of visitors every year. You can reach this national park very easily within a few hours from many directions in the East of the U.S.
If you have a look at Google Maps, you will also see many green areas around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Therefore, there are many other places nearby to check out as well – for example, the Cherokee National Forest, Nantahala National Forest, Chattahoochee National Forest, and Mount Mitchell. This should be enough playgrounds for your exploration thirst.
If you are looking for bigger cities nearby, Knoxville is only an hour away. Nashville and Atlanta are around 3 hours from Great Smoky Mountains NP.
There are several camping sites in and outside the National Park. You will need a reservation for some campsites, especially in summer as it is the busiest time of the year. Most campgrounds, however, work with a first-come, first-serve policy.
All campgrounds have no electrical hookups or showers. Only flush toilets with running water are available. If you need to take a shower, ask at the visitor center or a ranger, where the next shower opportunity is. The communities around this national park mostly offer paid showers. You obviously could also get on a campground outside the Great Smoky Mountains, so that you have already showers inclusive.
If you are done with driving up and down the scenic highway, the hiking trails will give you an excellent getaway from the crowds. The Great Smoky Mountains have many hiking trails to offer from easy to difficult. Check out the website for more info.
We were more up for a waterfall hike, so we did the Ramsey Cascades Trail. It was a tough one, but a good choice! I remember that I was cursing the day in my head because my legs hurt and the trail went up and down and it felt like it would never end. However, the waterfall at the end was worth all the effort. The next day we couldn’t hike anywhere though because my legs were so sore that they wouldn’t move anymore.