Park Entrances to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This park, split in two by a state border, has major entrances from the north Tennessee side and the south North Carolina side.
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Entrance sign to Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Gatlinburg
Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance map

North Park Entrances from Tennessee

The majority of visitors enter through the Sugarlands entrance on the park’s north side (top star on map) by driving through Gatlinburg, Tenn. 

Sugarlands Visitor Center

Sugarlands Visitor Center

This entrance is an hour’s drive southeast of Knoxville on US 441. Gatlinburg is the busiest, most touristy gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was impacted by the 2016 fires, but the downtown was spared. Full of souvenir shops, craft stores, restaurants and kitschy attractions (think Ripley’s Believe it or Not!), the bustling town can be a sensory overload or a rollicking good time, depending on your perspective. You’ll find plenty of lodging options, a grocery store and gear shops.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

An alternate entrance on the north side is just south of Townsend on TN 73, about 25 miles west of Gatlinburg. This entrance is quieter than Sugarlands and is most convenient for travelers heading to the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont or Cades Cove. Townsend offers lodging, dining and supplies, plus serves as a home base for several outdoor outfitters. Townsend is closer to the popular Cades Cove, known for its preserved pioneer community and plentiful wildlife, than the Gatlinburg entrance (7 vs. 27 miles).

Dan Lawson cabin in Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Dan Lawson cabin in Cades Cove

Visitors can also enter the park via several smaller entrances that may feature ranger stations, but no visitor centers. They include Abrams Creek to the northwest, Big Creek and Cosby to the northeast, and Greenbrier to the north.

South Park Entrances from North Carolina

Bear sculpture in Cherokee, North Carolina

The gateway town of Cherokee, N.C. has many bear sculptures decorated with historical and cultural themes.

The Oconaluftee entrance on the park’s south side at Cherokee, North Carolina (bottom star on map) is about 40 minutes west of Waynesville on US 441. In North Carolina, Cherokee anchors the southern side of the park. Located on the Cherokee Indian Reservation, it features the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Native American crafts, a casino and more limited shopping, lodging and dining than Gatlinburg.

The sculpture honoring Sequoyah, inventor of the Cherokee alphabet, outside the Museum of the Cherokee Indian was cut from a single sequoia tree log.

Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, N.C.

Just west is Bryson City, a charming town south of the Deep Creek area and home to outdoor outfitters, laid-back dining options, a microbrewery and cozy coffee shops. You can access the park through Bryson City, but the road dead ends and does not link up with the rest of the park. There is tubing in this area of the park. 

Take a Raft-and-Rail excursion - half scenic rail excursion, half rafting trip on the Nantahala River.

Bryson City is known for kayaking, rafting on the Nantahala River and the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.

Visitors can also enter the park via several smaller entrances that may feature ranger stations, but no visitor centers. They include Deep Creek to the south, and Balsam Mountain and Cataloochee to the southeast. Catalooche is open seasonally and is more remote. It does not connect to Cades Cove unless you travel north on 276 to Big Creek and follow 32 to 321 west to Gatlinburg, Tenn.

Related

Map of location of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North America

Where is Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

Great Smoky is in the eastern part of the United States on the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Gatlinburg, TN is the most popular gateway town.

Cades Cove Visitor Information Center.

Visitor Centers in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

There are four main visitor centers in the park: Cades Cove, Clingmans Dome, Oconaluftee, and Sugarlands.

The Gatlinburg Trolley driving through Pigeon Forge. Photo by Ron Miguel via Flickr

Gatlinburg Trolley to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Gatlinburg Trolley Tan Line stops at Sugarlands Visitor Center, Laurel Falls parking lot, and Elkmont Campground.

The Mountain Farm Museum at Oconaluftee Valley inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Oconaluftee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

At the main south entrance, tour the Mountain Farm Museum, pioneer buildings, stroll along the Oconaluftee River, and up the road see a historic gristmill.

Sunset in Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo by Lee Coursey via Flickr

Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This popular valley is known for its abundant wildlife, idyllic scenery, and preserved historic buildings dating back to the late 1800s. Take an auto-tour.

Children fish in a stream at Caldwell Place in Cataloochee Valley inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Cataloochee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Popular to visitors are the Palmer Chapel, the Will Messer Barn, and Caldwell Place. Also enjoy a campground, hiking trails, wildlife watching, and fishing.

Featured image for Great Smoky region map

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Region Map PDF

This map of Great Smoky Mountains National Park shows outlying gateways from Knoxville, Tenn. in the north to Waynesville, N.C. in the south.

West entrance sign for Great Smoky Mountains National Park on of Lakeview Drive near Fontana Dam.

Entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Free

Skip the entrance fee for this national park - it's free to enter! Campsites, lodging, and some tours still have a fee.

Overview map of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Map PDF

Download the official national park map to see the major park roads, rivers, park visitor centers, and the Appalachian Trail which bisects the park.