It’s our nation’s busiest park, so here are tips on how to see the best of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in just two days. Make the most of your time by visiting some of our favorite spots in both the Tennessee. and North Carolina sides of the park.
DAY ONE: NORTH CAROLINA SIDE
See Elk at Cataloochee
Tip: Cove Creek Road is the main access to Cataloochee. Check current conditions at www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/conditions.htm.
Oconaluftee Visitor Center
Talk to a ranger in the visitors center about the park and pick up park maps (free) and pamphlets on the different sections of the park here. Pay for the full-color and really informative pamphlets on the honor system for $1.
Explore the Mountain Farm Museum
Go on a self-guided tour of historic buildings to learn about the area’s past. For hundreds of years, Cherokee people farmed in the Smoky Mountains in permanent settlements. When the government forcibly removed the Cherokee, settlers moved in, building communities that were later supported by railroads and commercial logging.
Drive Newfound Gap Road
The 33-mile long Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) bisects the park, stretching from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to Cherokee, North Carolina with incredible views. Take a selfie with a foot in two states when you reach the Tennessee-North Carolina sign. Clingmans Dome is just past the “gap,” commonly referred to as “pass” in other parts of the country.
Sunset at Clingmans Dome
Stroll just a half mile from the trailhead to the highest point in Tennessee. On a clear day, you can see seven states, which makes seeing the sun set from here all the more magnificent. Access the trailhead by parking at the end of Clingmans Dome Road via Newfound Gap Road.
DAY TWO: TENNESSEE SIDE
Raft the Pigeon River
Wake up and get ready to get wet. See the park from a thrilling seat on a raft cruising down the Pigeon River, which follows the eastern edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The rafting launch point is minutes before the first of ten Class III rapids.
Hike to Laurel Falls
A relatively short paved hike, this 2.6-mile trail leads you to the 85-feet-high Laurel Falls. Enjoy the mist and sight of these amazing falls. Note that while the trail is paved, it’s not a great path for wheelchairs or strollers because it is uneven.
Picnic at Cades Cove
Stop at the picnic area in Cades Cove to have lunch and take in the scenery. Get here by entering Cades Cove Road via Laurel Creek Road. At this entry point, there is a quick left-turn to get to the campground and store before entering the loop.
Cruise the Cades Cove Loop
Once a vibrant community of 700 people, Cades Cove can be seen in an 11-mile loop sprinkled with stops for you to explore the history of this settlement before it became a part of the park.
Need a map of Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Buy the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map for Great Smoky at REI.com. The map includes trails, trailheads, points of interest, campgrounds, geologic history and much more printed on waterproof, tear-resistant material.