What you need to know before you go.
The Great Smoky Mountains National park is one of the best National Park Systems in the United States. Most of the destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains are within a full day’s drive from populated places. So it is not surprising that the Smokies are one of the most visited destinations in the entire country.
But that means it can be extremely crowded during the peak season, which can make navigation difficult. That is why I have made this list of tips for you to consider before visiting the Smokies.
Consider Going in the off-Season
The Smokies are the most crowded in summer and fall but empty during the winters. January is the least busy month because everybody is back to work after their time off during the holiday season. But I think the Smokies are even more beautiful in the winters.
Of course, the weather can be unpredictable at times, and you may face some problems due to the snow and sleet. But you can easily use a weather forecast website or application to avoid any snowstorms and plan your trip accordingly. I really like ClimaCell’s site because it gives me so much consolidated information necessary to plan my trips.
You can use any other app or website that you prefer. You will have access to more than 800 miles of hiking trails, and you will find the roads pretty much deserted. I think the winters offer better views of the mountains because of the colder weather and fewer leaves.
Check the Rules and Regulations
Make sure that you know the rules and regulations of the park before you plan a trip to the Smokies. Most of the park is free to access, which means you can visit almost everywhere without any restrictions or fees.
But you should keep in mind that there is less manpower to help with emergencies and fewer facilities along the way. There are also many restrictions regarding pets in the national park, so make sure that you learn about them, or you may have to pay fines or leave the park.
If you are planning to indulge in rainbow trout fishing, get a necessary Tennessee or North Carolina fishing license. There are some places in the national park to pick up a license, but they might be COVID-19 restrictions. I would also recommend that you carry all the necessary equipment and gear. You should know that bait fishing is not permitted in the Smokies.
Have a Game Plan
You should have a game plan depending on what you want to see and who you are traveling with on the trip. Are you planning to hike, or would you prefer to visit your destinations in a car? Do you want to bring your bike for some mountain biking in the Smokies?
Make sure that you plan your activities around your destination so you can make the most of your time. Google Maps might be useful, but I would also recommend that you check the national park maps to plan your destinations.
A trip to the Smokies needs more preparation than just planning a regular hike in the woods. As we mentioned before, the park has limited services and facilities. That means small parking areas can get full during the busy season.
You should also note that some roads can close overnight, so make sure that you do not get locked in these places. Also, make sure that you fill up on gas and keep emergency food, water, and kits in your vehicle.
When you are traveling to the Smokies in the off-season, it is prudent to have a backup plan. In case you see any sudden severe weather event coming up which can affect your trip, you can choose alternative routes or destinations.
Visit One of the Visitor Centers
I will recommend that you hit one of the visitor centers before you begin your adventures. There are four main visitor centers in the Great Smoky Mountains located at Sugarlands, Oconaluftee, Clingmans Dome, and Cades Cove. All of the visitor centers have volunteers that can provide any necessary information and offer answers to your questions.
You will also get necessary COVID-19 related restrictions and information from the visitor centers. The Sugarlands Visitor Center has a museum and a theatre, whereas the Oconaluftee Center has an outdoor farm Museum. Cades Cove and Clingmans Dome are smaller centers that operate seasonally.
Start Your Day Early
Apart from the Cades Cove Loop Road, the rest of the Smokies are open 24 hours a day as long as the weather permits it. That means you can travel within the park whenever you want to.
Starting your day early will increase your chances to spot wildlife because most of the animals living in the national park are corpuscular (more active at dawn and dusk). It will also ensure that you can avoid the crowd and get car parking space at popular locations.
I hope that these tips prove helpful to enjoy your trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Make sure that you check the local news for updates before you plan and start your journey.