Springtime in the Great Smoky Mountains rejuvenates the Tennessee-North Carolina border, awakening the mountains with vibrant flowers, lush forests and a new generation of wildlife.
Whether it’s your first time visiting or if the Smokies are an annual getaway, here are easy ways for you to enjoy the area’s charming cities and ever-popular national park.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
No trip into The Smokies is complete without a visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP).America’s most visited national park holds this title for a reason: more than 500,000 acres are accessible for those who love immersing themselves in mountain life. Active adventures are around every corner in GSMNP, no matter how you prefer to see the landscape:
- Bicycling is popular because most roadways in the park are bike-friendly. Check out the Cades Cove Loop Road, an 11-mile one-way road that rides you past 19th-century homesteads and offers wildlife viewing.
- Fishing is an excellent way to reel in relaxation. Year-round angling in nearly 2,900 miles of streams allows you to cast a line for trout, smallmouth bass and brook no matter how early in the spring you visit.
- Auto touring through the park is never a bad idea, especially if you’re tight on time. Paved and gravel roads lead your car to panoramic vistas that are perfect selfie spots. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a loop road only 5.5 miles long and features historic buildings and old-growth forests.
Tell your friends you’re headed to the Smokies, and they’ll likely ask if you’re staying in Gatlinburg. Amusement parks, live entertainment, and other interesting attractions make this popular town the unofficial gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
- Do: Get a glimpse of Gatlinburg and the surrounding Smokies from 1,800 feet above sea level at Gatlinburg SkyLift Park. Cross the SkyBridge, the longest pedestrian cable bridge on the continent and your opportunity to see the city from 500 feet above the streets. Bring a little bravery with you; there’s a 30-foot portion of see-through glass flooring.
- GSMNP Hiking: The aptly named Gatlinburg Trail is accessible right from downtown. It’s an easy hike, less than four miles round trip. You’ll only need one to two hours to tackle this smooth trail that is ideal for families, cyclists and dog walking.
- Rainy Day Idea: Fannie Farkles is a family-friendly indoor space to wait out the rain. The latest arcade games, exciting prizes like gaming consoles, and their legendary foot-long Ogle Dog will keep a smile on your face until the clouds roll away.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
The sibling of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge is another hallmark town on the Tennessee side of the national park. It’s one of the top 10 places to visit in the Smoky Mountains due to its wealth of family-friendly attractions, countless dining options and easy access to GSMNP.
- Do: It may be your vacation, but you’ll still be reminiscing about working nine to five at Dolly Parton’s Stampede. The country music great has left a big mark on Pigeon Forge, and her dinner theatre brings phenomenal live entertainment to the table.
- GSMNP Hiking: Springtime in the Smokies brings the crowds, so if you’re searching for a hidden gem, head to Spruce Flats Falls. Hike to the Buckeye Trail Junction and continue right down the Bucket Trail. Spruce Flats Falls isn’t on the official national park map, but this 1.4-mile round trip hike is relatively easy to navigate and rewards you with quiet views of the quadruple-cascading waterfall.
- Rainy Day Idea: WonderWorks in Pigeon Forge is an educational science-based amusement park. Your body – and fear of heights – can get a workout on the world’s largest indoor ropes course. It’s the perfect primer before you tackle some of the tougher trails in the national park.
Bryson City, North Carolina
On the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park opposite Gatlinburg, you’ll find the laid-back Bryson City. This peaceful town with mountainside charm is ideal for artisan shopping, refueling with home cooked meals and instant access to the national park.
- Do: Appreciate the resurgence of nature on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. The railway offers two scenic excursions just over four hours each. The Tuckasegee River route takes you on a journey to Dillsboro, while the Nantahala Gorge route gives you an hour of free time at the Nantahala Outdoor Center.
- GSMNP Hiking: The iconic Appalachian Trail makes its way through Swain County and into the national park. Hiking this leg of the trail is one of the top things to do in the Smoky Mountains, and it’s an adventure you won’t want to miss.
- Rainy Day Idea: A day of museum hopping will help you wait out the rain. Start with a bit of local history at the Swain County Heritage Museum. The Smoky Mountain Model Train Museum will make you feel like a kid again, while a trip to the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians will leave you ready to cast a line in the national park.
Waynesville, North Carolina
Waynesville embodies the definition of sitting pretty. Tucked between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains, just imagine how beautiful springtime is in this quaint North Carolina town.
- Do: Get a taste of spring at Haywood’s Historic Farmers Market. Follow the fresh scent of produce, baked goods, and nursery plants to the HART Theater park lot to find this producers-only market.
- GSMNP Hiking: After a visit to the farmers market, plan a picnic at Heintooga Overlook. Stone picnic tables await your arrival, and so does an exceptional sunset if you wait long enough. You could drive up to this overlook, but the Flat Creek Trail will certainly help you work up an appetite.
- Rainy Day Idea: Wet your whistle while staying dry at Bosu’s Wine Shop & Secret Wine Bar. This cozy space in the heart of historic downtown Waynesville features weekly drop-in tastings and other events highlighting local agriculture.