Great Smoky Mountains NP

In addition to the typical “top 10” pictures for this national park, I want to throw in a list of 10 lessons that may help others who come. By all means come; just be prepared: the nation’s most visited national park gets those visitors for a reason, but crowds bring their own issues.

  1. Plan ahead. The month of October is one of the busiest times of the year here, but it is ALWAYS busy. The Grand Canyon is the second most popular park in the USA, with 6 million visitors annually. This park has 12.5 million. Let that sink in for a minute. It has almost 3 times the visitors as Yosemite, and I would never have dreamed that to be possible. RV parks in particular have a variety of ways of dealing with this influx: premium rates, 4 day minimums, disallowing moves within the park, etc. Don’t plan to make reservations two days in advance. Ask me how I know.
  2. Realize you can’t avoid the traffic. To get to the Tennessee side of the park, you have to go through Pigeon Forge, the home of Dollywood. Expect to average 5MPH through town for most parts of the day.
  3. It is over the top touristy. Go with it. Wax Museum topped by super sized King Kong, Dollywood Amusement Park, Go Karts on every block, souvenirs.
  4. Take the bypass around Gatlinburg. Unless you really, really, need to go there. Take all that traffic from Pigeon Forge and squeeze it into half the number of lanes.
  5. Go early in the day. We arrived at the Sugarland entrance around 10:30 a.m. It was crowded, with long lines to get inside. By noon, all parking was gone and cars were parking anywhere they could find space.
  6. Take a car if you can. We drove our RV into the park. At many places, cars lined both sides of the road for a mile or more at trailheads. Their parking patterns suggest they have great confidence in my ability to drive an RV with less than a full lane width.
  7. Learn about the park before you get in the park. There is one 30+ mile route through the park, with many side spurs. Read up a little to figure out which ones you want to take so you can anticipate the turns, and don’t rely on getting all your info at the park. There is no fee and no entrance gate, so you have to go indoors (think COVID rules) to get any info.
  8. Manage expectations. Yes, we saw fall colors, but they are not as brilliant (at least this year) as New England. Yes, we went down a hike/bike trail and it was pleasant, but crowded with people and dogs. Yes, we saw the famous blue layers of mountains, especially at the peak. But I had to hike a half mile up the hill from the only place I could find to park.
  9. Enjoy the food. I think I counted about 10 ice cream places on the main drag of Pigeon Forge, including multiple Baskin Robbins. If you want ice cream, pancakes, or Southern cookin’, you have come to the right place. If not, why are you in the south anyway? I recommend the shrimp ‘n grits, maple pecan pork chops, and jalapeno corn pudding at the Old Mill Cottage Cafe. Banana Pudding ice cream was also tasty. I mean how southern can you get?
  10. Bring your bikes or walking shoes. Pigeon Forge has a great 6 mile Greenway bike trail that follows Pigeon Forge Creek. Also check out the path around Patriot Park and the sights of the Old Mill.