Great Smokey Mountains National Park

Information about the Great Smokey Mountains National Park or better known as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or just the Smokies. Get the history, hiking information, and other details here.

Is it Smokey or Smoky Mountains?

If you didn’t already notice, the Great Smokey Mountains National Park is actually spelled incorrectly. The correct spelling is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Do you see the difference? Many people misspell Smoky as Smokey with an “e,” some simply call them the Smokies while others spell it Smokeys. If you’re one of the people who spells it incorrectly, don’t worry…more people spell it as Smokey Mountains rather than the correct way! Does that make it wrong? Who knows…the Smoky Mountains are still just as breathtakingly beautiful!

With that out of the way, let’s dig into one of the most amazing places on Earth, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Great Smoky Mountains is in the southern tip of the Appalachian Mountains and creates a natural border between Tennessee and North Carolina. If you have ever been to Gatlinburg, TN or Cherokee, NC then you have been in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many people don’t realize that the Smokey Mountains…I mean Smoky Mountains…is the most visited national park in the United States! This is a testament to the beauty of the park, but it has also become increasingly harmful to the environmental makeup of the Smokies. The increased pollution in the air from vehicle exhaust along with the growing population, increased tourism, etc. has taken a toll on the wildlife and natural habitats. Fortunately, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is working to preserve and even restore as much of the national park as possible.

What Makes the Smoky Mountains Smoky?

So where does the name Smokey Mountains, Smoky Mountains or Smokies come from anyway? If you have ever seen the Smokies, you’d know how it got its name. The higher elevation, humidity, and hydrocarbons produced by trees and plants often put off a hovering, almost eery haze throughout the mountain range giving it the name “Smokies” as it looks like there is smoke all over the mountaintops. It’s an amazing sight if you have never seen it before – almost as if the mountains are on fire – or simply haunted.

About the Fall Leaves in the Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is deciduous, meaning most trees shed their leaves as the weather turns colder. As this happens, the mountains come to life with amazing color! The reds, yellows, oranges, etc look as if buckets of paint fell from the sky onto the mountains. It’s incredible! Knowing when to see this is anybody’s guess, but you’re probably still wondering when the leaves change color in the fall. Well, this depends on two primary things – temperature and moisture. As the weather turns colder, deciduous trees go into “survival” mode and start preserving as much water as possible. The best thing they can do to accomplish this is shed their water-retaining leaves! As the trees zap the water out of the leaves, the result is that the leaves slowly change color, dry up, and fall off. So the trick is to look for a cold, dry snap in weather, which basically means predicting when the leaves will change color in the Smoky Mountains is about as hard as predicting the weather! Statistically, though, the middle and last half of October are usually the safest bets for a colorful visit. Bring your camera!

Synchronous Fireflies at Elkmont in the Smoky Mountains

One last interesting aspect of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that needs to be pointed out is the synchronous fireflies in Elkmont near Gatlinburg. This is an amazing event that happens only once a year for about a week in mid-June and only in two locations in the entire world…the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of them…the other is in Asia. You can pick which one to come to, but I suggest the Smokies!

If you have comments or any interesting facts about the Smokies you’d like to share about the Great Smoky Mountains, please share them in the section at the bottom of this page! We’d love to hear your thoughts!

When Do the Leaves Change Color in the Fall in Gatlinburg?

Get the inside scoop on the fall foliage and the leaves changing color in Gatlinburg, TN and the Great Smoky Mountains. View webcams, find out the best time to visit, and more!

Fall is an incredible season to visit the Great Smoky Mountains with the beautiful Gatlinburg fall colors, crisp air, crafts, harvest festivals and more. If you have never visited Gatlinburg TN in October or early November, then you are missing out on an amazing experience.

Figuring out when the Gatlinburg fall colors will peak can be very tricky, and requires predicting the weather a little bit, too. A good rule of thumb that defines a brilliant fall is dry weather with cool (not freezing) temperatures in October. There are obviously other factors, but the cool temperatures will make the fall even more stunning in the Smokies. Colors usually peak around the last half of October with the higher elevations changing color first and the colors trickling down into the valley.

So, how can you figure out if the Gatlinburg fall colors are peaking just in time for your visit? And when is the best time to visit in the fall? We can help!

Road winding through the Smoky MounatinsInside Tips for Planning Your Visit to See Gatlinburg Fall Colors

  • Check out the views from more than just the national park hiking trails, too. You can see the Gatlinburg fall colors from all over the area. Try visiting the Gatlinburg Space Needle or riding on the Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway for the best views of the colors!
  • Prepare for lots of colors! The Great Smoky Mountains National Park will be changing colors, but there are other places to see the fall colors, too, like the Dollywood Harvest Festival.
  • Keep in mind that it’s going to be busy! If you visit Gatlinburg TN on the weekend, you’re likely to encounter many more people visiting the area. If you want to visit during a time when there are not as many people in the area, try planning to visit on a weekday!

Fall in the Smoky MountainsThe GSMNP site (Great Smoky Mountains National Park) keeps the most up-to-date information about all of the Gatlinburg fall colors throughout the season. They offer:

  • Gatlinburg fall colors facts
  • Information on why and how the leaves change colors
  • Updates about the best times to visit the area for the fall color changes
  • Helpful information for planning your visit to the Smoky Mountains

You can also jump straight to the site’s information specific to fall foliage.

Ready to start planning your Gatlinburg vacation? Make sure to check out all of the best places to stay in Gatlinburg TN, so you can get the best view of the Gatlinburg fall colors every time you step outside!

Parking in Gatlinburg

Everyone knows Gatlinburg is a walking town, so where do you leave your car?

One of the biggest issues on any trip to Gatlinburg is where to park. Although Gatlinburg is a small town, it must accommodate the needs of thousands of businesses and their employees during the week. To say that parking is at a premium would be putting it lightly. The city has plenty of parking lots and garages but you do have to pay to park. FREE parking can be found along River Road in Gatlinburg, but you have to get there early to get a spot, or just be lucky. There is also the mass transit option. While parking remains an issue in Gatlinburg, the city has provided several options.

Parking lots in Gatlinburg can be found quite easily. There are some lots that are run by the businesses next to them or run as businesses themselves, and some that are owned by the city. The city-owned lots are larger and the prices are the same from lot to lot. There are also two parking garages in Gatlinburg, one beside Ripley’s Aquarium and one located at traffic light No. 3. These two garages provide a lot more parking space compared to how much space they actually take up. On River Road there are several privately owned parking lots. Unlike the public lots, which are based on one flat rate, the privately owned lots sometimes have deals depending on how long you are in the lot. If you are just staying for a little while or visiting just one location you may want to check the private lots out.

River Road is the land of free parking. From the traffic light beside Ripley’s Aquarium you can turn down River Road. The parking is along the right hand side and runs almost all the way down the road with very few exceptions. To get parking along River Road you need to get there early or be lucky. Most locals that work in Gatlinburg and arrive early, park on River Road. If you are headed to Gatlinburg for breakfast it might be worth a trip down River Road to see if there is a space open. If you come in late there is still a chance as people come and go all day long in Gatlinburg.

Another option is mass transit. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge both have an amazing trolley system. When you are headed into Gatlinburg from Pigeon Forge, you will pass the Gatlinburg welcome center. Next to the Welcome Center, you will find one of the free parking lots that is a stop for the trolleys. Park your car at the trolley station and then ride the trolley for $0.50 per person per ride, or $2 for an all day pass. All the trolleys stop at the Aquarium and there are trolley stops throughout Gatlinburg. Free parking and a 50-cent ride on a trolley is a great deal.

When you are heading to Gatlinburg keep your parking options in mind. Find a lot to park in, take your chances of finding a free space on River Road or simply park and ride the trolley. The city has given you several options and you will find the best part about Gatlinburg is that it is small enough to walk end to end easily; and being able to wander the streets is part of the magic.

A Gatlinburg Weekend

Need someone to plan a weekend for you since you’re going to be in Gatlinburg on an upcoming trip? Let us take care of the heavy lifting then. Her at Inside Gatlinburg, we’ve got your Smoky Mountain weekend planned out and broken down in sections. Now, let’s begin with a Saturday morning breakfast.

Saturday Breakfast: Pull up to a table at the Log Cabin Pancake House. There’s no better place for breakfast in the Smokies. You can get enough stacks of pancakes there to get you up Mount LeConte and back down before lunch.

9 am: What isn’t there to do at Dollywood? As far as theme parks go, it’s one of the fasting growing in the country with new rides and attractions opening on a yearly basis. Experience the new Wild Eagle winged coaster, or cool off at Dolly’s Splash Country water park right next door.

Lunch: If you don’t want to stick around Dollywood, historic Old Mill Square is located close by in Pigeon Forge. Their Pottery House Cafe and Grille offer some wonderful and delicious lunch options. From their fried green tomato BLT to their freshly made pies or cakes, there’s something tasty for everyone at the Old Mill.

1 pm: Stick around and look through the Old Mill, purchase some freshly ground cornmeal, or some of the many other mill-produced wares. Next door at the Pigeon River Pottery you can even watch the potters make the plates you just ate your lunch off of.

3 pm: One of the best ways to take in the magnificent views of the Smokies is by one of its newest attractions – Wonders of Flight at WonderWorks. It’s a tethered hot-air balloon that rises 400 feet in the air over Pigeon Forge at Wonders of Flight. Afterward, if you’re looking for a back way into the park, take Wears Valley Road (traffic light No. 3) in Pigeon Forge, make a left at Lyon Springs Road, and follow it into the park to the Cades Cove loop.

Dinner: Ya gotta make a stop at the Hard Rock Cafe while you’re in town.

Nighttime: Take a right out of the door of the Hard Rock and enjoy the parkway in Gatlinburg. Numerous, shops, restaurants, and other attractions stay open late so there’s a lot to choose from. Make a night out of it!

Sunday Breakfast: The Donut Friar located in the Village Shops is up and at ’em at 5 am Sunday morning with some of the finest baked treasures in the Smokies. It’s a “MUST STOP” in Gatlinburg.

8 am: Get into the Smoky Mountains at Sugarlands Visitor Center and take the Sugarlands Nature Trail nearby. There’s also the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail Loop (, complete with historic cabins, wildlife, and waterfalls, which is definitely worth a look into.

Lunch: Try Smoky Mountain Brewery on the Parkway and take your pick of burgers, steaks and some of the best micro-brewed beers at Smoky Mountain Brewery.

2 pm: Stop by the Nantahala Outdoor Center (, it’s an outdoorsmen’s paradise. You can find almost anything you’re looking for when it comes to getting into the great outdoors at this massive outfitter. The NOC has all the gear you need, provides guided trips, and all the information on products and services you could possibly need or ever want.

Dinner: Celebrating 75 years in 2013, Buckhorn Inn is a Gatlinburg classic (built without electricity!). The four-course, prix-fixe dinner menu changes nightly. Thankfully, the sunset view of Mount LeConte does not.

Read more here:

Planning A Reunion? There’s No Place Like Gatlinburg.

Planning a family reunion in the Smokies and have a large group coming along? Gatlinburg is the perfect place for that large family gathering.

For most people planning a large group gathering in the Smokies, you’re looking for a place with space enough for mingling as well as relaxing, to go along with local activities like golfing, fishing, outlet shopping, and hiking in the national park. Every accommodation that you’ll find in Gatlinburg has a person on staff to address whatever your question may be, and make your reunion in the Smokies that much easier.

If you’re asking whether there really is THAT much to do in Gatlinburg, the answer is “Yes”. You can go back all the way to the founding of this country tracing the history of Gatlinburg. However, the founding of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934 was the real turning point for the town. During those years, Gatlinburg began receiving notoriety for its surrounding natural beauty. Even to this day, Gatlinburg plays host to the Park’s nine million-plus annual visitors. And many of them come in large groups searching for that perfect reunion place.

An almost endless array of lodging options for gatherings small and large can be found in town as well as along the hills and mountains surrounding Gatlinburg. Whereas there are plenty of hotels and motels scattered along the Parkway, the mountainsides and backroads are home to a great number of Gatlinburg cabins, condos, and chalets. Many of these cabins and chalets come complete with 8-10 bedrooms. Take a look for yourself, these large group cabins and chalets can be found on sites like as well as

Preparing for Wintery Weather

It’s no secret that anyone coming to the Smoky Mountains during the winter months usually keeps a close eye on the forecast leading up to their stay. Gatlinburg Cabin Rental companies are no different. Companies like Gatlinburg Cabins Online are always working to stay a step ahead of any issues that may come about because of the weather.

As a priority, Gatlinburg Cabins Online attempts to keep all their guests abreast of the chance for wintery weather before they arrive and during their stay.

Just a few short years ago, one neighboring company experienced one of the worst case scenarios: hundreds of visitors stuck in their cabins just outside Pigeon Forge, some for 3-4 days before they were reached. It’s a situation Gatlinburg Cabins Online and other Gatlinburg Cabin rental companies want never to happen again.

And while this is usually the slow time of the year for cabin rentals, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t guests still checking in. Some prefer the quieter, slower months in order to enjoy the Smokies.

Many cabins found at Gatlinburg Cabins Online are located in the hills surrounding Gatlinburg, some within even a stone’s throw from Ober Gatlinburg ski resort. No matter what the weather report says, during the winter months be prepared for anything. Power can go out with the first icicle and pipes can freeze up within minutes.

Many companies even ask their guests pack an extra supply of food and blankets if the power goes out. Some people even bring their own firewood if they know they’re renting a cabin with a fireplace.

If bad weather does hit, most companies including Gatlinburg Cabins Online ask that their guests stay in their cabins until local road crews can get snow or ice cleared. Around here, road crews are ready at a moments notice for the onset of a snowy or icy forecast.

However, it is encouraged if you do own a four-wheel drive vehicle, or have chains to put on your vehicle, to drive it here for your stay.

At Gatlinburg Cabins Online, guests are going to be aware of the possibility of winter weather. And if there is a possibility, guests can be moved to cabins in lower elevations if need be.

Cabins at Gatlinburg Cabins Online have already been pretreated for wintery conditions with salt available should the need arise in the future.

Gatlinburg to the National Park

Driving directions from Gatlinburg to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Though it’s not as prevalent as it was 20 or so years ago, Gatlinburg is still thought by many as the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And although it’s not, it’s actually just outside the entrance, it’s a metaphorical gateway nonetheless.

Still, if you’re wanting to get from downtown to the actual park headquarters, it’s a short 2.9 miles from the center of town just to be exact, down the parkway (U.S. 441), before making a right on Park Headquarters Road and reaching 107 Park Headquarters Rd. It’s almost as simple as going from Gatlinburg to Pigeon Forge.

Is there a better time to visit Gatlinburg and the national park? Nope, each season carries its own special flavor depending on your seasonal preference. Right now, ask anyone and it’s fall as they look off at the bright reds, oranges, and yellows. Spring the bright greens and wildflowers, rushing waterfalls, and wildlife emerging from their various winter dens. Black bears and whitetail deer are seen abundance in places like Cades Cove. Meanwhile, Gatlinburg is preparing for the first rush of vacationers arriving in time for the spring season.

The vacationers ramp it up even more during the summer as the flora and fauna are at their peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The mountain temperatures are a bit cooler during the summer in case you didn’t know. Spring and summer are also peak wedding seasons in the Smoky Mountains. There are over 30 wedding chapels in the Gatlinburg area alone and they all book up fast during the spring and summer months.

Right now, fall’s burst of color attracts visitors the world over during the current season. You can search it your heart’s content, but you won’t find anything that compares with the fall season in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Now, let’s not sell winter short. Winter is also a great time to visit Gatlinburg, Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains. If you prefer things a bit quieter and more peaceful, you’ll love this time of year. Mountain vistas are improved because the foliage is off the trees; the air is both crisp and clean, and the smell of woodsmoke carries you back to a time when mountain settlers roamed the hills looking for a permanent homestead.

View Larger Map

Gatlinburg earns “Prettiest Town” Distinction from Forbes

Gatlinburg earns “Prettiest Town” Distinction from

It doesn’t always take a “higher-up” to give credence to how good someone or something is, but it’s always nice when they do. In this case, it’s recognizing the popular Smoky Mountain town of Gatlinburg for all things it has come to stand for over the years with a ranking of one of the “Prettiest Towns in America”. Gatlinburg, along with such notable destinations as Newport, Rhode Island; St. Augustine and Key West, Florida; Taos, New Mexico; and Old San Juan, Puerto Rico made this year’s list.

I’m sure for many of you it’s no wonder as Gatlinburg continues to stand out for its numerous ascetic attractions like Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, Ober Gatlinburg, the Space Needle, and restaurants like the Hofbrauhaus. All of these lying along a downtown parkway adorned with the best and brightest in seasonal decorations.

Accordingly, came to decision on a final rankings based on input from  such renowned sources as  The Travel Channel and National Geographic. To see the listings, please visit

“With its charming, quaint old buildings in the center of town, its dramatic mountain backdrop and the only ski resort in Tennessee, Gatlinburg has become a popular tourist destination for regional fun-seekers. Located on the border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg benefits from its location as a tourist draw and reinforces it with attractions such as an aerial tramway, an aquarium, whitewater rafting, hiking, and even a haunted house. But let’s not kid ourselves: as pretty and irresistible (as) the town is, the real draw in this part of Tennessee is the nature. ‘The wildflowers around Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are absolutely spectacular in the spring as they burst with wildflowers at their peak,’ says Zain Habboo, National Geographic’s director of travel.”

“We are very thrilled with this honor from Forbes,” said Cindy Cameron Ogle, Gatlinburg city manager. “We are blessed to live in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains and we take pride in being the gateway community to the country’s most-visited national park. It truly is a wonderful place to enjoy.”

To further the beauty of town, the City of Gatlinburg is in the process of completing the sixth phase of its Underground Utilities and Streetscape Project. Since the late 1990s, Gatlinburg has been working to bury its utilities, thus further improving the aesthetics downtown. It’s teamwork personified by the city, its downtown and community businesses, its residents, everyone.

“Of course, it has taken a lot of people doing a lot of good things to allow us to earn this lofty recognition,” Ogle said. “It’s been a great public-private collaboration of dedication that has dramatically improved the aesthetics of the Parkway and helped us blend in with the Smokies.”

Gatlinburg is calling, Forbes listened. Now, will you? Come spend a day, weekend, or a week or two in Gatlinburg and see why it really is one of the prettiest towns in America.

Sugarlands Visitor Center

Stop by Sugarlands Visitor Center before heading into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park coming from Gatlinburg.

If you’re traveling through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), one place you’ve likely seen and even stopped at, is the Sugarlands Visitor Center.  It’s located on the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just south of Gatlinburg along US 441. Sugarlands is on your right hand side as you enter the national park from Gatlinburg. Aside from being able to obtain a wealth of information about the park there, Sugarlands offers guest facilities, as well as free programs for kids, hikers, naturalists, and on basically any reason there would be to come to the national park.

Though it is and will always be a popular stop for people looking for a restroom, the bookstore in the visitor center is worth the stop alone. If you need a hiking guide, or a wildlife book, they’ve got it. And after you’ve perused their gift shop, check out the Smoky Mountain wildlife museum. They profile all the mammals, reptiles and birds you’re sure encounter (at least some of them) on any of the hiking the trails in the Smokies. Sugarlands is really a great first stop before going into the park, whether it’s to get a map, check out the wildlife presentation, or just a simple break from the road. One suggestion before leaving – there’s a 20 minute film on the history of the park that can be seen there, it’s worth 20 minutes to watch.

Park rangers also provide the public with educational programs at Sugarlands Visitors Center. You might encounter a ranger talking about some of the park’s first settlers, edible wild plants that grow along the trails, or a simple GSMNP history lesson. All these talks and presentations  are specifically developed for Sugarlands by the Park Service. One good move might be to contact the visitors center before coming to the park to see what programs are running during your specified trip.

Another reason to visit Sugarlands is if you plan staying overnight in the Great Smoky Mountains at a campground or backcountry site. Not only can you make reservations at one of the park’s campgrounds, Sugarlands is an ideal place to make lodging plans for one of the park’s backcountry shelters. Each backcountry shelter must be reserved as they are managed by the park service. For anyone planning an overnight trip on one of the trails, make plans to stay in one of the shelters. Any of the Sugarlands park rangers will be able to help you out with that process.

Due to the amount of visitors that come to the Smokies year after year, Sugarlands has become a destination for many people. Take in the gift shop and the wildlife exhibit, come listen to any of the special programs given each year or check on your backcountry reservation next time you’re coming in from Gatlinburg. Sugarlands is a literal “one stop shop” for all the information you might need on your Smokies trip, Sugarlands’ experienced staff will help make your trip one that you’ll always look back on fondly and with great remembrance.

Sugarlands Visitor Center
2 miles south of Gatlinburg on US 441
Open every day except Christmas Day

Gatlinburg Forums Now Open

Get all your questions answered in a Gatlinburg forum.

Inside Gatlinburg ForumsNeed a local’s opinion on something not covered on this site? Maybe you want to share some tips, reviews, or advice of your own? You now have a place to chat with others about Gatlinburg in the Inside Gatlinburg Forums! Locals are readily available to answer just about any question you may have. Someone is guaranteed to have the answer…or be witty enough to make something up that you would never know otherwise! We want you to have an enjoyable experience when you visit the Great Smoky Mountains. There are places to go & places to avoid…times to visit & times to stay away…etc. The locals know the restaurants, roads, shops, etc. Let us fill you in!

Visit the Inside Gatlinburg Forums.