At 816 square miles, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a lot to offer. And Gatlinburg, Tennessee is nestled right up next to the park.
So if you’re staying in Gatlinburg for at least a day, you need to check out this national park.
But what’s inside the park that’s so great? What is there to do? Well, we’ve got the good on that. So read on and we’ll help you out.
1. Hike To The LeConte Lodge
The Leconte Lodge sits on Mt. LeConte. Mt. LeConte touches the sky at 6,595 feet.
It’s the third highest mountain in the park and it overshadows Gatlinburg by more than a vertical mile.
The lodge itself was built in a beautiful glade in 1926. And it’s only accessible by hiking.
It was a tent camp for a year before that. Guide and outdoorsman Paul Adams hosted hikers at his camp and was an advocate of the park’s establishment as a National Park.
Jack Huff replaced Adams in 1926. He built that lodge in place of the camp and lived there for 35 years with his family.
Once you reach the lodge, you can sit and rest on the porch and enjoy the views.
This lodge is rustic. And you can actually stay there if you want.
If you are in need of a snack or emergency supplies when you reach the top, you can purchase those at their gift shop.
2. Ride The Smoky Mountain Railroad
If you’re looking to see some of the park without having to hike, consider the Smoky Mountain Railroad.
They begin at Bryson City (about an hour and a half from Gatlinburg) and runs through the Carolina Mountains.
Their several trains ride along 53 miles of track and cross 25 bridges.
You can take a short 3.5-hour trip, or you can tour all day on the train.
The Nantahala Gorge Excursion will take you on a 44 mile, 4.5 hour trip along the Tennessee and Nantahala rivers.
You stop for an hour at the gorge and then return to Bryson City.
When you go on an excursion, you can choose from various seating options and amenities for the ride.
The Tuckasegee River Excursion is a little shorter at 32 miles round trip. It takes you along the river through meadows and rail towns of yore.
If you need a claim to fame, you can say you rode through the set of the Harrison Ford movie The Fugitive.
3. Drive The Newfound Gap Road From Gatlinburg
You’ll start at the Sugarlands Visitor center near Gatlinburg and make your way to Cherokee, North Carolina.
It’s a 31 mile stretch of road. And it’s the only stretch in the park that’s fully paved.
You get to travel straight through the park’s center and see all of the grand mountains around it.
You will climb about 3,000 feet. And you’ll pass sights such as the Mingus Mill and Newfound Gap.
You can stop at the Oconaluftee Visitor center and the Mountain Farm museum at mile marker 30.3.
You can check get out and stroll the Smokemont Nature Trail at marker 27.2. Or you can get some incredible shots at the Web Overlook.
It will be cooler up top on this road. So bring a sweater even in the summer.
The temperature variation can be as much as ten degrees.
You can drive on this road to Clingman’s Dome which we’ll talk about next.
5. Climb Clingman’s Dome
If you’re not too afraid of heights or want to conquer your fear of heights, Clingman’s Dome is here in Gatlinburg waiting for you.
It’s the highest point in Tennessee and third tallest east of the Mississippi.
It’s 6,643 feet tall. And it’s a popular climb in the area.
To get there, take the Newfound Gap road and turn off on Clingman’s Dome Road.
The road up offers views for those who might not want to climb the dome once you get there.
And there are a few picnic tables and a visitors center if some of your party want to stay at the base of the dome.
The hike to the summit is only half a mile. And there is an observation tower at the summit for better views.
There is a paved trail for wheelchairs and stroller accessibility as well.
If you feel like hiking further, you can take the Forney Ridge Trail, The Appalachian Trail (yes, the famous one crosses here: It’s the highest point on the trail), or the Noland Divide Trail.
Get there early. It’s a popular destination. Early here means before ten AM.
The temperatures at the summit can be as much as 20 degrees cooler than Gatlinburg. So bring a light jacket or sweater when you go up.
6. Visit The Sinks
The Sinks area can be found along the Little River Road scenic drive.
It’s 12 miles west of the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
There is a waterfall and natural pools formed by the river’s winding.
Massive boulders sit along the river, and you can climb among them and stretch your legs a little.
It’s strongly recommended you do not try to swim here. It can be dangerous at times.
But it is a great place to stop and picnic and enjoy the views.
If you want to get there from Gatlinburg, just drive into the park. After passing the Sugarlands Visitor Center, turn right on Little River Road. It’s about 12 miles west after that.
Again, just like the Dome, this spot is popular for hanging out and picnicking. So, if you plan on spending time there, we recommend you get there early to find a spot.
7. Return To Your Gatlinburg Cabin To Enjoy The Fireflies
Gatlinburg and The Smoky Mountain National Park are known for their fireflies.
There are 19 species found in the national park alone.
So, if you’ve had a long day of hiking or chilling by the river or riding a train, get back to your cabin for a drink and a relaxing dinner.