Want to avoid crowds and get away from it all? The Great Smoky Mountains is perfect for doing just that. The Smokies are the place to enjoy the quiet of the mountains, a secluded cabin, walks in the woods, wildlife, fishing, or a peaceful kayak/canoe trip. This is where you can take a hike, find mountain streams and amazing views. Or you can take a scenic drive and stay in the car, with the windows down, imagine feeling and smelling the wonderful mountain air. Here are our favorite 5 ways to avoid crowds in the Smokies.
1. Take a Scenic Drive
What a great way to see The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the stunning natural beauty, the cold and flowing waterfalls, and the chance to conserve natural resources! Created in 1934, this park was created with auto touring in mind.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a gem of the Smokies. This road is 5.5 miles long and a one-way looped, narrowing road. You’ll notice you’re driving through the quieter time of days past when you see all the well-preserved vintage cabins and grist mills. They’re quiet snippets of history. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is open April through November.
Cades Cove is a grand, verdant valley surrounded by majestic mountains. Many would say it’s one of the most stunning areas of the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. You’ll see a lot of wildlife:
- Black bear
- And more!
For motorists, there is an 11-mile loop road that circles the Cove. The loop is a great feature that offers tourists the opportunity to sight-see at their own pace continue to avoid crowds in the Smokies. Always remember to pull off to the side of the road and let other motorists pass if you’d like to stop and taken in the views.
Rich Mountain Road offers another fantastic route to view Cades Cove. This route is an 8-mile one-way road that ditches pavement for gravel, really bringing you closer to nature. Take it easy on this path and really soak in Cades Cove as you head up the mountains and back to Townsend.
This road leads you AWAY from Cades Cove. You cannot go back into the park without driving back to the main entrance of the loop road. The road is winding and steep; a 4-wheel drive vehicle is recommended by the National Park Service for this route.
Upper Tremont is a hidden gem. It is the road away from it all, offering you a peaceful drive. You’ll know from the gravel path that it’s the road less taken by tourists. Upper Tremont Road can be found near Wears Valley, on your way to Cades Cove. It’s another scenic drive that allows you to really enjoy the wonders of mother nature and avoid crowds in the Smokies. This is especially true during the fall season. If you want to get out and experience the area, that option is available, too. Be sure to pick up the self-guided auto tour booklet from the start of the road. Stop at all the waypoints and learn the rich and varied history of Tremont.
On the Upper Tremont Road, you will find several hiking trails to choose from: waterfalls, rivers, and tree-shaded parking areas. For more scenic drives, check out our blog post.
2. Take a Hike
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park has over 150 trails to choose from with over 800 total miles of hiking trails. Likely the more difficult trails will be the least crowded.Take care when setting out into the National Park for a hike. Here are a few things you will need to know before you go!
- Hike with another person.
- Bring a small flashlight.
- Always bring water.
- All water taken from the backcountry should be treated.
- Let someone know your route and return time.
- Wear appropriate shoes.
- Carry a small first aid kit.
- Be informed about the weather & be prepared for quickly changing conditions. Check current weather conditions.
From the Sugarlands Visitor Center, 2 miles south of Gatlinburg, drive 8.6 miles east on Newfound Gap Road. There you will find two parking areas, where a gravel path leads to The Grassy Patch and the beginning of a 2.3 mile hike to Alum Cave Bluff. This moderately difficult hike is 4.6 miles round-trip or 5.1 miles on to LeConte Lodge. The round-trip to the cave bluff takes about 2 and 1/2 hours, but allow about 3 and 1/2 hours to LeConte Lodge. The Alum Cave Trail is the most popular and well-known route to Mount Le Conte. Features include Arch Rock, 1993 summer storm damage, Inspiration Point, Alum Cave Bluff.
The Rainbow Falls Trail is fairly challenging if completed all the way to Mt LeConte. Allow an hour and a half to Rainbow Falls and four hours to Mt LeConte. Hikers will gain nearly 4,000 feet in elevation by the time they get to Mt. LeConte. The point of departure is at Cherokee Orchard Road – Turn at light #8 in Gatlinburg and follow the Airport Road 1 mile out of Gatlinburg into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The name will change from Airport Road to Cherokee Orchard Road.
About 2.5 miles after entering the Park, Cherokee Orchard Road approaches the Rainbow Falls parking area. You will find the trail head at one edge of the parking area. Features of interest include the 2.8 mile point when you arrive at Rainbow Falls. At the 6.6 mile point you will come upon an Alum Cave Trail junction which leads left 0.1 mile to the LeConte Lodge. You can hike from Cades Cove too.
Cades Cove hiking trails include: Abrams Falls, Ace Gap, Anthony Creek Trail, Beard Cane, Bote Mountain, Cades Cove Nature Trail, Cane Creek, Cooper Road, Crib Gap Trail, Gregory Bald Hiking Trail, Gregory Ridge Hiking Trail, Hannah Mountain, Hatcher Mountain, Indian Grave Gap, Little Bottoms, Rabbit Creek Hiking Trail, Rich Mountain Loop Trail, Rich Mountain Trail, Russell Field, Scott Mountain, and Wet Bottom horse trail. Read about more hiking trails and advice here.
3. Go fishing
Year-round fly fishing is permitted in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can start fishing thirty minutes before official sunrise but must finish up no later than thirty minutes after official sunset, either way, it’s a sure way to avoid crowds in the Smokies. Here are a few other fishing facts worth knowing:
Fishing is allowed in all streams in the Tennessee section of the Park, except for Lynn Camp Prong upstream of its confluence with Thunderhead Prong. Detailed information, including a complete list of regulations and a map of fishable park waters, is also available at any visitor center or ranger station.
You will need a valid fishing license or permit from either Tennessee or North Carolina to fish in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. No trout stamp is required. While licenses and permits are not available for purchase in the Park, they can be obtained in many nearby towns or online. Special permits are required for fishing in Gatlinburg and Cherokee.
Douglas Lake is a beautiful, 30,400-foot lake with a maximum depth of 140 feet. The fishing is grand here – just ask my nephew Alex and my brother-in-law Matt. There’s room to play, boat, swim. The lake extends 43.1 miles upstream from Douglas Dam and only has about 17% of the shoreline developed. Rolling hills of farmland and residential areas surround the lake.
4. Kayak or Canoe
The Great Smoky Mountains includes many rivers and what better way to enjoy them than in a kayak or a canoe. Here are some of our favorite spots for creeking and tracking or just floating (you will have to paddle at some point unless you are sittin’ pretty in the middle seat). You can rent a kayak or canoe or bring your own. Here are some of our favorite spots:
If you have your own canoe or kayak, here is a list of boat ramps and access.
Need to rent, check out River John’s near Townsend, Tennessee – one of the sweetest towns you’ll ever visit.
Take The Trip Down the Little River. “From the point of departure to River John’s down the river is approximately 7 1/2 miles. For those who are set on paddling straight through the trip, you can make it in 3 to 3 and 1/2 hours. Most people take a little longer and enjoy stopping from time to time along the river. There are rope swings over the river in some spots” (swing at your own risk). Take a snack or lunch and stop to eat on the river bank – be sure to bring your canoe up far enough and keep an eye on it or it could float away.
The major portion of the river visitors will travel is calm and serene. There are occasional places on the river where small rapids can be “quite thrilling.” The pace on the river is a little slower and filled with serene enjoyment. The banks are covered with “flora and fauna, turtles, birds and the occasional glimpse of other wildlife.”
Kayak rentals also are available at River John’s.
Canoe & Kayak Rental Fees:
The rental fee of a canoe or a kayak $40; shuttle $20 if you have your own canoe or kayak. Contact River John’s at 865-982-0793
At Smoky Mountain Outdoors, take a trip down the river in an inflatable kayak in the Smoky Mountains. Drive yourself along the way, escorted by an expert rafting guide. Visitors will learn all types of spins, surfing and sliding techniques too.
Ziplining also is available, and the company offers combo packages.
When you are finished, you can shower, change clothes, and get ready for more fun in the Smoky Mountains. Whether that’s visiting another attraction, going out to dinner or heading back to the hot tub in your American Patriot Getaways cabin, you’ll be able to avoid crowds in the Smokies. . Check out our blog on favorite lunch spots and romantic dinner locations in the area. White Water Rafting with Smoky Mountain Outdoors is located at 3299 Hartford Road, Hartford, TN 37753, 800-771-7238
At Smoky Mountain Kayaking, kayak lessons are available, as well as tours for the inexperienced as well as the expert paddler. Tellico and Chilhowie Lake in East Tennessee offer paddlers “a unique opportunity to explore dynamic and diverse ecosystems. This wild environment changes daily with the changing weather, stages of the moon, water levels, and the different seasons.” How to book a tour: choose a day and desired time, choose Tellico Lake or Chilhowee Lake, call or Email your choices, receive confirmation, go paddling!
Contact Smoky Mountain Kayaking at 865-705-8678 or SmokyMtnKayaking@aol.com.
For more information, ideas and tips, see our blog.
5. Play and Have fun in a Secluded Cabin
Unless you invite company over, another way to avoid crowds in the Smokies is to find a quiet, secluded cabin. Whether you want something without mountain roads or something fully ensconced in the beauty of the mountains, a cozy bungalow or treehouse or a cabin with all the entertainment – movie theater, pool, big kitchen, games and lots of space, American Patriot Getaways has a cabin for you. https://patriotgetaways.com/pigeon-forge-secluded-cabins
Give American Patriot Getaways a call at (800) 204-5169, and let our experts help you find the right cabin. The perfect cabin in addition to all the right fun, food and entertainment for an adult vacation will have you wanting to come back as soon as possible!
American Patriot Getaways offers over 400 amazing Pigeon Forge cabin rentals.