When to Go
Year-round. In summer and in fall (when spectacular foliage draws huge crowds), time your visit to midweek, and arrive early. Visitor centers open year-round.
How to Get There
From Knoxville, Tenn. (about 25 miles away), take I-40 to Tenn. 66, then US 441 to Gatlinburg entrance. From Asheville, N.C. (about 40 miles away), take I-40 west to US 19, then US 441, to park's southern entrance near Cherokee, N.C. For a scenic, low-speed approach, take the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway that connects Virginia's Shenandoah National Park with Great Smoky. Airports: Knoxville and Asheville.
How to Visit
On a one-day visit, take the Newfound Gap Road to Clingmans Dome and get the best overview of the park by seeing it from the highest point. The best second-day activity is the Cades Cove loop road, a chance to drive or cycle through pioneer history. For a longer stay, focus on the self-guided nature trails and drives, which get you away from the crowds and show you the flora and fauna.
Where to Stay
LeConte Lodge, located near the summit of Mount LeConte, is the only lodge within the national park and is the highest guest lodge in the eastern United States. Cozy in its remote location, the lodge's electricity-free cabins are lit with kerosene lanterns. Equally fun: Llamas carry supplies up to the lodge. A capacity of 60 guests per night means you should try to book your spot at least a year in advance. While there, be sure to catch a sunset at Cliff Top or a sunrise at Myrtle Point. Campgrounds: There are ten campgrounds, most with a seven-day limit. Cades Cove and Smokemont are open all year. Group sites must be reserved in advance. Reservations can be made at www.recreation.gov. If you want to spend a night off the park's premises, stay at Mountain Laurel Chalets, which are located just outside the park's entrance in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, a town known for its souvenir shops, fairs, and "down-home" atmosphere.
Bears and other wildlife often frequent the park's campgrounds. All food, coolers, stoves, etc., must be stored out of sight in a closed vehicle when not in use. Feeding wildlife in the park is illegal. Penalties run up to a $5,000 fine or six months in jail.
Firewood from the states of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec cannot be brought into the national park. The United States Department of Agriculture has quarantined firewood from these states to prevent the spread of highly destructive insects that may be living in the wood.
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The quiet splendor and patchwork history of the popular national park offer lessons in how humanity can coexist with nature.
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