The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the USA, puts on a fabulous show every spring with its colorful display of wildflowers. Early blooms arrive around mid-March, and the progression takes place throughout the season with 1,500 types of flowering plants, more than in any other national park in the country. The park’s beautiful towering peaks, famous for its smoky haze, look even more magical when framed with flowering bushes. It is a popular season so plan your visit well in advance. In this post, I am sharing important tips on how to visit the Great Smoky Mountains in spring.
The Great Smoky Mountains are a mountain range, a part of the Appalachian Mountains, located along the Tennessee and North Carolina border. The name comes from a delicate fog that often hangs over the peaks. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, established in 1934, protects most of the range. Today the park is the largest protected land area east of the Rocky Mountains.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – popularity
When planning your trip to the Great Smoky Mountains, take into consideration that the park receives 12 million visitors per year, more than the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone combined. But not let those numbers scare you away, there is room for everyone. You can still enjoy your visit, even in the high season.
How to beat the crowds in Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Start your day early
People like to sleep in when on vacation, take advantage of it. Early morning it is the best time to see wildlife, get the desired parking spot, and have the hiking trails to yourself.
Explore during evening hours
Again, most visitors to the park have the same daily ritual while on vacation, exploring during the day, and relaxing at night. To avoid crowds, go against the flow. Take a long break for lunch and then return for more adventures in the evening.
Take your food with you
Additionally, you can distance yourself from the busy roads by eating your own food in the more secluded areas of the park. Many picnic areas offer fantastic scenery for your meal with a view.
Take a road less traveled
Two hundred and seventy miles of park roads are yours to discover. Do not be afraid to take a random turn to escape the traffic. You may find even more amazing scenery there.
It is true that the park is extremely popular, but many visitors come just for weekends and gather along the most popular spots. Weekdays, in general, are less crowded.
Stay longer than two days
A lot of people rush through the park in two days but I do not recommend it. With the packed itinerary, you will have no other choice but face the crowds. Stay longer to have more mornings and evenings to explore at your own pace.
Why visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park in spring
Spring Wildflowers Pilgrimage in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage is a 70-year old annual event in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park featuring professionally-guided walks, exhibits, and other learning opportunities to explore the region’s rich natural and cultural resources. The program includes fungi, ferns, wildflowers, trees and shrubs, medicinal plants, insects (terrestrial and aquatic), salamanders and snakes, birds, mammals (bats to bears), journaling, art and photography, and park history. Check the park’s website to register.
Wildlife in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park protects some 65 species of mammals, over 200 varieties of birds, 67 native fish species, and more than 80 types of reptiles and amphibians. The symbol of the Smokies, the American Black Bear, is the most famous resident of the park. The park provides the largest protected bear habitat in the East, with a density of approximately two bears per square mile.
How to see the park
Drives in Great Smoky Mountains National Parks
Newfound Gap Road
The Newfound Gap Road, the lowest pass through the Great Smoky Mountains, will take you on the 31-mile journey through a variety of forest ecosystems. It is the only fully paved road in The Smokies that travels directly through the center of the park. It connects Sugarlands and Oconaluftee visitors centers. The road gives access to Chimney Top Overlook, Chimeny Top Trail, Alum Cave Bluffs Trail, and Clingmans Dove Trail.
Cade’s Cove Loop Scenic Drive
Cade’s Cove Loop is the most visited area of the Smoky Mountains National Park. The scenic drive is open from sunrise to sundown and offers several pull-offs and parking lots to stop and enjoy the surroundings. Traffic can be heavy during the summer months but is well worth it for wildlife viewing, historic churches, cabins, pastures, and gorgeous views of The Smoky Mountains.
Discover dirt roads
Take a detour from the main roads mentioned above. Any turn in the park is worth to take. The dirt roads will let you escape the crowds and make your own discoveries.
Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Clingmans Dome Hike
This classic short hike can be accessed from Clingmand Dove Road, off Cade Cove’s loop. At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The half-mile trail to the summit of Clingmans Dome is paved, but steep. The observation tower on the summit offers spectacular 360° views of the Smokies.
Along Clingmans Dome Road are several scenic areas with pullouts that allow for photo opportunities of the Smoky Mountain range. Several trailheads also start on Clingmans Dome Road, including the Forney Ridge Trail, the Noland Divide Trail, and the Appalachian Trail (AT).
Hike to Alum Cave
If you can only hike one longer trail at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, make sure to pick the Alum Cave Trail for its diversity and spectacular views. Start early to secure a good parking spot and to avoid crowds.
The trail leads through an old-growth hardwood forest until it reaches its highlight, the narrow tunnel of Arch Rock 1.4 miles from the parking area. Farther up, the trail climbs up Peregrine Peak, then approaches a narrow ridge full of mountain laurel and rhododendron, leading to a rocky outcrop known as Inspiration Point after 2 miles. You will reach the Alum Cave Bluffs about 2.3 miles from the trailhead.
Gregory Bald Hike
Gregory Bald is most famous for the spectacular rhododendrons that are bloom on its summit from mid to late June. You’ll enjoy the rainbow of colors including fire red, wine red, orange, salmon, yellow, white, and pink,
Chimney Tops Hike
This popular trail, located off Newfound Gap Road, draws visitors with its panoramic views. Though the hike is only two miles up, it is rather steep. Take a rest before the second half with a 960-foot elevation climb to reach the top.
If you have time for more hiking, pick one of these best hikes in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.