5 Must See Spots in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Parks Project Staff
Packed with rich biodiversity, dazzling waterfalls, and a storied past surrounding the heavily forested mountains, it’s no wonder this park has been the most visited out of the 63 national parks for over 30 years. Averaging 11.5 million visitors per year since 2012, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the busiest in the country, almost doubling the runner up, so if you’re planning a visit, you might want to pack your patience too! Wondering what to see while you’re there? We’ve prepared a list of 5 must see spots in the park with the help of our friends over at Travel and Leisure!
Note some of these areas are quite popular, so we suggest arriving early or visiting during the week to avoid the crowds.
Laurel Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
1. Laurel Falls:
The first of three waterfalls on our suggestion list, Laurel Falls is an 80-foot tall waterfall blanketed with mountain laurel shrubs. This moderate 2.6-mile trail weaves through the surrounding forest and is partially paved, but short, steep sections that can be slippery when wet make it difficult depending on the weather and the season, so plan accordingly. We suggest hiking this trail in mid to late spring, as the weather will be mild and the mountain laurels that give the falls its name will be in bloom. Please note that this is a popular spot to hike and has limited parking, so we recommend arriving early to secure a spot!
Ben Morton Overlook in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
2. Ben Morton Overlook:
Want the best views in the park without having to hike? Look no further than the Ben Morton Overlook. Perfect for sunset, this stop along Newfound Gap Road gives expansive views of the mountains and valley. This popular lookout point is a great spot for a picnic lunch year round, but we recommend visiting in October, as the park’s fall foliage will be on full display.
Grotto Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
3. Grotto Falls:
Another must-not-be-missed waterfall in the park is Grotto Falls. Hikers follow along the Trillium Gap Trail for around 3 miles through lush, old growth hemlock forest, arriving at a roaring waterfall that you can walk behind. This trail contains sections that are rather rocky and can be hazardous when wet, so sturdy hiking shoes or boots are recommended. Keep an eye out for salamanders while hiking along the river while you enjoy the cool, moist environment.
Rainbow Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
4. Rainbow Falls:
Practically next door to Grotto Falls is the well loved Rainbow Falls. Follow the Rainbow Falls Trail for around 5.4 miles round trip and you’ll be greeted with another 80 foot waterfall found in the park, known for its rainbows produced from the mist. If you’re visiting in the winter months and weather conditions are just right, the falls may be covered in spectacular ice formations. Similarly to the other trails in the area, rocky sections may be slippery, so it is important to be cautious to avoid injury.
The ramp to Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
5. Clingmans Dome:
What trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park would be complete without a trip up to the park’s highest point—Clingmans Dome! Stretch your legs with a 0.5-mile moderate hike, or simply take in the park’s beauty from the observation tower, offering a 360° view of the surrounding mountains; on clear days, visitors can see around 100 miles into the distance, but air pollution often limits views to around 20 miles. Please note the road is closed from early December through late March annually and is incredibly busy when accessible, so plan accordingly and arrive early.
We’ve recommended these 5 must-see spots in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but there are so many other great places to explore, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time to check out the park, and check the official website for a list of ongoing events. Remember to pack out what you pack in, and leave things better than you found them on your visit by following all the rules and regulations in the park. Happy adventuring!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been the most visited out of the 63 national parks for over 30 years, and we've got 5 places you've just gotta check out.