Home to a diversity of wildlife, trees, wildflowers, and flowering plants and shrubs, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a breath a fresh air – a break from the busy mountain towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and the technology that so often consumes our lives. It is the most visited in the national park system, bringing in millions of visitors each year. While it’s beautiful all year long, summer is an especially wonderful time to visit the park. There are tons of fun things to fill your summer days with there, from hikes to waterfalls and picnics by the water to horseback rides along the trails and bike rides through the trees. With so many opportunities for outdoor summer fun and more than 800 miles of trails to explore, it can be easy to become overwhelmed. Here’s our quick guide to summer fun in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Leisure time in the park
There are so many beautiful places for picnics within the park, from quiet waterside locations to peaceful spots among the trees. For a grill and a nice picnic table, check out Big Creek, Chimneys, Cades Cove, Collins Creek, Cosby, Deep Creek, Greenbrier, Heintooga, Look Rock, Metcalf Bottoms, and Twin Creeks. Some even offer pavilions for larger groups and special events.
You can pack your own picnic or you can order one of our gift baskets for an easy and delicious picnic. Our Smoky Mountain Picnic is loaded with goodies, including chips, cookies, taffy, sparkling cider, summer sausage, crackers, bread, condiments, macaroni salad, fruit, and more!
Wildlife & Wildflowers
There are more than 1,500 kinds of flowering plants in the park, with many blooming in summer. During a summer walk, enjoy red cardinal flowers, pink turtleheads, purple-fringed orchids, jewel weed, black-eyed susans, and more. The colorful display provides a beautiful backdrop on a summer’s walk. The park is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, including deer, bears, and turkeys. The Cades Cove Loop Road is the best place for wildlife viewing, and it’s a peaceful way to spend the afternoon.
An important part of the Great Smoky Mountains is its rich history. Much of that history can be experienced in the park by way of more than 90 historic structures. These include barns, houses, churches, schools, mills, and outbuildings. Cades Cove, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, the Cataloochee Valley, and Oconaluftee area are some of the best places to enjoy them.
Bicycles are allowed on the Gatlinburg Trail, the Oconaluftee River Trail, and the lower Deep Creek Trail. While most roads in the park aren’t suitable for riding bikes, the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road is great for wildlife viewing as you bike. From May until September, the road is open only to bicyclists and pedestrians until 10 a.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays. If you didn’t travel with your own bike, head to the campground store near the Cades Cove Campground for rentals. For more information, call 865.448.9034.
Hiking is one of the most popular activities in the park, with hundreds of miles of trails to explore. The trails range from flat and easy to steep and challenging, offering something for all ages and skill levels. Beginners will find beautiful trails for a nice walk, and pros will find more difficult climbs up to waterfalls and scenic overlooks. Some of the most popular hikes include: Mt. LeConte, Andrews Bald, Abrams Falls, and Alum Cave. And of course, after you’ve spent the day hiking, head back to one of our cozy cabins to cool off and relax on the couch in front of a big screen TV or in a rocking chair on the deck.
The summer breeze will keep you cool as you take a horseback ride through the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Four stables – Cades Cove, Smokemont, Smoky Mountain, and Sugarlands – offer guided tours from mid-March through November. There are also carriage and wagon rides available in Cades Cove and Smokemont starting at just $10 per person.
Cast a line in one of the many streams within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – 2,900 miles of streams, in fact. One of the last wild trout habitats is protected within the park, and about 20% of the streams are large enough for trout populations to live. Fishing is now allowed in all streams in the park, and it’s permitted year-round from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. Some fish you’ll come across include brook and rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, and brown trout, just to name a few.