Did you know that Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) is within a day’s drive for two-thirds of the U.S.’s population? It’s only about four hours from Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, Birmingham, Lexington and Roanoke (give or take a little). And, did you know it’s one of the few national parks without an entrance fee? Here are 10 reasons to put a Smoky Mountain getaway on your must-do list this spring:
It’s spring. THIS IS THE TIME TO GET OUT OF THE HOUSE! Birds are singing, flowers are blooming and the sun feels warm on your skin again. The best place to see nature’s rebirth is the mountains!
You can find more than 1500 flowering plants in GSMNP—more species than you can find at any other national park in North America! Elevations range from 850 feet in the foothills to more than 6600 feet at Clingman’s Dome, which explains the variety of flora you will see. Want to become a flower nerd? Check out this map provided by GSMNP to find locations of flowers by species.
2. THE VIEWS
You don’t have to work hard to find beautiful vistas in the Smokies. Some spots give you miles to take in—you can see seven states from the highest point! Good hiking options include Gregory Bald, Mount LeConte, Abrams Falls, Alum Cave. Or, just drive through the park. You’ll have plenty on which to feast your eyes.
3. CHOOSE YOUR PACE
Adventure or leisure? You can do either [or both]. Want to see some wildlife, rolling hills, mountain homesteads and soaring peaks? Head to Cades Cove. You can drive the 11-mile scenic loop and stop when you want a little more time to gaze and take pictures. If you want to breathe in some mountain air while you go, you can bike the loop! Learn more about hours you can bike and where to rent bicycles, click here.
It just so happens the number-one ticketed attraction in the state of Tennessee is just a few miles down the road from GSMNP. Plan to spend a day or two at Dollywood this spring!
5. FAMILY DESTINATION
I like to think of the Smokies as the wholesome Vegas of the South. Drive down Pigeon Forge’s Parkway—especially at night—and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. What I love is not only will you have plenty to do (see below for more), but also there are so many great places for families to stay. My favorite is Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa: from nightly bedtime stories by the fireplace to fire pits for roasting s’mores, to TimeSaver passes and door-to-door transportation to Dollywood (and Dollywood’s Splash Country when it’s open), relaxing comes easy. When my family needs a true mountain getaway, I like to book a stay in one of Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Cabins because of their amenities and convenience to area attractions.
6. ENDLESS ENTERTAINMENT
When you take a family trip, it’s important that there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Come to the Smoky Mountains: nature, thrill rides, museums, the list is rather long. One of the tips I always tell people is to check out the dinner theaters. There are several, but I’m partial to Dolly Parton’s Stampede—it’s the most-visited dinner attraction in the world! From the pre-show, to the audience participation in the arena, the four-course feast you get to eat with your hands, and the incredible horsemanship, everyone is mesmerized. Anything that holds my two-year-old’s attention is a winner in my book!
I already mentioned museums. Did you know that you can learn about anything from the fateful journey of Titanic, to American crime history, or even see the only salt and pepper shaker museum in the world when you visit the Smokies? You can also educate yourself about Appalachian culture with a visit to the Old Mill District in Pigeon Forge or Elkmont in the national park. Don’t forget to enjoy Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies while you are in town. The variety of knowledge you can gain is impressive—and the best part, it’s fun so you won’t even realize you’re learning!
8. SMALL TOWN FEEL
Unlike many popular vacation spots, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the surrounding area isn’t next to a large airport. It’s not located along a major highway. Part of the charm and allure of GSMNP is the trip to get there. While it’s an easy drive, it’s endearing. You’ll notice the small-town feeling; you’ll experience the Southern hospitality as you’re welcomed into roadside shops. You’ll wander into those holes in the wall and make a friend or two. You’ll want to ask where the locals eat and actually go there. I like Frank Allen Market & Grill.
What’s a vacation without having fun keepsakes to take home? Whether you simply want some tchotchkes, t-shirts, or you want to go outlet shopping, you have options in the Smokies. It’s always nice to have a flex day you can plan for window shopping or people watching. You can do both as you walk through downtown Gatlinburg. If you prefer a more middle-ground experience, look for Tanger Outlets in Sevierville.
10. WHOLE PACKAGE
The final reason I’ll list is the main reason why I feel strongly that you should put a Smoky Mountain trip on your to-do list: it checks all the boxes. It’s an affordable, customizable getaway. Want to stay busy? GREAT. There’s more than enough to do. Want to soak up the sun enjoying nature? WONDERFUL. We’ve got all the flora and fauna you could want. Prefer to make memories visiting a theme park? AWESOME. Dollywood has you covered. In fact they have a destination planning guide ready to help you get started. Click here for more. However you want to spend time away this spring, you can do it in the Smoky Mountains!