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5 Reasons To Avoid Great Smoky Mountains National Park

5 Reasons To Avoid Great Smoky Mountains National Park

5 Reasons To Avoid Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park treats visitors to misty green valleys, abundant waterfalls, and loads of wildlife. Why wouldn’t you want to explore it?

Visiting our country’s national parks is the highlight of many road trips. There are so many great parks on people’s bucket list, and for good reason.

Unfortunately, some of the most popular parks do come with some downfalls that you’ll want to consider. Today, we’ll tell you specifically why you might want to skip Great Smoky Mountain National Park. 

Let’s explore!

An Introduction to Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located in Gatlinburg, eastern Tennessee, and branches into North Carolina. Franklin D. Roosevelt designated the 522,000 acres as a national park on September 2nd, 1940. 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited of all 63 national parks. As a matter of fact, in 2020 the park saw approximately 12.4 million visitors. It sees substantially more people than any other national park. In fact, the park sees more than the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th most visited national parks combined. 

Sunrise over Appalachian Mountains in Autumn

While we’re sharing why you should avoid the park, we will also say that Smoky Mountains National Park is a beautiful area. There are many excellent hiking trails and much wildlife to see. Part of the popular Appalachian Trail runs through the park, bringing in additional people.

Hiking is a large draw to the park for visitors of all ages and abilities. There are 150 official trails at Smoky Mountains National Park, ranging from easy, flat paved paths to rugged trails that only experienced hikers should traverse. You’ll certainly reap the rewards for your effort with waterfalls, wildlife viewing, and forests. 

Smoky Mountains National Park is easy to get to for many people. It’s centrally located on the East side of the United States, making it within driving distance for much of the population.

Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, neighboring tourist towns, have many restaurants, dinner theaters, shopping, and activities. The park is an easy place to visit where you can enjoy both nature and convenience. 

5 Reasons to Avoid Smoky Mountains National Park

#1 – Overcrowding

As we said, this is the most visited national park. If you’re looking for serene solitude, it might be hard to find here. You aren’t likely to have an area to yourself, especially on the more popular trails. Wildlife viewing can also be difficult when there are crowds as the animals are more likely to be hiding from the commotion. 

Numerous people, means numerous cars. Unfortunately, parking can be a bit tough to navigate. Often the trailheads have small parking lots, making it difficult to find a place to park while you hike.

It isn’t uncommon for hikers to abandon their desired hike simply because there was no available parking. Great hikes aren’t as great if you can’t even get onto the trail.

#2 – Dogs Aren’t Allowed on Most Trails

Those who enjoy hiking with their furry family members will be met with frustration. Smoky Mountains National Park doesn’t allow dogs on trails except for two short walking paths.

Additionally, dogs are not allowed to remain in your RV or vehicle. If you have a dog, you won’t be able to enjoy the hiking the park has to offer because they can’t stay behind but also can’t go with you. 

#3 – Crazy Traffic Jams

Throughout Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the roads are winding two-lane roads. These tend to create slow-moving traffic.

Also, because people often see bears near the road, they can’t help but stop and block traffic while watching them. Visitors have reported sitting in traffic for two hours only to realize it was due to drivers stopping to watch wildlife. 

#4 – Overrated “Tourist Trap”

There isn’t a singular showstopping attraction at Smoky Mountain National Park. Sure, it’s pretty. But there isn’t one iconic must-see landmark. Visitors may feel like they’re driving around the trees trying to find something to look at. It isn’t uncommon for guests to walk away feeling that they were promised a bit more, and some feel it’s an overrated park.

Once they’ve driven around the winding roads looking for something to see, visitors find themselves in the overpriced tourist trap area of Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge. The cities are filled with pricy dinner theaters and gimmick “museums.” You’ll likely find yourself spending way too much money on a mediocre meal and show. 

There are great things to do and see, but you’ll need to put in some serious research to find the hidden gems. Rangers and visitor centers will likely point you to the well-known (i.e., crowded) locations.

Do some digging and ask for their favorite lesser-visited spots. 

#5 – Lack of Amenities in Park Campgrounds

Thinking about staying in an RV within the national park boundary? You’ll need to be prepared to dry camp. There are several backcountry campsites, but those require hiking several miles to access. That’s obviously not an option for RVers. The only place for RVs to camp overnight within the park is at one of the ten “frontcountry” campgrounds. 

Two of the campgrounds are open year-round, with the rest only open seasonally. Each campground has a restroom with cold water and toilets. However, there are no showers, electric hookups, or water hookups in any of the campgrounds. The only electricity you will find at a campground is a 5-amp electric outlet for medical equipment, and it’s only at Cades Cove, Elkmont, and Smokemont campgrounds. 

Don’t expect to work remotely while camping at this national park. Campers report little to no internet connection while in the campgrounds. 

Pets are permitted, but they’re not allowed anywhere other than along the road or one of the two trails mentioned above. And, you cannot leave them in your RV while you’re exploring, which makes it difficult for pet owners to enjoy the park. 

Even with the lack of amenities, campers should expect to pay $17-$25 a night. The upside is that campers can reserve their spot in advance at recreation.gov. 

Pro Tip: Here are our favorite campsites near Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Is Great Smoky Mountains National Park Worth the Effort?

All national parks come with their pros and cons. Sadly, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has some cons that are difficult to overlook.

Between overcrowding and the difficulties for dog owners, it may not be worth your effort. If you’ve visited this highly trafficked park, do you feel it’s overrated or worth the trip?

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Rebecca Kreuzman

Saturday 26th of March 2022

I disagree! Our family has been going to the Great Smoky Mountains for years, usually fall or spring break. So many memories raising our children and sharing our time with friends and family. We have camped, but after 3 days we head to a cabin for a few more days. We hit Gatlinburg around 3:30 for our main meal and have no crowds to contend with. We also pick up picnic supplies and eat out of the cooler and and picnic basket for lunch, taking advantage of the many picnic spots. Our favorite is the Chimneys picnic area but go early, get a spot and enjoy the walking and rock climbing before the crowds. The Sugarlands Nature center is a great place for info on lesser traveled hikes. We don't get caught up in the museums or other tourist traps, altho a little browsing the shops is always a good time. Our next trip will be in October, again, and we will be bringing our toddling granddaughter with us to share all the beauty this place has to offer with the next generation. Can't wait!

Christian

Thursday 10th of March 2022

@Bailey J Gorman, I agree with you wholeheartedly sir. I am from Missouri and have lived in Utah for several years and the Smokies are my favorite by far. Yes definitely avoid Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the busiest entrances, and I would say avoid Cades Cove, because of the amount of traffic and personally that is not my favorite part of the Smokies. If anybody wants a great driving trail to go on for little waterfalls, small streams, at least two beautiful overlooks that you can pull off in your car and park, and peaceful, calming, and therapeutic sounds of birds, streams, wind blowing through the trees, and a canopy of trees over the road go to Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail turning up into the mountains from stoplight number eight in Gatlinburg, there is only one main street in the tourist part of Gatlinburg, but be prepared for bumper to bumper traffic for a little while, but not really that bad, which is an awesome way for out-of-towners to follow directions. You won’t be disappointed if you are a nature lover and this is one of the most beautiful places in the country, dpring, summer, and fall. The fall colors are amazing in, red, yellow, orange and when you see all of the colors looking out from one of these overlooks on that motor trail, it is truly God’s handiwork and canvass. You won’t be disappointed at all and I have been to Yosemite, which is amazing for its iconic locations and scenery, Yellowstone for its expansiveness and wildlife, and definitely Old Faithful, Zions for it’s amazing, unique scenery, along with Bryce Canyon, in all of its beauty. And who cares about Internet access or cell phone service, I’m not there to work in the Smokies. I’m there to hike, get away from the daily grind and let my soul be healed by the sounds, beauty, and freshness of all the most beautiful places and relaxing places that I have been to. If everyone wants to go to the other national parks I am okay with that, as it will be less crowded in the Smokies, lol. In all seriousness come see it and do be prepared for crowds in certain areas like Cades Cove, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge, with the last two not really being for nature lovers anyway. There can be semi-heavy traffic at times on Roaring Fork Motor NatureTrail, but it is spread out and not backed up the whole road. There are many miles of hiking trails and it is the goal of many people in this area to hike all of the trails in their lifetime. The Little River Gorge Road from the Townsend “Y” to Gatlinburg is the most soul healing, beautiful roads that I have ever been on with it following the The Little River. Fly fishing for small wild rainbow in that river is so beautiful and healing that one doesn’t even have to catch the trout, which are hard to catch, and native Brook trout in higher elevations. As I have said, come visit the Smokies for these mountains, which are comfortable, inviting, and luscious, unlike some of the majestic, towering Rockies (until you get into their canyons) in Utah which are beautiful in their own way and impressive no doubt, but lack the trees. Many people who have visited the Smokies say, “It feels like you’re home” and that is how I felt the first time and every time that I see them. If others don’t want to visit the Smokies for lack of iconic landmarks I won’t be hurt, because I will have more of the park to myself :)

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[…] Pro Tip: Learn more about these 5 Reasons To Avoid Great Smoky Mountains National Park. […]

Mcktripp

Friday 7th of January 2022

I personally think you need to come up with more reasons to not visit, especially some that will truly push people away. Dogs are the only problem I have whatsoever. Maybe I'm a little partial, it is in my backdoor, but I've been coast to coast in parks and it's with out a doubt my favorite, next would be Yellowstone. You won't find the diversity of wildlife anywhere else and while other parks have great views also its hard to beat some of the views in the smokies especially rocky top, chimney top, Charlie's bunion, etc. You do have to know a little of when to and when no to go, but if you'll do a better job of discouraging visitors you'll make a lot of locals happy. Greatest Park on Earth

Darwin

Saturday 28th of August 2021

Wish every Park had this dog rule.

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