5 Reasons To Avoid Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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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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22 comments

  1. Thanks for sending these every day Kyle! I’m kinda of hooked on them and you always have great information. Hope Olivia is doing well.

  2. I think overcrowding is just a problem at most of the NP’s. We were at Arches in April 2021 and can’t find parking at Devils Garden and that was early in the day. Us and many others just circling the parking lot trying to find a place to park.

    We live near and hike the Smokies many times a year. It is beautiful and you do have to figure out how to beat the crowds, but it can be done. Also, we have discovered the state parks in our travels. They are usually les crowded.

    Great site…thanks!

  3. Obviously the pros must outweigh the cons since the 12 million visitors continue to come back year after year.

  4. Disagree! We have gone twice during the fall and it is so big that we stayed away from “tourist traps” and never ran into crowds.

  5. GSMNP is absolutely incredible and a must see! We went during one of the busiest times of year and it was breathtaking, the traffic wasn’t bad and we even got to see 4 bear! Reasons to avoid Great Smoky Mountains National Park should actually be 0.

  6. I could have used this article a few months ago before I booked a trip to Gatlinburg, LOL! Everything in this article is 100% true. My traveling companion and I usually do quite a bit of research before we travel but we definitely were not prepared for this trip. We found out AFTER we visited Great Smoky Mountain National Park that it’s the most visited park in the US, by a lot, and this was obvious when we arrived. There are plenty of fun things to do in Gatlinburg, but slim to no parking and if you do find parking, it’s $20+. I will say that we did have a great time though. We rented a cabin up in the mountains just outside of Gatlinburg with an amazing view of the Smokies and they really do wake up looking like that every morning. We also hiked a short trail in the Cades Cove area of the park and between the Rockies and the Smokies, the Smokies for me are the more breathtaking of the two. I would still say visiting Gatlinburg and Smoky Mountain National Park is worth the trip, just be sure to plan better than we did :-).

  7. We visited SMNP 20 years ago and never wanted to go back. We moochdocked so no cost. The vegetation was so thick along the trails could not see anything. At the top the views were always the same, tree tops. Just mot impressed.

  8. Well, I’ll have to agree with most of what you say. I live in Western North Carolina and always enter the Smokies from the North Carolina side at Cherokee. It is also a tourist town, but small and a bit more “authentic” than the Tennessee side. I’d say to future visitors, just plan to slow down and enjoy the park. Come after Labor Day and before Memorial Day and things won’t be nearly so busy. The elk are plentiful and it’s pretty common to see black bear. And, the park is free.

  9. I’ve visited and hiked the Smokies many times over the years as a resident of NC. I understand what you’re saying regarding overcrowding (I’m allergic to crowds!) and the fact that you can’t take your dog on the trails nor leave them in your camper. However, look into daycare options for your dogs so they’ll have fun with other dogs while you are out hiking the trails. No matter how many times I’ve hiked in the Smokies, I never tire of seeing the awe-inspiring views. The photos never do it true justice. If you’re willing to get to an eastern-facing viewpoint prior to sunrise during clear weather, be prepared for a sunrise unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. My favorite spot for this is Myrtle Point near the cabins on Mt. LeConte (there is also an AT shelter nearby). Another breathtaking sight in the Smokies is a cool/cold clear night sky- how is it possible to see so many stars in the night sky???? The lack of light pollution allows for an amazing experience. I still haven’t been to the Smokies in June to see the synchronized fireflies but that is one bucket list item I fully intend to experience soon! Do your research and plan ahead but seriously, don’t write off the Smokies! This N.P. is wildly popular for a reason. Don’t miss it.

  10. If people are disappointed with GSMNP, they probably aren’t going more than 50 feet from their cars. There are good trails to hike and terrific waterfalls to see. Stay outside the park in an Air BnB and then you don’t have to worry about where to leave Fido when in the park. Bonus: Better accomodations than a tent or RV, complete with, in most cases, internet and cell service. Bryson City is more laid back and inviting than the overpriced areas like Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge.

  11. We have traveled to almost all of the National Parks in this country and by far the Smokey National Park is the best. IT IS FREE. Out west you must pay a LARGE fee to enter national parks and some state parks.The campgrounds do not have a lot of amenities because it would disturb the natural habitats and environment. If you are going camping you should not be worried about how many channels you can pick up and if there is wifi or lattes available. I live about 2 hours away and have visited a lot, sometimes every weekend in the summer. There can be some crowsding but most people have learned to be patient and share the area with each other. We just make sure not to go to the most popular spots during leaf season. You can still visit during leaf season without crowds, just get up a little earlier or plan your visit during the weekdays.

  12. My husband and myself have been coming to smokies since 2010….with our family….we love the smokies and fine Wi-Fi…tv signals and phone service offensive we enjoy hiking and have hiked most of the popular trails and then some including hiking the boulevard 8 mile long. Boulevard trail to the top to stay at the the my leconte logee at the top…the food is excellent and lodge is excellent…the only way to get there is on foot…the llamas bring supplies up the mountain via the grotto falls train and at the beginning if the season helicopter brings supplies…grotto falls is beautiful!!! Abrahmsfalls is my favorite hike well worth the lovely scenic walk in the woods!! I love the woods…my husband and I love the smokies so much we are volunteers at deepcreek campgroung in the gsmnp…we have helped run this camoground since 2013…cove hardwood trail out of the chimneys picnic area is very beautiful this time of the year spring…the wildflowers cover the forest floor… Trilliums of many colors are aplenty usually walk it every year so beautiful…i could go in and in and on about the beauty of the smokies but will just add two more favorite trails…one is Charles bunion very beautiful…and the jump off trail but again one must walk to both viewpoints I can’t say enough about the smokies in all season I love the mountains dearly!!!…

  13. Reason 4 is the only legitimate reason. If you go to GSM park with a backpack with the intention of primitive camping you can hike and camp for days without seeing a soul. Any park you go to gets crowded when the location is easily accessible. Most people don’t want to travel more than a few miles from the trail head. Also, if you start just a little early by our before 8 then you can do just about any trail and only see people on the way back because once again people are generally lazy and don’t like to wake up.

  14. Just came back to avoid crowds try off peak season trips. Yes half of the eastern seaboard comes in June to see the Fireflies at Elkmont “no single attraction”. There are other times to go. I do have at agree on Gatlinburg being a cesspool of junk to feed the consumer. It’s the stereotypical American trap on steroids with 200 stores selling the exact same tee-shirt dozens of homade candy that is identical to the candy shop 3 stores down with a dozen mini golf and Alpine coaster that don’t even go up a mountain that asked you to fork over 24-32 dollars per ride.

    I would share where I go and time but I like being the only person on the trail and the 3rd car at Cads Cove, and fly fishing without hearing a steady stream of cars passing by as 100s of people yell are they bitting. The town to the south is not a tourist trap with a few mom and pop places to eat. A few $32 dollar hamburger did I mention I travel alone yah one hamburger $32 dollars. I rent a cabin it has a kitchen for a reason.

  15. As someone who regularly volunteers at a state park nearby that has a lot of dog visitors, it is a blessing dogs are not allowed in the smokies. You cannot get people to clean up after them, and they scare wildlife. If you do bring a dog, the ranger might not get you but the people who couldn’t bring their dogs certainty will. I saw one woman get harassed last week by other visitors for her dog and told to leave by park staff. Plus it’s posted on trailheads they are not allowed.

    I live close to the park and only visit in off season or do the really remote trails. It’s the best way to avoid the crowds. I also avoid Gatlinburg like the plague and go through other entrances.

    No offense to dog owners but leave your dogs at home. Don’t think you are special or that the park is too big for anyone to care. Someone will get you.

  16. I have two words for people who are concerned about these 5 “reasons” (they are really tips to go and have more fun): Plan Ahead. From education and history to waterfalls and wildflowers, relaxation and exercise, the Smokies has it all. For free!

  17. I agree about the traffic and crowds during peak seasons. The internet is bogged down during this time. But this area has so much to offer besides the tourist trappings. The surrounding counties are rich in historical places to visit, one of a kind Mom and Pop eateries, craftsmen and women, beautiful lakes and rivers, bed and breakfast inns, and you can even visit farms with the kids and pick your own fruit and vegetables. I advise to do a little research of all of East Tennessee and you won’t be disappointed.

  18. I have visited this park for over 30 years on a yearly basis. Nope it doesn’t have the one spectacular feature for instant gratification like other parks but that’s just fine with those of us that love it. There is so much more than Gatlinburg aand Pigeon Forge (double yuck) to do or see. The traffic is an issue but that’s to be expected, unless you want them to bulldoze and strip the very beauty people travel here to see. Instead of telling people to avoid the park how about giving pointers on better times and places than the over-used and over-visited.

  19. Though the park doesn’t have “show stopping” attractions, it has some great beauty. You say people are riding around the trees looking for something? Well, how about the trees, the mountains and the wildlife. I mean what exactly do you expect a park to have to make it worthy enough for your standards? Also, there is so much more to the smoky mountains than just Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. It’s the quiet, scenic areas that some of us love. Maybe if you take time to explore before you write fluff pieces about places. Or is this a fake article just to get us riled up enough to reply name and email so you can sell it? Well, it worked.

  20. No entrance fee to get into GSMNP contributes to the amount of people. Next time try the NC side of the park plenty to see. Of the 37 years of going to the park I have never had to wait in traffic in the NC side of the park. Towns on the NC side are way less busy. The no dog on trail I hear complained about the most but dogs vs bears, elk, wild boar, or even a bob cat is a bad combo.
    All in all I still think it’s a must go even with all your cons. My great great grandfather’s home still stands in the park so I am a bit bias.

  21. Well well written but the lack of knowledge in the area is evident and unfortunate. Regarding landmarks, they are everywhere. For the history buffs and the native American enthusiasts there are absolutely a treasure trove of landmarks. Just remember to truly experience East Tennessee you can never stay in a hotel or resort. These landmarks are nowhere near there. However on second thought stay in the city if your looking for amenities, the mountains aren’t for everyone.

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