Don’t ruin your trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park by entering at the busiest entrance.
Imagine it. You have this perfect image of pulling up to the ranger station of a National Park, showing the ranger your America the Beautiful pass, and feeling giddy as you drive into a beautiful location.
You don’t think about a line of cars or waiting for an hour or more. Until it happens.
Let’s take a look at a handful of other options to make your trip an enjoyable experience!
About the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Although you might think the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone would be the most visited National Park, it’s actually the Great Smoky Mountains. Year after year, this National Park welcomes more than 11 million visitors. Next is the Grand Canyon, at 4.6 million. Yosemite is third with 3.8 million visitors, and Yellowstone rounds out the top four with 3.2 million visitors each year.
So what brings so many people to Tennessee and North Carolina each year? More than 522,000 acres of natural beauty, for one thing. For hikers, 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail runs through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Clingmans Dome is the highest peak at 6,643 feet, and there are 16 peaks over 6,000 feet.
With abundant wildlife and plant life, naturalists love to explore this area. The weather is fairly temperate compared to other mountainous regions in the country, which allows for travel throughout the year. And the Great Smoky Mountains National Park preserves Southern Appalachian culture with historic structures and a visitor-friendly Cherokee Indian reservation.
Want to Avoid Crowds? Avoid This Smoky Mountains National Park Entrance at All Costs
With millions of visitors traveling to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park every year, you’ll want some tips when you visit to avoid the crowds. The first tip is to avoid Cades Cove at all costs.
The Cades Cove Loop is the most heavily visited area of the National Park, and it remains busy even in the off-season. It’s not worth the stress or frustration. Thankfully, there are other entrances along the 522,000+ acres.
Pro Tip: Keep an eye out for critters while hiking the Smokies. Don’t know what to look for? Find out What Are The Most Dangerous Creatures in the Smoky Mountains?
What Other Smoky Mountains Entrances Are There?
Six other entrances lead into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Three of them are main entrances with ranger stations and visitors centers.
The last three are off-the-beaten-path entrances that are more like secrets the locals know to avoid traffic. Let’s take a look at all six!
Take exit 407 off I-40 to TN-66 South. Follow US-441. This road will take you through Sevierville and Pigeon Forge into the park. This entrance is the most touristy of all of the entrances. You’ll find restaurants, shopping centers, museums, hotels, and more in this area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
If you’re looking for lots of things to do and want entertainment during your visit, this entrance may be the best one for you.
From the north, you’ll take exit 27 off I-40 to US-74 West. Then turn onto US-19 and go through Maggie Valley, North Carolina. Once in Cherokee, you’ll turn onto US-441 North to go into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From the south, you’ll follow US-74 West/US-441 North to exit 74, where you’ll merge onto US-441. This road takes you to the entrance to the park.
The Cherokee Indian Reservation is one location to visit the history and culture of Southern Appalachia. It’s open to the public with opportunities to also support the local community and their small businesses.
From the north, you’ll take exit 386B off I-40 to US-129 South. At Maryville, stay on US-321 North/TN-73 East. Follow this road through Townsend into the park. From the south, you’ll take exit 376 off I-75 to I-40 East via 376B. Then you’ll take exit 11A onto US-129 South. Turn onto TN-35 to US-321 North through Townsend.
This entrance is closest to Cades Cove and offers lodging and restaurants while preserving the area’s natural beauty. It will be quieter than the Gatlinburg area but still have the convenience and amenities many travelers want.
About 23 miles from Gatlinburg is the small off-the-beaten-path town of Cosby, Tennessee. Take US-321 to TN-32. Turn right, and the Smoky Mountains park entrance will be less than two miles. Cosby is a great area for hiking. Hen Wallow Falls is a favorite with beautiful views and a 90-ft cascading waterfall.
This entrance won’t have a visitors center but will have a ranger station. Cataloochee is more remote and thus open seasonally. You’ll take exit 20 off I-40 in North Carolina. Turn right onto Cove Creek Road. After driving 11 miles, you’ll arrive at the Cataloochee Park Entrance Road.
One more alternative entrance to the hustle and bustle of the busy Gatlinburg entrance is Wears Valley. From Pigeon Forge, take Wears Valley Road into Wears Valley, Tenn. Turn left onto Line Springs Road, which will take you into the National Park. Beware, this road is narrow and curvy, so drive with caution. If you’re staying in the Pigeon Forge or Sevierville areas, this entrance may be the fastest way into the Great Smoky Mountains to avoid traffic.
Pro Tip: Need a place to stay while exploring Smoky Mountains National Park? Check out These Smoky Mountain Campgrounds That Are Perfect For RV Owners.
Is the Smoky Mountains National Park Worth a Look?
Because there are so many entrances to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you won’t have difficulty finding your way in. As long as you steer clear of Cades Cove, you’ll avoid heavy traffic. And if you choose one of the smaller entrances like Cosby, Cataloochee, or Wears Valley, you’ll avoid even more high-traffic areas. So if you’re staying in areas close to those locations, consider taking those entrances.
Regardless, once you get into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll see why it’s the most visited National Park in the U.S. The beautiful scenery, the hiking trails, the Appalachian culture and heritage, and the small towns that offer shopping, lodging, and restaurants all create a welcoming atmosphere for visitors year after year.
The summer is the peak season for visitors, but the park remains busy for most of the year. When will you visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA
To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).
You should give it a try!
As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.
Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers that love to score the best site!
We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below: