February 27, 2023

If you are planning a first time visit to the Smokies, it can be a bit overwhelming to develop an itinerary! After all, the national park itself covers more than 520,000 acres and is home to hundreds of scenic hiking trails, unique historical structures, stunning waterfalls and more! Rather than trying to see it all in one trip, there are a few destinations that you should highlight on your initial visit! Here are the top 4 things to see on a first time visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

1. Sugarlands Visitor Center

The Sugarlands Visitor Center should be the first stop for anyone visiting the national park because it features tons of excellent information about the area! You will not only find an extensive bookstore with trail maps and park guides, but also some fascinating natural history exhibits! This is also the perfect opportunity to talk with a park ranger and develop an itinerary based on your interests! There are even a few short hikes that you can take right outside of the facility, so take advantage of this chance to stretch your legs before going on one of the more difficult trails!

2. Cades Cove Loop Road

Cades Cove Loop Road

Another one of the top things to see on a first time visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Cades Cove Loop Road! This 11 mile, one way loop road is a popular destination as it offers a bit of everything, including some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in the park! While driving along the loop, you may spot white-tailed deer, black bear, coyote and other animals! The valley of Cades Cove is also rich in history, as it contains the widest variety of historical buildings in the park including a working grist mill, log houses, several churches and more!

3. Laurel Falls

Many folks visiting the Smoky Mountains have their heart set on seeing one of the park’s magnificent waterfalls, so first timers should set their sights on Laurel Falls! This gorgeous 80 foot waterfall can be accessed from the Laurel Falls Trail, a 2.6 mile round trip trail that is considered moderate in difficulty. The waterfall, which is named after an evergreen shrub that blooms along the trail, consists of both an upper and lower section that is divided by a walkway at the base of the falls. This allows you to get right up close to the waterfall for some amazing photos! Be sure to check out some of the other great hiking trails during your trip!

4. Clingmans Dome

Clingmans Dome

When visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the first time, you’ll definitely want to put Clingmans Dome on your list! This is not only the highest point in the park, but the highest point in Tennessee and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi! The observation tower on the summit offers stunning 360 degree views of the Smokies and you can see more than 100 miles away on a clear day! To reach Clingmans Dome, simply take Clingmans Dome Road to the large parking area where a 0.5 mile trail leads to the summit. Note that the road is closed seasonally, typically from early December through late March.

Thinking about planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains? Find out why winter in the Smokies is a great time to visit!

Check out all of our cabins in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge today to stay close to the entrance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park! We look forward to welcoming you to the Smokies!