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Top tips to avoid crowds
Avoid peak periods. The main peak seasons in the Smoky Mountains are mid-summer (June 15-August 15) and the entire month of October. Weekends in October are especially crowded, and traffic delays should be expected.
Arrive during early hours. Most people tour the park from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. If you arrive early - you can discover the park without crowds, or start with the most popular destinations before those arrive, heading to less popular sites when the park fills up.
Don’t come at the weekend. There are always less visitors at the beginning or in the middle of the week. Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be the calmest. Saturdays are the busiest.
Visit “off the beaten path” destinations, especially during peak hours. The Cades Cove Loop Road and Newfound Gap Road are the most heavily used areas of the park and are busy year-round. The places where you’ll be less bothered by flocks of visitors and which remain relatively calm even during the busiest periods include Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain, Cosby, Fontana Lake, Greenbrier Cove, Heintooga Ridge Road, and Foothills Parkway east and west.
Avoid seasonal peaks. If coming in fall, for example, it’s advised to check the University of Tennessee home football schedule: there’s a big number of fans arriving, and after the game or on the second day most of them head to the Smokies, so plan accordingly.
Cycling is the key to avoid the crowds at Cades Cove. Only bicycle and foot traffic are allowed on the loop road until 10:00 a.m. every Saturday and Wednesday morning during the busy summer period from early May until late September. This will allow you to enjoy one of the most popular sites of the park without crowds and car noise.
Avoid the crowds at the falls. Over 200,000 visitors hike well-worn trails to view Grotto, Laurel, Abrams, Rainbow, and other popular waterfalls in the park. While large waterfalls attract the main crowds, smaller cascades and falls can be found on nearly every river and stream in the park. Just choose the one a bit further in the park or not so easily reachable, and you’ll be rewarded with a unique experience and maybe even no other human in sight! Ask at the visitor center, you can even purchase a guide there for the best 40 waterfalls of the Smokies, with maps, directions and photos.
Photo credits to Lee Coursey via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Best time to visit
July is the busiest month of the year for visitors in the area.
October is the second busiest month, especially on weekends.
June and August follow October with a slightly smaller number of visitors but are still considered high season.
The Christmas week and Thanksgiving week are very popular periods as well, it’s better to avoid them if you’re not keen on crowds.
The lowest season is in winter (excluding the Christmas week), it’s when the number of visitors is the smallest.
Shoulder periods - early spring, September and November - could be considered as the best option to visit the Smoky Mountains: the natural beauty is stunning (you can see the wildflowers blooming in spring or the summer colors on the trees in September), and there are no crowds. April and September are probably the best months.
A good way to discover the Smoky Mountains with Christmas decorations is to arrive a week or two before the Christmas week: you’ll be able to avoid the crowds and enjoy the holiday spirit!
Natural events taking place in the Smoky Mountains contribute to some seasonal peaks with festivals, pilgrimages and special events, that bring more visitors during those periods.
Spring Wildflowers: the most abundant display of spring wildflowers blooming usually occurs in mid- to late April, although late March and early April feature a good show of early flowers.
Flame Azalea: This flower is in bloom at the low and mid-elevations during April and May. On Gregory Bald they bloom in late June and early July. On Andrews Bald their season is usually in early July.
Rhododendrons: Catawba rhododendron, which grows at elevations above 3,500’, blooms in June. Rosebay rhododendron is in bloom at the lower elevations in June and at mid-elevations in July.
Fall Colors: At higher altitudes, fall colors can be seen during the first two weeks of October. At lower altitude, leaves usually change between the middle of October and the first part of November.
Photo credits to Jerry and Pat Donaho via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Gatlinburg, TN entrance:
From interstate highway I-40 take Exit 407 (Sevierville) to TN-66 South. At the Sevierville intersection, continue straight onto US-441 South. Follow US-441 through Sevierville and Pigeon Forge into park.
Townsend, TN entrance:
From the north: From interstate highway I-40 in Knoxville take Exit 386B to US-129 South to Alcoa/Maryville. At Maryville proceed on US-321 North/TN -73 East through Townsend. Continue straight on TN-73 into the park.
From the south: From interstate highway I-75 take Exit 376 to I-140 E towards Oak Ridge/Maryville. Merge onto I-140 E via Exit 376B towards Maryville. Turn onto US-129 South (Alcoa Highway) at Exit 11A and travel towards Alcoa. Turn onto TN-35 and follow it to US-321 North. Follow US-321 North/TN -73 East through Townsend. Continue straight on TN-73 into the park.
Cherokee, NC entrance:
From the north: From interstate highway I-40, take Exit 27 to US-74 West towards Waynesville. Turn onto US-19 and proceed through Maggie Valley to Cherokee. Turn onto US-441 North at Cherokee and follow the road into the park.
From the south: Follow US-441/US-23 North. At Dillsboro merge on US-74 West/US-441 North. At Exit 74 merge onto US-441. Follow US-441 through Cherokee and into the park.