The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the country’s busiest park: over 11 million visitors a year! It’s also the only national park in our home state of North Carolina. Naturally, we had to go!
The park straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, and we actually spent most of our time on this trip in Tennessee. We stayed at a nice little cabin not far from Gatlinburg.
Gatlinburg itself is a little tourist town right outside the park. There are lots of restaurants and shops, and a fun little chair lift up to a mountain overlooking the town.
The most important thing to remember about the park is: get there early to get parking! For one hike, we got there at about 7am, and the trailhead parking lot was empty. By the time we finished the hike at around 10, the lot was full and cars were parked on the side of the road for a mile in both directions.
We did several fun hikes in the park. First, we climbed Chimney Tops. This is a rather strenuous hike. It starts with a fairly normal trail, with steps in some spots.
But it keeps going up and up and up! And finally you reach the top, which is a very narrow ridge. Acrophobes beware!
Our other hikes were much shorter trips to the various waterfalls in the park, including Grotto Falls and Laurel Falls.
Cade’s Cove is another popular spot in the park. This is a beautiful valley with a loop road going along the edge. There are several old buildings still here, built by the original settlers of the place.
Traffic is pretty heavy but it makes for a nice leisurely scenic drive.
Besides the park we did a few “adventure” activities (As always when scheduling any “adventure” type activity with children, we made sure they met the age, height, and weight requirements before booking). First we went ziplining.
Then we went whitewater rafting on the New River.