Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Named for low hanging fog produced in early morning hours, the Smokies offer incredible outdoor adventures with a touch of Southern Appalachia culture.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park is America’s most visited National Park. It's no wonder why. As you watch the low-hanging fog rise among the ridge lines, you’ll feel the majesty of these storied mountains and see for yourself how they earned their name. 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee, and covers 520,000 acres (800 square miles). The Smoky Mountains are known for the blue mist that always seems to hover around the peaks and valleys. 

Asheville, North Carolina makes the perfect home base for a day trip to the North Carolina Smokies. Asheville is within an hour and a half drive (or less) of five key entrances to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is free to enjoy the National Park.

Top Places to Visit in Great Smoky Mountains National Park Near Asheville, NC

Highlights in Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Asheville include everything from incredible natural beauty to the ease of access to the region’s best hiking trails, from the powerful waterfalls to the stunning scenic drives. (Driving distances from downtown Asheville are shown in parenthesis.) 

  • An elk during fall color season at Cataloochee Valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.Oconaluftee Visitor Center/Cherokee: The main western entrance to the National Park, Oconaluftee, is home to a visitor center (with restroom facilities), collection of preserved historic log buildings and picturesque mountain meadows. The large grassy field near the visitor center is actually a top place for viewing the Park's famous elk and other wildlife. Here, you'll have access to the trail head for the Oconaluftee River Trail, a great wildflower hike in spring. A half mile north of the visitor center inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll find Mingus Mill—a historic grist mill built in 1886. You can explore inside the mill from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (mid-March through mid-November). Just outside this Park entrance is the town of Cherokee. (55 miles, 1 hour and 10 minutes)
  • Cataloochee Valley: See majestic elk as they roam this historic valley. Cataloochee is known as the area's best place to see these incredible animals. Volunteers are often present to share information about the elk and provide insight into area history. While you’re in Cataloochee Valley, see the one-room school, the church and the farm house. There are also several great hiking trails, including the Little Cataloochee Trail. (40 miles, 1 hour)
  • Tom Branch Falls in the Deep Creek area of Great Smoky Mountains National ParkDeep Creek: Waterfalls abound at this outdoor adventure hot spot near the mountain community of Bryson City. A loop hike takes you to the area’s three main waterfalls. It's also a popular place to go tubing in the summer. (68 miles, 1 hour and 10 minutes)
  • Purchase Knob: Purchase Knob is a relatively new area in the National Park. Take a great day hike on the Cataloochee Divide Trail to Hemphill Bald for sweeping views of Maggie Valley. This area is primarily a hiking destination and does not feature a National Park visitor center. (37 miles, 45 minutes)
  • Big Creek: With a large picnic area and hiking trails, Big Creek makes for a relaxing day trip. Hike to Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls, or take a more ambitious trek up to Mount Cammerer. (55 miles, 1 hour
  • US Highway 441/Newfound Gap/Clingman's Dome: This two-lane scenic drive takes you through the heart of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, connecting the entrance in Cherokee, N.C. to the entrance in Gatlinburg, Tenn. US Highway 441 features numerous overlooks and trail heads. Top attractions along the way include Newfound Gap, an overlook with gorgeous views. And, you can access Clingman's Dome, the highest point in the Smokies (elev. 6,643 feet), with a seven-mile detour off of Highway 441.

Plan Your Visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

What to Know

COST: It is free to access Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There is no park admission.

HOURS: Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year-round. However, certain roads and services may close during inclement weather. The best source for updated road conditions is on the National Park's Twitter account.

ACCESS: Most key points of interest in Great Smoky Mountains National Park are located on or near paved highways that are easily accessible by car. However, please note that some areas of the Park, including Cataloochee Valley, may require driving on dirt or gravel roads. Given the Park's large size, there are remote back country areas that are only accessible by hiking trail.

SERVICES: There is a visitor center with a museum, shop and restroom facilities at the Oconaluftee entrance in Cherokee, N.C. 

PETS: Dogs are allowed in picnic areas and along roads as long as they are on a leash. However, dogs and other pets are not allowed on the National Park trails. This policy is in place for many large national parks that have extensive back country areas because of the threat domesticated pets pose to sensitive wildlife and habitats.

WEATHER: Due to a wide variety of elevations in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, weather can greatly vary. Dress in layers to be prepared for changes in weather conditions.

Map of Top Attractions in Great Smoky Mountains National Park Near Asheville, N.C.

Download a free map of Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the National Park Service. And, see our map below showing top Park attractions near Asheville.

History of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Cherokee referred to these ancient mountains as Shaconage (Sha-CON-uh-GEE) meaning "land of blue smoke." It was their homeland until they were driven out first by English settlers and then by the Trail of Tears. A handful of Cherokee remained in the hills and managed to survive. In the late 1800s, the Qualla Indian Reservation was established along, what is now, the National Park's southern boundary.

The creation of the National Park began in the early 1900s with a simple idea: a wealthy family in Knoxville, Tenn. suggested creating a National Park in the Smokies. At the time, the National Park Service was looking for park sites in the East having already opened parks in the West.

In the late 1920s, through a number of state, federal and private investments, including a $5 million donation by John D. Rockefeller Jr., the National Park Service was able to acquire the land for the Park. Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established June 15, 1934. After more than 17 years of efforts by those passionate about the project, the Park was officially dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940.

Source: National Park Service

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