Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Activities & Programs

Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers a variety of things to do each season. 

Park Programs

The NPS offers talks, slide shows, films, guided nature and history walks, and evening campfire programs. The park provides a wealth of year-round classes and programs covering almost every aspect of the park's nature and history. The park also hosts a variety of events, including Mountain Life Festival, special hikes, blacksmith demonstrations and molasses making. Spring through October, numerous park employees don the dress of 19th-century settlers and demonstrate how mountain people lived. At the Mountain Farm Museum near Oconaluftee, they spin wool, weave cloth, forge tools, make sorghum into molasses, and perform and explain the daily tasks of mountain people. At Mingus Mill and Cable Mill, millers grind corn into cornmeal and wheat into flour. 

Field Studies

The Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont is located in the park near Townsend. Open year-round, this environmental education center educates teachers, students, and the general public about the Smokies through special teacher, student and citizen science programs, family weekends, backpacking experiences, elderhostels, photography workshops and numerous other offerings. On-site lodging and dining facilities allow participants to immerse themselves in the programs, which usually last two to six days. Subjects include photography, backpacking, mountain crafts, Appalachian crafts and environmental topics. For details, please call (865) 448-6709.

The University of Tennessee Smoky Mountain Field School offers nature programs and activities that incorporate backpacking and hiking in the park. Programs, which run from four hours to two days and are frequently held on weekends, cover various aspects of natural and cultural history ranging from flowers, wildlife and forest ecology to Cherokee history and orienteering. 

All courses are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. For information, write: The University of Tennessee, Community Programs, 105 Conference Center Building, Knoxville, TN 37996-4110 or call (865) 974-0150.

All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory

There has been much written about the accelerating crisis in protecting global biodiversity. This is not just a tropical issue, but it is also an issue in the United States. How are we to make critical decisions about protection, when we do not even know what species exist, or what their relative abundance and distribution are?

An All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI) is a concentrated effort to determine all species within a given area. The ATBI seeks to inventory the estimated 100,000 species of living organisms in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Discover Life in America is the non-profit partner of the national park that is coordinating the project.

You can be a part of the ATBI! Join other citizen scientists and volunteers in discovering new species in the park. Visit the Discover Life in America ATBI website, www.DLIA.org, to learn how you can become involved in this fascinating and important project. 

Bicycling

The park has limited areas for safe biking because roads tend to be steep and narrow, and bicycles are pro- hibited on trails. Cades Cove and Cataloochee Valley, however, make for pleasant cycling (cyclists should exercise caution when approaching steep downhill grades). 

The 11-mile loop road around Cades Cove is closed to automobile traffic on Wednesday and Saturday until 10 a.m. (early May through mid-September). You can rent bicycles at the Cades Cove Campground store. 

Fishing

Anglers relish the park's bountiful mountain streams, including Abrams Creek below Cades Cove, Big Creek near I-40 at the park's northeastern end and Little River, near Elkmont Campground in the north-central section of the park. Fontana Lake, located along the park's southern boundary, is also popular. You can fish for smallmouth bass, rock bass, brook, rainbow, , or brown trout.. Fishing is allowed within the park from sunrise to sunset. A valid Tennessee or North Carolina state fishing license is required. They are available at sporting goods stores in gateway communities and at the Gatlinburg Welcome Center at the North entrance to town. Pick up a copy of fishing regulations at the visitor centers. 

Picnicking

There are 11 picnic areas to enjoy with several of them remaining open year round and some having pavilions that are available to reserve up to one year in advance.  Visit the park's website for a listing of picnic areas or call (865) 436-1200.

Horseback Riding

Equestrians consider the Smokies among the best riding country in the East.  About 550 miles of the park's hiking trails are open to horses.  If you wish to ride your own horse in the park, you can obtain a copy of the park's trail map. This map indicates the trails on which you may ride horses and explains the park's rules and regulations concerning horse riding in the backcountry. It also provides information about backcountry camping, and permit requirements. To obtain an official trail map, stop at any park visitor center or call 1-(888) 898-9102 to purchase a map for $1.You can also rent horses from concessioner-managed stables located in the park: Cades Cove, (865) 448-6286; Sugarlands Riding Stables, (865) 436-3535; Smokemont, (828) 497-2373; and Smoky Mountain Stables, four miles east of downtown Gatlinburg on U.S. 321, (865) 436-5634. The NPS requires concessioners to send guides with rental horses. Children younger than six years old must ride with an adult. The park's five drive-in horse camps—four in North Carolina and one in Tennessee—are open April through early November. Reservations are required and can be made by calling  (877) 444-6777 or www.recreation.gov.

Wildlife Watching

Spring, summer and fall offer wonderful opportunities to observe wildlife. You'll probably see the red-eyed vireo and different kinds of warblers, along with numerous other birds such as ravens, hawks and migrating peregrine falcons. You may even glimpse a white-tailed deer feeding at dusk or possibly a bear lumbering through the park's forests. The park's newest inhabitants, elk, were brought into Cataloochee in 2001 on an experimental basis to determine if the park can support a permanent reintroduction. Park biologists are currently evaluating whether or not they will stay permanently.

Winter Recreation

Clingmans Dome Road is one of the best places in the park for cross-country skiing and sledding. Downhill skiing and snowboarding are available near the park at Ober Gatlinburg Recreation Park. You'll have the normally crowded Appalachian Trail practically all to yourself when you hike during winter. Be aware that hiking from November through April at elevations above 4,000 feet is often a snowy adventure, with temperatures falling below zero. In-park lodging is closed in winter, but Cades Cove and Smokemont campgrounds remain open for camping.

You will see plenty of white-tailed deer in winter, especially around Cades Cove, along with woodchucks and raccoons. But don't expect to see bears because they hibernate during winter. Some small birds, such as the black-capped chickadee, also winter in the Smokies.

Snow occasionally closes roads in winter, including the two main roads, Newfound Gap Road and Little River Road, when they become unsafe for driving. Clingmans Dome Road is closed to cars in winter, usually from about December to April. For road and weather conditions, please call (865) 436-1200.

Park Newspaper

The park newspaper, Smokies Guide, offers current seasonal information on NPS naturalist walks, programs and other activities. It is available at park visitor centers and campgrounds. 

Books and Maps

Great Smoky Mountains Association sells literature relating to the park and is sold at visitor centers located in the park and at some welcome centers outside the park. Maps, including USGS topographical maps and hiking maps, guides, books, and a variety of merchandise are available. Also, these materials can be viewed and purchased online by visiting www.SmokiesInformation.org. To order by phone call toll free (888) 898-9102.