Travel Tips for Planning Your First Trip to the Smoky Mountains

Last Updated on February 20, 2023 by Nikki Jain

When planning a family getaway, the Smoky Mountains area tops the list for seasoned travelers. Besides the mountain range's unmatched beauty, its many things to do make it a well-known travel destination for families that love outdoor fun, delicious country cooking, and authentic Appalachian culture. This guide will help anyone who is planning a trip to Smoky Mountains for the first time.

Weather and Climate

The Smoky Mountains is a sub-range within the Appalachian Mountains, and it spans the borders of Tennessee and North Carolina. While area temperatures vary by location and elevation, travelers find it useful to know the average temperatures for the area when they arrive at the McGhee Tyson Airport.

During the winter months, the area's average daytime temperatures are between 48 and 52 degrees Fahrenheit, and evening temperatures are in the low 30s. Spring brings average daytime temperatures between 62 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit to the Smokies, and evening temperatures are between 39 and 57 degrees Fahrenheit.

Average daytime summer temperatures in the Smoky Mountains reach the high 80s, and evening temperatures fall between 65 and 69 degrees Fahrenheit. Average fall daytime temperatures are between 60 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit, and evening temperatures are between 38 and 61 degrees Fahrenheit.

What to Pack

While most seasoned tourists know how to pack for family vacations, there are a few things that they miss when they plan trips to the Smoky Mountains. Nearly everyone relies on GPS-enabled phones to find new destinations in their home cities and in resort towns. However, the Smoky Mountains region is known for its unreliable cell phone reception. It's best to bring physical maps to navigate unfamiliar mountain roads.

When it comes to a comfortable trip to the Smoky Mountains, packing layers of warm clothing is key. Temperatures at a Gatlinburg restaurant may be several degrees warmer than a scenic lookout point in Mount Le Conte. Visitors will want to pack a jacket even during summer.

Nobody leaves the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) without exploring its many trails. To do this comfortably, visitors should wear sturdy hiking boots or trail shoes. They'll also want to carry a camera to capture exciting wildlife encounters, amazing sunsets, and family campsite memories.


If visitors forget to pack needed items, it's really not a big deal because shopping in the Smoky Mountains is a huge deal. Retail stores in the area include malls, boutique shops, and designer outlets. Some specialty stores that capture the area's Appalachian culture are Stages West Footwear and Apparel in Pigeon Forge and Autrey's Antiques in Sevierville.


One of the best things about visiting the Smoky Mountains is sampling the food at different restaurants. While one can find all types of ethnic eateries in the area, the region is known for its Southern-style country cuisine. Fine dining includes dishes such as crispy fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, sweet potato casserole, and flaky buttermilk biscuits. These comfort foods are found at the Old Mill Restaurant and Mama's Farmhouse. For those who lead a plant-based dietary lifestyle, Mellow Mushroom, Salsarita's Fresh Cantina, and the Wild Plum Tea Room offer some vegetarian meal options that are both healthy and delicious.


No Smoky Mountain travel guide is complete without a description of the area's many lodging options. Most visitors stay in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, or the GSMNP. Each of these places offers advantages for vacationers. Pigeon Forge is near Dollywood and other music-related entertainment venues, and it has many hotels and condos for vacationers.

Gatlinburg sits at the base of the mountains and is the closest that one can get to the national park without sacrificing the shopping and dining amenities of city living. Vacationers have no problem finding resorts and bed and breakfast establishments in Gatlinburg. Staying in the GSMNP allows visitors to immerse themselves in a wilderness environment while doing RV camping or renting a cabin.

Smoky Mountain's Top Sightseeing Destinations and Activities

Tips for Planning a Trip to the Smoky Mountains

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1: Foothills Parkway

Foothills Parkway
Flickr/Timothy Wildey

Visitors who want to see the Smoky Mountains by car often take the Foothills Parkway. The parkway passes through the low mountains and foothills that are near the mountain range's Tennessee border. The route delivers panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains and the Tennessee valley that span three counties.

Address: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC

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2: Newfound Gap

Newfound Gap
Flickr/Steve Harwood

Newfound Gap is a mountain pass within the GSMNP that lies near the borders of Tennessee and North Carolina. The Rockefeller Memorial is located in the Newfound Gap. Also, through-hikers on the famous Appalachian Trail travel through Newfound Gap.

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3: Gatlinburg Scenic Skybridge

Gatlinburg Scenic Skybridge

Smoky Mountain visitors aren't likely to run out of vacation ideas. One top tourist destination in the Smokies is the Gatlinburg Scenic Skybridge. The Skybridge is the longest pedestrian suspension bridge on the continent, and it's located in Gatlinburg's SkyLift Park. Visitors reach the bridge by a lift that takes them to the top of the mountain at the entrance to the Skybridge. Passes allow visitors to access the bridge for the entire day to take in morning and night views of the Smoky Mountains.

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Also Read: Discover the best Things To Do in Gatlinburg, TN

4: The Island in Pigeon Forge

The Island in Pigeon Forge

The Island in Pigeon Forge is the perfect place to eat, play, and shop. The Island has dozens of kid-friendly rides that'll keep little ones entertained all day. In fact, visitors can purchase an unlimited rides pass that lasts for 48 hours. Adults will enjoy the eclectic mix of boutique shops at the Island that include Nourish Natural Bath Products, Farmhouse Decor and Gifts, and Natural Comfort Footwear. While thrill rides and shopping at The Island in Pigeon Forge cost, admittance to The Island is free. The Island's water fountain shows and live music performances are also free for visitors.

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Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Pigeon Forge

5: Dollywood


Dollywood is a large theme park that offers thrill rides, live music, and dining. The park is named after its co-founder Dolly Parton and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region. Besides its roller coasters, kiddie rides, and country music-themed shows, Dollywood also has cabins for families that want to be closer to the action.

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What Is the Best Time to Explore the Smoky Mountains?

The best time to explore the Smoky Mountains depends on one's vacation plans. A person who wants to ski at a mountain resort in the Smokies will need to take a trip to the mountains in the winter. Travel tips from most Smoky Mountain experts note that peak tourist season in the area is between 15 June and 15 August and the month of October.

Are the Smoky Mountains Kid-Friendly?

The Smoky Mountains are very kid-friendly. Besides the commercial thrill rides and outdoor adventure activities that the area offers, the GSMNP has fun and educational hiking paths that are just right for child explorers. Kephart Prong Trail and Porters Creek are some popular kid-friendly hiking trails that deliver views of wildlife, foliage, and historic sites.

How Much Does It Cost to Visit the Smoky Mountains?

All Smoky Mountain travel tips should include a warning to vacationers to establish a budget for their trip and stick with it. While a Smoky Mountains vacation is relatively affordable, there are so many wonderful things to do and see in the area that one could quickly go overboard.

Final Words

The Great Smoky Mountains has become the go-to destination for people who love outdoor adventure and who care about family values. These Smoky Mountains travel tips help first-time visitors make the most of their unforgettable Appalachian getaway.

Also Read: Top 10 Things To Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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