Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an amazing time to visit any of the year. Unlike many of the other mountain-based National Parks, most of the park is open year-round. Here is a breakdown of each season so you can decide the best time to visit the Smoky Mountains.
- Great Smoky Mountains Visitation
- Best Time to Visit the Smoky Mountains
- Best Time of Year to Visit the Smokies for _______
- Best Time of Year To Avoid the Crowds in the Great Smoky Mountains
- Best Time of Year for Sightseeing in the Smokies
- Best Time of Year for Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Best Time of Year for Backpacking in Great Smoky Mountains
- Best Time of Year for Wildlife in the Smokies
- Best Time of Year for Bicycling in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Best Time of Year for Rafting in the Smokies
- Best Time of Year for Fishing in Great Smoky Mountains
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Great Smoky Mountains Visitation
Great Smoky Mountains is consonantly one of the busiest national parks in the United States. It has been the most visited National Park and top 5 for all 419 National Park Service units for more than 10 years. The park has seen 8 million-plus annual visitors since 1979 and has averaged more than 10 million since 2010.
The park is busiest between June and October.
Visitors by Month (2010-2019)
Best Time to Visit the Smoky Mountains
Summer in the Smokies
June – August
Summer in the Smokies brings about endless opportunities. Everything in and around the parks are open and operating at full capacity. All the park roads are open and provide access to numerous hiking trails and points of interest. Outside the park are a range of attractions, lodging and dinning.
Summer is the best time of year to see the white-tailed deer, bears and elk with their young.
Summer isn’t a time to enter the park without a plan like out expertly designed itineraries. Without a solid plan, it is easy to waste valuable time sorting out what you want to do and where to go.
The summer brings in famed muggy weather. Expect it to be hot and HUMID with average highs in the high 80’s. This can lead to miserable afternoon hikes, so do all your hiking in the morning when the temaptures are cooler.
June or August is the best summer month to visit. They have slightly smaller crowds than July
Fall in Great Smoky Mountains
September – Mid-November
Few National Parks put on a better fall foliage display than Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s phenomenal fall colors are the reason that the park’s visitation spikes in October.
Most of the area attractions are still open but they are slowly shifting into their winter hours. Autumn is a great time of year to head over to Cataloochee and here the bugling of the bull elk.
The fall weather can be a little wild and wacky depending on the year but be ready for cooler temperatures.
It is impossible to predict when exactly the fall colors will peak. It is typically some time between mid-October and early November. If you are planning to come for the foliage and want to avoid the crowds, plan a mid-week trip. Park visitation is highest on weekends.
Winter in the Smoky Mountains
Mid-November – February
Winter is an amazing time in the Smokies. The crowds have died down and it is a great time to explore the park without having to worry about parking issues and traffic jams.
Once winter settles in the park’s secondary roads such as Roaring Fork Nature Trail and Clingmans Dome Road close for the winter but most of the park remains open including Cades Cove and Newfound Gap Road, weather permitting.
Several of the campgrounds and historic grist mills close for winter but most of the other structures are open.
At the lower elevations, the temperatures are mild with the highs in the 50’s and lows in the high 20’s. At Clingmans Dome, the temperatures are usually about 20 degrees colder. Snowfall at the lower elevations is usually a couple of inches but the higher elevations can get 1-2 feet of build-up.
Spring in the Smokies
March – May
Spring is a wonderful time in the Smokies (and my favorite season). The world starts turning green with new life and the wildlife starts being more active. The park isn’t as busy as summer but crowds do pick up on weekends especially around Memorial Day.
The secondary roads such as Roaring Fork Nature Trail and Clingmans Dome Road will start opening as weather allows usually late March to mid-April.
This is the time of year to see black bear cubs, fawns and other baby animals. The waterfalls will be at full strength and the wildflowers will start to bloom.
The spring weather can be a little wild at times. The weather has been known to push into the mid 70’s on one day and snow the next. Plan for the weather and you will have a great trip.
Best Time of Year to Visit the Smokies for _______
Best Time of Year To Avoid the Crowds in the Great Smoky Mountains
If you really want to avoid the crowds, avoid visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park in June, July, August, and October. Over one million people visit the parks during each of these months.
So the best time of year to avoid the crowds is November to May. The crowds are lowest at these times. Most of the park is open year-round so coming in the offseason isn’t met with limited park access.
If you are planning to visit during the busy months, you need a solid plan to help avoid the crowds and make the most of your time in the park. Our Smoky Mountain itineraries are designed with these crowds in mind.
Best Time of Year for Sightseeing in the Smokies
Each season has it’s own effect on the sights of the Smokies. They are all great for sightseeing – each for their own unique reason.
Summer is a favorite time to sightsee in the park. The weather is the most consistent at this time of year and clear blue skies are likely and you can see for miles at overlooks such as Clingmans Dome or Newfound Gap. All the park’s roads are open and the historic grist mills are operating.
Fall in the Smokies is famed for its colorful leaf displays. You will see an amazing range of yellows, golds, reds and pinks in the park.
Winter is when the cool weather moves in and snow is likely at the higher elevations. The weather brings frozen waterfalls and amazing snow-filled views.
While there are flowing plants almost all year round in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Spring is the best time to see wildflowers. Many of the park’s hiking trails are famed for their wildflowers. Spring is also a great time to enjoy some of the mountain peaks. The trees haven’t leafed out and blocked the view.
Best Time of Year for Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Hiking in the Smokies is amazing in all seasons. There are over 800 miles of trail to explore. There are a range of options from multi-day treks to short hikes. Some hikes lead to mountain tops while others lead to waterfalls or off the beaten path cabins.
For the most park, the lower elevation trails are amazing hiking in any season. The higher elevation trails might not be best during the winter as they may have upwards of two feet of snow.
Best Time of Year for Backpacking in Great Smoky Mountains
Unlike hiking, backpacking in the Smokies is best in spring, summer, and fall. Most of the backpacking trails are in the higher elevations. These are the areas most likely to get snow and winter backpacking in Great Smoky Mountains isn’t much fun unless you want to be ready for several different weather conditions.
Summer is the busiest time for backpacking and it may be difficult to get permits for the more popular trails.
Best Time of Year for Wildlife in the Smokies
Wildlife can be seen year-round in the park, but the best seasons are springs, summer, and fall. Food is more plentiful at these times and the wildlife will be actively stocking up for winter.
Most of the park is heavily forested and this makes it difficult to view wildlife. The best wildlife viewing is in open areas such as Cataloochee and Cades Cove.
Some of the most common wildlife seen are white-tailed deer, elk, black bear, raccoon, turkeys, and woodchucks. Elk are only found in Cataloochee.
Sometime between mid-May and mid-June, one of the park’s 19 species of fireflies puts on an amazing display. For two weeks, these firefly synchronizes there flashing light pattern as part of a mating display. The event is weather dependant.
Best Time of Year for Bicycling in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Bicycling is a popular activity in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Bikes are allowed on all the park roads, but most of the park roads are narrow two-lane roads that see heavy vehicle traffic. For these reasons, it isn’t recommended to bicycle on the main roads.
The best areas for bicyclists are Greebrier, Tremont, Cataloochee Valley, Lakeview Drive and Cades Cove.
Cades Cove is closed to vehicle traffic on Wednesday and Saturday mornings from early May to late September from sunrise to 10:00 a.m. Bicyclists are encouraged to ride the loop then.
There is NO mountain biking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are mountain biking options in
- Chattahoochee National Forest
- Cherokee National Forest
- Nantahala National Forest
- Pisgah National Forest
- Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area
- Mount Rogers National Recreation Area
Best Time of Year for Rafting in the Smokies
Rafting is a great spring, summer, and fall activity in the Smokies. There are several rafting options in and around the Smokies. The Pigeon River is near Gatlinburg and has an Upper section with class-4 rapids and a scenic lower river.
Best Time of Year for Fishing in Great Smoky Mountains
Fishing is allowed year-round in the Smoky Mountains. Fishing is permitted from a half hour before official sunrise to a half hour after official sunset.
The best fishing in the Smokies in April and May when the temperatures are cooler and the rivers are flowing at their spring peaks. The best locations are LeConte Creek, Abrams Creek, Douglas Lake and Budley Creek.
Please check the size and possession limits before fishing. A valid TN or NC fishing license is required in the park.