Top 8 Great Smoky Mountains Attractions

Along with the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, the Great Smoky Mountains is one of the most popular National Parks in the USA. Measuring an impressive 187,000 acres on the Tennessee-North Carolina border, the Smokies have been protected by the U.S. Federal Government ever since FDR established the park in 1934.

If you’re about to make your first trek to this sublime area of the USA, check out our list of the top eight Great Smoky Mountains attractions. In addition to summits and streams, we’ll tell you about a few overlooked spots¬†that are sure to make your visit unforgettable.

1. Clingmans Dome

Clingmans Dome Smoky Mountains

Image Source: Imgur

The highlight of any visit to the Smokies is a hike to the top of Clingmans Dome. Located in the central region of the Smokies, this summit is the highest in the state of Tennessee at 6,643 feet. A state of the art observation tower allows visitors to see amazing panoramic views of the Smokies. On clear days, you can as far as 100 miles away from this spectacular observatory.

The hike up here is quite steep, but it’s not particularly long at only a half-mile. Rangers recommend anyone going on this hike to wear warm clothing and jackets even if you’re visiting in the summertime. Without a doubt, a visit to Clingmans Dome is one of the essential Great Smoky Mountains attractions to check out.

2. Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls, one of the most popular Great Smoky Mountains attractions

Image Source: Flickr

As of today, Laurel Falls is the top-rated waterfall in the Smokies per TripAdvisor reviewers. Although the 1.3-mile trail to the falls is paved, it’s moderately difficult. It usually takes visitors about 2 hours to walk to the falls and back. Since this area is named after the laurel, you’re sure to find plenty of beautiful evergreen shrubs all along the trail and around the 80-foot falls.

Just be aware, the Laurel Falls area is one of the most popular Great Smoky Mountains attractions, especially on weekends. Parking near the falls is limited, so be sure to get here as early as possible.

3. Elkmont Ghost Town

Cottage in Elkmont Ghost Town

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

One of the must-see Great Smoky Mountains attractions for history lovers is the per TripAdvisor reviewers. Located alongside Little River, Elkmont was established as a logging community in the early 1900s.

Due to the popularity of the region with tourists, Elkmont residents also built hotels for interested tourists. The U.S. Government continued to allow Elkmont locals to lease properties after the National Park was established in the 1930s. It wasn’t until 1992 that the government refused to renew leases on Elkmont’s properties.

Today, visitors can tour the amazingly well preserved structures in this part of town and learn more about the logging industry in this part of Tennessee.

4. Cades Cove

Carter Shields Cabin at Cades Cove

Image Source: Flickr

Get your cameras ready, because the 11-mile looped road around Cades Cove is considered one of the prettiest scenic drives in the Smokies. Wildlife enthusiasts are particularly energetic about this drive. Believe it or not, it’s not uncommon for visitors to see deer, bears, and even coyotes roaming around this area. There are numerous pullouts around this loop where you can stop to either hike a designated trail or view the gorgeous scenery/wildlife.

Note, only bikes and pedestrian traffic are allowed on these roads till 10AM every day. If you’re only going to go on one scenic drive while here, be sure to put Cades Cove at the very top of your Great Smoky Mountains attractions list.

5. Roaring Fork

River at Roaring Fork

Image Source: Flickr

You can find even more beautiful streams in the Smokies in an area called Roaring Fork. There is an incredible 5.5-mile loop road here to help you get a sense of the natural wonders in the region. In addition to the streams, you’ll see plenty of old mills and log cabins around here.

You can also take a 5.4-mile round-trip hike to both the Rainbow Falls and Grotto Falls. Visitors say these falls are extremely impressive if you get to visit them after a heavy downpour.

6. Alum Cave Trail

Alum Cave Trail, Great Smokies

Image Source: Flickr

People begin their adventure on the Alum Cave Trail walking across log bridges on both the Walker Camp Prong and Alum Cave Creek. As you walk along the trail, you’ll pass through a hardwood forest, the celebrated Arch Rock tunnel, and up to the remarkably dry Alum Cave Bluffs.

While you can turn around at the bluffs, adventurous hikers can climb all the way to the top of Mount Le Conte for a great view of the area. The total hike is 5 miles one way, but it’s only 2.5 miles to get to the bluffs.

7. Abrams Falls Trail

Abrams Falls Trail, Great Smokies

Image Source: Flickr

Travelers don’t visit Abrams Falls for its height. Believe it or not, these famous falls are only about 20 feet tall. What makes Abrams Falls so inspiring, however, is the tremendous volume of water that comes through.

Like most of the other hikes on this list, the Abrams Falls Trail is of moderate difficulty and measures 5 miles round-trip. Despite the official “moderate” rating, you should know that it takes between 3 to 4 hours to complete this hike.

8. Noah Bud Ogle Cabin

Noah Bud Ogle Cabin, Great Smoky Mountains

Image Source: Wikipedia

It’s easy to overlook the Noah Bud Ogle Cabin on your trip to the Great Smoky Mountains, but try to visit this charming cabin if you can. While it may be last on our list, this is still one of the most interesting Great Smoky Mountains attractions. You’ll find this nationally protected historic building in the Roaring Fork area by Airport Road.

Built in 1879, this well-preserved cabin shows visitors what it was like to live as a pioneer in this region all those years ago. This “saddlebag” cabin was designed connecting two single-pen cabins with one chimney. There’s also a barn nearby that’s the last remaining example of a four-pen barn in the Smokies.

Summing Up

Whether you’re into strenuous hiking, wildlife, waterfalls, or history, you should see something on this list to strike your fancy. All of these Great Smoky Mountains attractions attract millions of satisfied tourists every single year. If you need more help planning your journey, check out the official Great Smoky Mountains National Park Service website.

When you get to the Great Smoky Mountains, there are many great visitor centers with rangers ready to help you plan your ultimate vacation. Some of the most important centers include the Cades Cove Visitor Center and the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Armed with these tips and attraction suggestions, you should have no problem getting the most out of your visit to this great American National Park.