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5 Cool Things to See in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national parks in the world, and for good reason. There is no entrance fee to the park; you only pay for parking, making it quite accessible. This incredible park offers so much to do, it’s worth more than one visit. Whether it’s your first visit or your tenth visit, here are five cool things to see and do as you explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

5. Clingmans Dome

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Image by Ali Majdfar

Over 6,000 feet high, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Tennessee. At the top of the dome awaits incredible panoramic views for more than 100 miles. The tower itself is a sight to behold, winding around like a slinky. Bring your kids; it’s an easy-enough spot to get to, and the paved road makes it handicap accessible too. Or, take the steep, winding trail up the dome to get to the observation tower. From this high up, you not only get great views of the park but also spectacular views of the nearby lakes. 

4. Chimney Tops

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Image by Keira Ezzo

One of the most popular trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Chimney Tops trail is a must-do while you’re there. This 2-mile trail to the Chimney Tops can get crowded, but it’s worth the crowds and the effort. The view of the hills is spectacular; you’ll be able to see the dense forests—more than 500,000 acres of forest to be exact—from every angle and get an up-close view of nature along the way. The trail to see the Chimney Tops is 3.5 miles out and back.

3. Laurel Falls

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Image by Keira Ezzo

At the end of a relatively easy trail, witness the stunning 80-foot waterfall—Laurel Falls. The hike up to the falls is mostly asphalt, so it’s a great pick for a family hike, although, beware, there are some uneven parts and steep sections. When the laurel (an evergreen shrub with beautiful white and pink flowers) is in bloom, the hike to Laurel Falls is an absolute must. The pathway is split into an upper and a lower section, with a walkway separating them at the base of the upper waterfall.The hike is only 2.6 miles round trip, but be prepared for it to take a few hours. This trail can get extremely busy, so plan to go on a weekday or early in the morning to avoid crowds and grab a parking spot. Also, remember that this is bear territory. 

2. Cades Cove

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Image by Dean Fikon

For a bit of history, head to Cades Cove, home of some early southern Appalachian settlers. Explore 19th-century cabins, historic buildings, and even a grist mill that works from the comfort of your car. Driving the one-way loop road around Cades Cove is also a great way to see wildlife, but it does get crowded, so don’t expect to go fast. Once a hunting ground for the Cherokee American Indians, the area is now home to deer, black bears, and wild turkeys. In Cades Cove, there are many hiking trails, including one to Abrams Falls.

Because the loop road is closed to motor traffic on Wednesdays from early May until early September, it’s a favorite among cyclists. You can rent bikes at the Cades Cove Campground Store. Bring some snacks and water, and be prepared for poor or no cell phone service. The loop road is open from sunrise to sunset.

1. Elk

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Image by Jared Lloyd

Elk are native to the woodlands of the eastern United States, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a great place to see elk. These animals are early risers, so you’ll have to be too, if you want to spot them. Head out before the sun to the forests and meadows of the park. Ask the park rangers where they recommend for viewing elk depending on the time of year you visit.

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