Yellowstone and Yosemite may be more iconic, but with over 10 million visitors in 2015, Great Smoky Mountains is America’s most visited National Park, almost doubling the number of visitors to the Grand Canyon. So why do millions of Americans road trip to the Great Smokies every summer? We believe it’s because of the dreamy drives, heavenly hikes, wild water adventures, and amazing music and amusements.
If you are searching for your next epic RV adventure, then this roadmap will lead you to fresh mountain air, rushing streams, and the sweet sounds of bluegrass on a warm summer day.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park was designed with motoring in mind. In fact, back in the 1920s and 30s, auto clubs played a pivotal role in its formation. When Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the park in 1940 for “the permanent enjoyment of the people,” many of those people were doing so from the comforts of their automobiles.
That legacy lives on today. The Roaring Fork Motor Trail is easily accessible from downtown Gatlinburg but it feels like you are making a great escape into the heart and soul of the Smokies. The road follows the path of a crystal-clear mountain stream and crosses over picturesque wooden bridges.
Other drives not to be missed? The Cades Cove Loop Trail and Newfound Gap Road. By the way, leave your rig at the campground and plan on using your tow vehicle or your dingy. These roads where designed for roadsters, not RVs.
After you strap on your hiking boots and pack the snacks, you can head out for an easy ramble or a strenuous climb. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has amazing options for both. Start your own personalized hiking adventure at the Sugarlands Visitor Center on the Tennessee side or the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on the North Carolina side, where a park ranger will recommend a hike that is just right for your skill level and physical ability. That’s where we discovered that the Kephart Prong Trail would be a perfect adventure for a family with three young boys. Crossing back and forth over a rushing mountain stream on narrow wooden bridges with just a single handrail was the highlight of our trip.
Other hikes not to be missed? The Cosby Nature Trail is great for kids, and the hike out to Abrams Falls is perfect for the more adventurous.
Wild water adventures
If you love tubing in cool water on a hot day, there is no place better than Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Several reputable outfitters along the Little River can get you set up for your adventure. Many of the best private campgrounds in the area are also nestled along rivers, too, and you can rent tubes directly from the camp stores and float back to your own campsite.
For the best tubing, we recommend heading to the Deep Creek Tube Center and Campground located right inside the national park near Bryson City, North Carolina. The mountain stream at Deep Creek has an upper and a lower section. The upper section has fast moving white water and the lower section is quiet and gentle. You pass by a waterfall and a natural swimming hole on your way back down to the campground. Summer doesn’t get any better than this!
No trip to the Great Smokies is complete without a full-day visit to Dolly Parton’s Dollywood. This theme park has it all, from roller coasters that make you scream to bluegrass music that make you tap your feet. There are also dozens of rides that keep kids of all ages entertained—and get them soaking wet. The rides at Dollywood are top quality but the park’s full lineup of live music makes it truly unique. Whether you love bluegrass, Celtic, or pop, Dollywood has you covered. End your day by touring the inside of Dolly Parton’s glamped up RV. This rig has been retired for years, but it still looks ready to hit the road next time the Queen Bee of Country goes on tour.
Are you ready to hit the road this summer? Then consider celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service exploring Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This southern treasure has been preserved for all of our “enjoyment” and hopefully will be forever.