State Parks & National Forests

Besides the National Park, there are many state and federally run recreation centers around the Smokies.  From historic areas like Fort Loudon to Olympic sites on the Ocoee River, you can learn a lot about the Smokies from visiting these various destinations.  Camping, hiking, boating and every other outdoor recreation can be found everywhere in the Smoky Mountain Area.

Cades Cove

Cades Cove is the most visited part of the Park - and for good reason.  An 11-mile one-way loop road winds through the valley, with stops at preserved pioneer structures. A visitor's center with pioneer exhibits, a 5-mile hike to Abrams Falls, abundant wildlife, campgrounds, bike rentals, spectacular foliage in autumn, and facilities for horseback riding all make Cades Cove a complete visitor's sampler of all the Park has to offer. Plan on spending the day - pack a lunch.

View Our Complete Guide


North Carolina's answer to Cades Cove - without the crowding. Interestingly, Cataloochee had a greater population (approximately 1,200) at its peak than Cades Cove. Well off the beaten path, Cataloochee offers historic structures, opportunities for hiking, campgrounds, and spectacular vistas. It doesn't offer quite as much as Cades Cove, so isn't as crowded - but that's the attraction for many people.


Before a handful of brilliant folks began the process to charter it as a national park, two-thirds of what is now the Great Smoky Mountains was owned by logging companies. For three decades, the Little River Lumber Company cut and hauled away great portions of one of the country's greatest deciduous forests. A visit to Tremont will give you a good idea of the lumber operation that existed. The road follows the old railroad bed and parallels Little River as it passes through the area that was a company-owned town. The Little River Lumber Company built two other "towns" - at Townsend and Elkmont. After a monumental effort, all the land now comprising the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (over 500,000 acres) was purchased from more than 6,000 individual owners, including several lumber companies, and the Park was created in 1934. The last load of timber came out of Little River in 1938, and it's estimated that more than one billion board feet of lumber were extracted from the virgin forest of the Great Smokies.


Tom Branch Falls in the SmokiesThe Smoky Mountains contain many wonderful streams and waterfalls - many of which are rewards for trekking the well-maintained hiking trails. The easiest to get to is Laurel Falls (it's paved for the handicapped) is just off Little River Road between the Sugarlands Visitors Center (which is near near Gatlinburg) and the "Y" to Townsend. The tallest and, arguably, most exciting is Ramsay Cascades. Chuck Summers has taken some superior photos of many of the waterfalls in the Smokies.

Clingmans Dome

Clingmans Dome is the highest peak in the Smokies (6,643 feet). Some days it's in the clouds, but on clear days it affords spectacular 360 degree views of the Park. To get to Clingmans Dome, you want to be on Newfound Gap Road (the only road which completely traverses the Park). One-tenth of a mile south from Newfound Gap you will turn onto Clingmans Dome Road. From there, you'll travel 7 miles, passing several pullouts for views, and end up in a parking area from which you walk a short distance to the top of the mountain. The turnoff to Clingmans is about 25 miles from Cherokee or 22 miles from Gatlinburg. Open from April through December, the road to Clingmans Dome is closed in winter.

Mt LeConte

One of the Park's finest features - from afar or up close - Mt. LeConte hosts five great hiking trails to the top. One of the most popular hikes to Mt. LeConte is the Alum Cave Bluff Trail. Mt. LeConte also boasts the only lodging within the Park: Mt. LeConte Lodge - Cabins. Accessible only by trail and available only by reservation, Mt. LeConte Lodge and the views of the Smokies Mt. LeConte affords the hardy hiker are well worth the effort. Call 423.429.5704 for reservations for lodging, which should be made several months in advance.

Appalachian Trail

Sixty nine of the 2,015 miles that make up the Appalachian Trail cross the crest of the Great Smoky Mountains, serving as a border between Tennessee and North Carolina. The AT serves as a backbone to which several major Smokies hiking trails connect. Learn more about the Appalachian Trail.

Old Growth Forests

Saved from the huge lumber companies when the Park was established, some virgin stands of old-growth trees exist in the Great Smokies. The American Forests organization reports that the Smokies contain 21 national champion sized trees. Will Blozan, a North Carolina arborist has discovered 30 champion-sized trees throughout the southern Appalachians. The Greenbrier section of the Park is home to several beauties. For example, there's a black cherry that has a circumference of 210 inches and a northern red oak measuring 257 inches.

Newfound Gap Road

The only road that completely traverses the Park, Newfound Gap Road runs the 33 miles between Cherokee NC and Gatlinburg TN. This road has so much to offer in the way of nature walks, hikes, mountain views, and historic structures, that we devote a much longer article (with great photos) about the Newfound Gap Road experience.

Wildflower Pilgrimage

The 49th annual Wildflower Pilgrimage will be held 22-24 April this year. Conducted by the Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association, the Pilgrimage consists of nearly 100 guided long and short walks, auto tours, talks and demonstrations to view wildflowers, trees, ferns, geology, and more. You don't have to be a biology major to appreciate this event - it's designed for the average Park visitor. The cost is normally $8 for adults and $5 for students. Children under 13 are free. Write GSMNP, 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, Tennessee 37738 or call 423.436.1200.

Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park

This is not only a great state park but it is a historic site as well.  One of the homes that Davy Crockett grew up in is located inside the state park.  It has been restored and gives you a glimpse into the man and the life of Davy Crockett.  This state park contains, a small museum about Crockett, pavilions that can be reserved down by the Nolichucky River, a campground and a pool.  Wonderful stop  if you are touring historic sites in Tennessee or just a nice place to spend the weekend.

Fort Loudon State Park

Fort Loudon State Park is built on the site of the original Fort Loudon that protected the wilderness from Native American attacks and from the British during the Revolutionary war.  Along with a fort that represents some of the best living history you will find, it also has lots of recreational activities.  Boating, fishing, hiking trails, picnic areas and much more await you at this great state park.

Hiwassee/Ocoee State Park

At the southern tip of the Smokies is a park with some of the best kayaking and rafting you will ever find.  One of the first rivers managed by the State Scenic River Program, this area offers all your summer water fun activities in one place.  Also, you get to visit the Ocoee Olympic site.  If you are a ‘yaker,’ this means that you can test your skills on a class 4 rapid called the Humungous.

Indian Mountain State Park

Located at the base of Indian Mountain, this state park has been developed on a piece of reclaimed mining land.  A truly multiuse park, Indian Mountain is lush and verdant throughout most of the year.  Boating, camping, hiking and much more draw thousands of visitors each year.

Panther Creek State Park

Panther Creek and Panther Springs are named for a legend.  Supposedly, Colonel Bradley of Virginia shot a panther in the area and said panther fell into the spring.  Fast forward to the 21st century and you have a state park named for Panther Creek and sitting on the banks of the Cherokee Reservoir.  Boating and camping are the activities that bring people to the area to explore this 1,435 acre state park.

Roan Mountain State Park

Roan Mountain provides some of the most beautiful views in the Southern Appalachian mountains.  Cover in rhododendrons, exploring this mountain and this state park during the spring provides amazing color and photography opportunities that you will not find anywhere else. Add to that camping and cabins and much more and you have a beautiful place to spend the day or a weekend.

Sycamore Shoals State Park

Historic sites, a museum and a theater depicting the history of the area are just a few of the reasons to visit Sycamore Shoals State Park.  Open from dawn to dusk every day, this quaint little park provides hiking trails and picnic areas along with tours of historic buildings.

Warriors' Path State Park

Located on the trail that the Cherokee used for war and trading, Warriors’ Path State Park has lots of history and plenty of recreational activities for the people that visit it every year.  Biking and camping bring in the visitors but in 2007, the park opened a new opportunity for those individuals with special needs:  Darrell’s Dream Boundless Playground.  This playground is designed for those children with special needs that get left out of the excitement in some traditional playgrounds.  Warriors’ Path is a great destination when you are vacationing in the Smokies.