10 Tips for First-Time Visitors in the Smoky Mountains

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Embarking on your first adventure to the Smoky Mountains promises an unforgettable journey through one of nature’s most stunning showcases. Whether you’re drawn by the allure of majestic peaks, the charm of small mountain towns, or the thrill of outdoor adventures, the Smokies have something for everyone. To help first-time visitors navigate this expansive and diverse region, we’ve gathered essential tips that highlight must-see attractions and offer practical advice to enhance your trip. From where to stay to what to pack, here’s your guide to making the most of your Smoky Mountain adventure.

1. Plan Your Accommodation in Advance

  • Book a cabin early: The Smoky Mountains are renowned for their cozy and picturesque cabins. To ensure you get the perfect home away from home, it’s wise to book your cabin well in advance. Whether you’re looking for a secluded retreat or a family-friendly lodge, the Smokies offer a range of options to suit every preference.
  • Consider the view: While booking, think about whether you want to wake up to a mountain sunrise or prefer being cozied up within the trees for privacy and tranquility.

2. Pack Appropriately for the Weather

  • Layers are key: The mountain weather can be quite fickle, with mornings being cool, afternoons warm, and evenings chilly again. Packing a variety of layers will keep you comfortable as temperatures change. Don’t forget a waterproof jacket, as rain showers can pop up unexpectedly.
  • Footwear for all terrains: Include sturdy hiking boots for trails and comfortable shoes for exploring towns and attractions.

3. Explore the Best Attractions

  • Discover must-see sites: For first-timers, properly researching things to do in the Smoky Mountains is a must. Key attractions include the sprawling expanse of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the enchanting beauty of Dollywood, and the stunning views of the Gatlinburg SkyPark. Each offers a unique glimpse into the natural and cultural richness of the area.
  • Plan for variety: Balance your itinerary with a mix of outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, and relaxation to fully appreciate the Smoky Mountains.

4. Enjoy the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

  • Visit iconic landmarks: Within the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, landmarks like Clingmans Dome and Cades Cove offer not only stunning views but also opportunities to spot local wildlife in their natural habitat.
  • Wildlife watching: Bring binoculars for a closer look at the diverse wildlife, from birds to elk, ensuring a safe and respectful distance.

5. Experience Dollywood

  • Immerse in local culture and fun: With rides that range from thrilling to kid-friendly, live musical performances, and artisan crafts, Dollywood encapsulates the spirit of the region. It’s a place where families, thrill-seekers, and culture enthusiasts alike can find joy and excitement.
  • Seasonal festivals: Check Dollywood’s calendar for seasonal festivals and events, adding another layer of excitement to your visit with special shows and foods.

6. Take a Hike on Popular Trails

  • Explore nature’s beauty: The Smoky Mountains are a hiker’s paradise, offering trails that cater to all levels of experience and ambition. The Alum Cave Trail presents a moderately challenging hike that rewards trekkers with awe-inspiring views, while the Appalachian Trail offers sections that range from leisurely walks to rigorous treks. Hiking in the Smokies provides a unique opportunity to connect with the area’s natural wonders at your own pace.
  • Safety in numbers: If possible, hike with a companion for safety and to share the awe-inspiring moments the trails offer.

7. Indulge in Local Cuisine

  • Savor Appalachian flavors: The culinary landscape of the Smoky Mountains is as diverse and rich as its natural one. Dining in the region offers a chance to taste traditional Appalachian dishes alongside modern culinary creations.
  • Farm-to-table experiences: Seek out restaurants that offer farm-to-table dishes, highlighting the freshest local ingredients and supporting the community.

8. Shop for Souvenirs in Gatlinburg

  • Collect memories: Gatlinburg serves as a gateway to the Smokies and a treasure trove for shoppers looking to bring home a piece of their mountain adventure. With a variety of shops offering everything from handmade crafts to unique souvenirs, it’s the perfect place to find a memento of your trip.
  • Personalized keepsakes: Look for shops that personalize items, making your souvenirs even more special and unique to your Smoky Mountains experience.

9. Take a Scenic Drive

  • Discover hidden gems: For those who prefer to take in the beauty of the Smokies from the comfort of their car, scenic drives like Newfound Gap Road and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail offer breathtaking views and access to secluded spots. These drives showcase the diverse ecosystems and landscapes of the region, from mist-covered mountains to lush forests, providing a serene and captivating experience without the need for hiking boots.
  • Sunset drives: Plan a drive during sunset for spectacular views of the mountains bathed in golden light, creating a memorable and picturesque moment.

10. Engage in Outdoor Activities

  • Adventure awaits: The Smoky Mountains are a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Beyond hiking, the region offers a range of activities, such as horseback riding through scenic trails, whitewater rafting on the Pigeon River, and ziplining across the treetops. Each activity provides a unique way to experience the natural beauty of the Smokies, catering to thrill-seekers and nature lovers alike.
  • Nighttime adventures: Consider booking a guided night hike or a stargazing tour to experience the nocturnal beauty and serenity of the Smokies.


Your visit to the Smoky Mountains is an opportunity to explore and enjoy one of America’s most cherished natural wonders. By venturing beyond the well-trodden paths, engaging with the local culture and cuisine, and partaking in the many activities available, you’ll discover the true essence of the Smokies. 

Each visit to the Smoky Mountains is a chance to create lasting memories and stories to share. Whether you’re basking in the tranquility of a scenic drive, or feeling the rush of outdoor adventures, the Smoky Mountains offer a diverse and enriching experience for every visitor.