A Weekend Guide to Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National ParkMar 03, 2023
Do you want to explore the incredible Great Smoky Mountains National Park? There’s no better place to go when you want to reconnect with nature and take in the beauty of the outdoors, but what should you plan to do when you’re in town? There is so much to see and do in the park, so that’s why we have put together a sample guide for a fun weekend exploring the Smokies!
When you get in on Friday, you’ll check into your Gatlinburg cabin rental before you head out for your first activity!
Drive Roaring Fork Motor Trail
The first thing on this itinerary is to drive the Roaring Fork Motor Trail. Located right outside of downtown Gatlinburg, this incredible scenic drive features several points of interest. You’ll drive alongside Roaring Fork river, having beautiful views all along the drive. There’s even a waterfall called The Place of a Thousand Drips you can see from the comfort of your vehicle! You’ll also pass several trailheads for popular hiking trails, like Grotto Falls and Rainbow Falls! One of the last stops along the drive is the Noah “Bud” Ogle cabin, which shows how pioneers lived in the Smokies.
Since you only had time to explore one area on Friday, your Saturday is full of fun activities in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
Hike Laurel Falls Trail
After the beautiful drive you took last night, you’re ready to get out on the trails today! If you’re not someone who hikes a ton but wants to enjoy the trails, Laurel Falls is a great trail to start with! The entire path is paved, making it much easier to navigate than unpaved trails. You’ll hike about 1 mile up to the top, where you will see the 80-foot, 2-tiered Laurel Falls. There is a footbridge built in front of the falls that allows you to walk over them, and this is a great place to take photos!
Have a Picnic at Metcalf Bottoms
Once you’re done with your hike, you’re probably ready to eat! You’ll hop back in the car and head to Metcalf Bottoms, one of the picnic areas in the Smoky Mountains! Pack sandwiches, grab a bite from one of the Gatlinburg restaurants, or stop at the grocery store to pick up grilling supplies, because every picnic site has a charcoal grill that you are able to use. The kids will have fun exploring the river that runs along Metcalf Bottoms, and you can even hike to the Walker Sisters cabin!
Drive Around Cades Cove
Once you’re done with your picnic, you can head out for your next adventure and the most popular place in the entire Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Cades Cove! This 11-mile loop takes visitors through a valley with mountains surrounding it for breathtaking views. There are several stops along the way that feature old homesteads and unique buildings that give you a better idea of what life was like back in the day. Cades Cove is also one of the top spots to see wildlife, like black bears, in the Smokies! With all the sights and how many people visit this area, you’ll probably spend the rest of the day here!
Since you’ve been on a couple of drives and only one hike, Sunday is dedicated to easy hikes in the Smoky Mountains!
Hike Cataract Falls Trail
If you want to enjoy a cute nature trail that might feature small wildlife and native foliage, Cataract Falls Trail is a great choice. The out-and-back length equals 1 mile, so it’s simple for everyone! There are trees with holes that the little ones will find interesting, creeks that have small fish to look at, and a 25-foot waterfall at the end of the trail!
Hike Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail
If you’re itching for more ways to explore, you can head over to the Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail. This simple hike is about 0.5 miles, and the path is paved on the trail, making it accessible for strollers and wheelchairs. You’ll hear the rush of the river as you hike through the woods, just enjoying being outdoors!
Now you have a better idea of how you can spend your entire weekend in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! If you’d prefer to find more challenging hikes or different scenic drives, feel free to swap them out as you like! Want to spend a little time in downtown Gatlinburg and aren’t sure what to do? Check out these Gatlinburg attractions for some ideas!