A group of friends hiking on a crowded trail in the mountains.

The Smoky Mountains Are Overrated

The Great Smoky Mountains can be a popular place to visit. However, we don’t think they’re all that great. Our opinion is based not on their lack of beauty but on what the area has become.

Today we’re sharing why we think the Smoky Mountains may be overrated. Let’s get started!

A group of friends hiking on a crowded trail in the mountains.

Where Are the Smoky Mountains?

The Smoky Mountains sit along the Tennessee and North Carolina border. They’re within driving distance of Nashville, TN, Atlanta, GA, and Charlotte, NC.

The central location to major cities makes this a trendy area for those looking to get out in nature and enjoy the local attractions. 

When it comes to the most-visited national parks, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in a league of its own.

In 2021 it welcomed 14.16 million visitors, which is just slightly less than the second, third, and fourth most popular parks (Zion, Yellowstone, and Grand Canyon) combined.

Let’s look at why it might be so popular.

A stunning view of the fall colors changing over the landscape of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Fall colors in the Smokies

There’s No Entrance Fee

While some national parks charge up to $30 per vehicle to visit, there’s no entrance fee to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s 100% free to enjoy all 520,000 acres of the area.

You can easily spend several days exploring without having to pay an entrance fee each day. Who doesn’t love the sound of that?

You need to check out this back door entrance to the Smokies 🤫

Miles Of Hiking Trails

There’s practically unlimited potential for hiking options in the Smoky Mountains.

You can hike a section of the famous Appalachian Trail, walk behind Grotto Falls, or spend several days hiking on a multi-day backpacking adventure.

You can hike for as long or short as you’d like and still see some incredible views.

It’s Easy to Drive to

As we stated earlier, the Smoky Mountains are easily driveable from Nashville, Atlanta, and Charlotte. These major cities are close enough for anyone looking for a weekend adventure or a relaxing extended vacation.

However, the park is also close to Knoxville, TN, Greenville, SC, and Asheville, NC. It’s such an easy drive for so many people that it makes it a popular area from the first signs of spring to the last signs of fall.

Driving through the Smokies
Scenic drive through the Great Smoky Mountains

More Than 90 Historical Structures

The park offers more than just natural beauty. There are many historic structures scattered throughout the park.

You can see what houses, barns, churches, and schools would have looked like in the past. You can learn more about each structure by grabbing tour booklets at each location.

Why the Smoky Mountains Are Overrated

With so many great features, you’re probably thinking we’re out of our mind for saying it’s overrated.

But hear us out; we promise we’re not raving.

The Crowds Are Overwhelming

You’ve likely heard that all national parks are busier than usual lately. However, nothing is quite like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The park is just over 500,000 acres, and over 14 million guests visited in 2021. To give you some perspective, Yellowstone National Park welcomed 4.86 million guests and is more than four times larger than Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

This means there’s little to no off-season and that during the peak season, you’re not going to get much privacy.

While there are some fantastic options for hiking, you’re likely going to have a hard time enjoying the sounds of nature. You’re more likely to hear the clomping feet of other hikers and conversations.

Visiting the Smokies anyway? Here are some tips to avoid the crowds.

It Looks Like the Rest Of the Appalachians 

While the Smoky Mountains are beautiful, there’s not much unique about them. If you’ve seen any section of the Appalachian Mountains, you’ve pretty much seen the Smokies.

So while we do think the landscapes are beautiful, they’re not all that unique for the region.

Too Much Traffic

Those 14 million guests will have to get in and around the park somehow, which often means some dense traffic.

No matter what time of year you plan to visit, it’s best to make sure you pack plenty of patience for driving. Navigating any roads in the park or the surrounding towns can be incredibly stressful.

It’s often challenging to snag a parking spot at some of the best hiking trailheads. You’ll want to have multiple plans for hiking because you’re not always going to be able to find a place to park. 

Too Touristy

To say this area relies on a steady stream of tourists would be a massive understatement. Driving down the main roads, you’ll have a hard time looking past the dinner theaters, amusement parks, and souvenir shops. No matter what tourist activity you’re looking to enjoy, you’ll find it here. 

There’s practically an infinite amount of businesses and other establishments ready to take money from tourists. It can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you’re there to enjoy the area’s natural beauty.

A busy walking bridge in Gatlinburg, TN, showing many tourists who are visiting the Great Smoky Mountains Nation Park area.
Gatlinburg, TN

Alternatives to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

If you’re more interested in experiencing nature, you have a few options. You can visit these other areas and not have to battle the chaos of a tourist-filled location.

Pisgah National Forest

Pisgah National Forest is in western North Carolina and is part of the Appalachian Mountains. There’s no fee to enter and explore the 500,000 acres of this national forest. This is only a 2.5-hour drive from Smoky Mountains National Park; it is a very similar experience. 

Despite offering tremendous hiking and exploring, the forest generally sees less than 100,000 visitors each year. If you’re tired of hearing nothing but the noise from other hikers in the Smokies, hop on over to Pisgah and enjoy the sounds of nature and silence.

Courthouse Falls, Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

New River Gorge National Park

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is the newest park to receive the national park designation. This 70,000-acre park has deep canyons, 53 miles of a rushing river, and no admission fee.

It is in the southern portion of West Virginia and is about 4.5 hours northeast of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The view of the iconic bridge is worth a trip to the visitor center.

Fall Creek Falls State Park

Tennessee has 56 incredible state parks, one of which is Fall Creek Falls State Park. The 29,800-acre park is a few hours west of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When you visit this park, you’d better come with a fully-charged battery and plenty of space for pictures on your camera.

You’ll want to snap plenty of pictures of the namesake waterfall. At 256 feet, Fall Creek Falls is one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern United States.

You can take photos from the rim or hike to the base of the falls and get a closer view of the gigantic falls.

Fall Creek Falls

Should You Visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

If 14+ million people are visiting the park, obviously it’s worth seeing. However, due to the massive number of people visiting it, it is essential to time it right.

There are always crowds, and it’s impossible to see the park without tourists. You’ll have to choose between wildly busy and somewhat less busy.

Make sure you set your expectations accordingly, get to the park early, and be patient. If you can delay your trip until the chaos of everyone wanting to travel fades away, you may have a better experience.

However, if not, you should make the most out of your time and plan your next visit when it’s less busy.

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