Great Smoky Mountains, Hiking, Parks

Your Guide to Visiting the Smoky Mountains National Park in the Winter

If you’re imagining hikes to frozen waterfalls or pictures with snow covered mountains as the backdrop, winter may be the perfect time for you to visit the Smokies!

What to Pack

Depending on the elevation, the average high for this season in the Smokies is 45°F and the low is 22°F, so you’ll want to pack plenty of warm clothes to wear. Layers are always a great idea because even though it’s cold. When you start your hike, the weather may be comfortable. But, as you get to higher elevations, it will get colder and you may experience snow on the ground. You may also experience mud at the higher elevations from the snow and ice melt. Be sure to wear appropriate foot wear. You should also bring some snacks and enough water to last for the entire hike. Just be sure that you don’t leave trash or leftover food anywhere, because it could attract wildlife. Feeding Wildlife is illegal and could lead to a nuisance animal which may have to be uthenized. Please refer to our Bear safety guide.

What to wear

Dress in layers, cover all of your skin, wear sunglasses or goggles and pack a flashlight.

Where to Hike

There are over 850 miles of hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains, however, some are better than others at certain times of the year. Waterfall hikes like the Laurel Falls Trail are gorgeous during the winter! You’ll feel like you’re in a winter wonderland as you look up at the half-frozen, 80-foot falls. The hike to the falls is arguably just as beautiful, with mountain views peeking through the bare trees. Please note they are starting to require a parking pass for Laurel Falls. So, be sure to purchase yours in advance. Another great place to hike during the winter months is Porters Creek. This trail is rich in history and is conveniently situated at a lower elevation, making it less likely to be closed off due to snow.

Grapeyard Ridge Trail in Greenbrier

With less foliage to camouflage old home sites and farmsteads, winter is a great time to take historical hikes. Prior to the creation of the national park in 1934 hundreds of families lived in the Smokies and many remnants of their legacies are still standing today. Old engine wrecks can be found from a time when railroads were one of the primary methods of transportation through the mountains. The Grapeyard Ridge trail in Greenbrier is an excellent place to see one of these wrecks as the old engine, which turned over in the creek, is still largely intact.

Alum Cave Trail

Another option that tops the list of best winter hiking trails is Alum Cave Trail. Alum Cave is a concaved bluff that towers nearly 80 feet above the trail. During the winter months, droplets coming off the ledges above the bluff form into large icicles.

Schoolhouse Gap Trail near Cades Cove

Schoolhouse Gap is another family friendly winter hiking trail that is located near Cades Cove. The trail is relatively short and is one of the trails where hikers are most likely to spot wildlife. Cades Cove is also home to many cabins and historic sites, many of which have been restored to how they looked over 150 years ago.

What Roads Are Open

Scenic drives are a great thing to do during any season as long as the roads are in good condition to be driven on. There are several primary roads that are open year round as long as the weather permits. These roads include US-441 (Newfound Gap Road), Little River Road, and the Cades Cove Loop Road. You can enjoy the stunning mountain views as you go along your way, and there are lots of spots where you can pull over to take pictures.

You can view the current road closures at

Does it Snow in the Smoky Mountains?

Lower elevations in Great Smoky Mountains National Park typically see several snowfalls each winter, while higher elevations tend to get more snow more frequently. Although many winter days see temperatures of 50 degrees or higher, the lows tend to range at or below freezing. It is important to check the conditions of the park and its roads any time you are planning a visit during the winter months. For the latest information on road conditions, check the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website or call (865) 436-1200.

If you have never seen snow in the Smokies, you are missing out on some beautiful scenery. Winter snowfalls, frozen waterfalls, and hanging icicles offer ample opportunities for capturing some amazing winter photos.

You also have an opportunity to spot wildlife during the winter in the Smoky Mountains. Watch for animal prints if there is snow as you venture down the trails. Just remember to maintain a safe distance from the animals. Check out some of our wildlife safety tips before you head out.

I personally love hiking in the winter. The trails are much less crowded and the temperature is much more enjoyable. Just be prepared and plan to spend the day stopping to smell the roses.

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Attractions, Great Smoky Mountains, Parks, Staying Active

Pigeon River Canopy Tours (Hartford)

Pigeon River Canopy Tours is located about 30 miles out of Gatlinburg in the tiny mountain community of Hartford near the Tennessee-North Carolina state line.

The tour, which accommodates kids ages 8 and up with a minimum weight of 60 lbs, isn’t for those afraid of heights.

The tour soars over the Big Pigeon River at heights up to 120 feet above the river.

This is an adventure and riders must be in good physical condition and able to raise their arms over their head to regulate speed and braking, but if you’re capable and brave enough, it offers a unique experience the family will remember for a lifetime.

The zipline canopy tour in the Gatlinburg area that is truly in the wilderness with 2 spectacular zips across the Big Pigeon River! Get away from the crowds, lines and concrete of Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge for a day of fun in the trees! River crossings, rock cliffs, waterfalls, Rabbit Hole repel, sky bridges, wildlife & more are the things that make the Pigeon River Canopy Tour!

Attractions, Great Smoky Mountains, Museum, Townsend TN


Next time you visit the Great Smoky Mountains, consider adding Townsend to your travel itinerary. This small community on the doorstep of the national park offers a more tranquil alternative to the hustle and bustle of traditional destinations like Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville. Yes, you’ll find attractions, shops, restaurants, accommodations and special events in Townsend, but everything’s just done on a smaller scale and at a more laid-back pace. One of the great things about Townsend is that even though it’s a more peaceful experience, visitors are only a half-hour from Pigeon Forge and a stone’s throw away from Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Click to read more about Townsend, Tennessee.

Posted by Darryl Payne in Things To Do

Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee can be a fun-filled adventure. Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Sevierville comprise a 25-mile corridor of tourist destinations that can fill a lifetime’s worth of vacations. With everything from attractions and shops to restaurants and overnight lodging providers, these three communities are an enchanted gateway to the most visited national park in the nation.

Old saw mill in Townsend

But what if you’re looking for something a little more laid-back in a Smokies vacation? A place where the pace is a little slower and there’s not quite as much traffic. A place that still offers shopping, dining and fun but on a much smaller scale. A place that is still on the front doorstep of the Great Smoky Mountains.

If that’s what you have in mind for a mountain getaway, then say hello to Townsend, Tennessee, a historic community that for years has billed itself as “the peaceful side of the Smokies.” Read on for an introduction to this beloved alternate mountain destination, which is a short drive from Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. So in some cases, you can still get a full dose of Smoky Mountain fun and also take a side trip to Townsend for a slightly different flavor of experience.

Here are some of the many wonderful things you will find to do in Townsend

Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center

This cultural attraction is located about a mile from the Townsend entrance to the national park. The proximity is fitting since this self-guided museum tour tells the story of Townsend and the greater East Tennessee region through the centuries, from early Native American habitation to white settlement to the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The tour proceeds in chronological order, and along the way, visitors will discover archaeological relics and antiquities as well as modern-day, interactive exhibits that make it fun for all ages to learn about area history. There’s also an outdoor component to the museum. Guests can tour a number of restored historic structures, including a granary, private homes, train depot, church, barn and corncrib, saw mill and print shop.

Great place to cool off.

The Townsend Y

This popular swimming hole is technically within the boundaries of the national park, but it’s a very short drive from the traffic light in Townsend. It’s a spot where the Little River forks, and that juncture forms a natural place to wade in on a hot summer day and cool off in the bracing waters. There’s usually plenty of parking, either in the lot or along the shoulder of the road. It is a rocky area, so you’ll want to watch your footing as you make your way in and out of the water, but the water is generally shallow, so it’s fun for old and young alike.

Little River Railroad & Lumber Company Museum

This attraction tells the story of how the railroad and lumber industries helped bring commerce and prosperity to rural East Tennessee. It also goes further back in time to explore how Native Americans and pioneers influenced the development of the region. The museum offers a self-guided tour with railroad-related exhibits inside and a number of displays outside the main building, including a Shay 2147 vintage caboose, two vintage flatcars, a portable Frick steam engine and a wooden water tank that was used at the train station in nearby Walland, Tennessee.

Railroad museum is free in Townsend.

As a matter of fact, the original Walland depot was one of the first exhibits moved to the current museum site when it was founded in 1983. Today, that building houses the museum’s indoor exhibits-primarily a collection of photographs, papers, tools and smaller artifacts related to local railroad history. The original Little River Railroad & Lumber Company was responsible for the creation of Townsend as a community, and that industry thrived until the formation of the national park in the 1930s.

There is a lot of information in a small building. Take your time and look through it.

Not far from the little river railroad museum is a swinging bridge. This is a public swinging bridge and worth the detour. Just a little natur stroll. We saw ducks and walked on the bridge.

Rid on a tub in Townsend with the family.


Here’s another fun way to cool off in the Little River: Rent an inner tube, settle into it and then set off on a float downstream. You’ll find several tubing vendors in Townsend. In some cases, they’ll transport you to a put-in location and then you float back to their main outpost. Sometimes, you might put in at the outpost, and then they’ll pick you up at the take-out spot. Different packages are available, depending on how long you want to spend floating on the river.

We had a fantastic time tubing as a family. You can even get a tube for your pup.

Tuckaleechee Caverns

Billed as the “Greatest Sight Under The Smokies,” Tuckaleechee Caverns is a set of underground caverns located just outside Townsend. The caverns were discovered in the middle 1800s, and they were opened to the public as a tourist attraction in 1953. The tour leads guests to a number of unique underground features and rooms, including stalagmites, stalactites and what they call “the big room,” which is large enough to contain a football stadium. Also look for the 210-foot-tall Silver Falls, which is the tallest subterranean waterfall in the Eastern U.S. The tour altogether totals 1.25 miles round trip.

The story of how the caverns were found is a fascinating story.

Strange things you will see underground in the Smokies.

Those are some of the main things you can do for fun in Townsend, but that’s not all there is to the community. You’ll find a wide variety of restaurants ranging from national fast food chains to local restaurants serving down-home flavors. There’s plenty of barbecue, Southern cooking and more to be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Townsend also hosts a number of special events every year, including the Smoky Mountain Fiber Arts Festival, the Great Smoky Mountains Half Marathon and several different custom-auto shows.

This content posted by Smoky Mountain Vacation Info. and reproduced here with excerps from us.

Attractions, Great Smoky Mountains, Hiking, Parks

Easy Hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains

Whether you’re looking to hike with your children or you just want a short, relaxing hike in the mountains, an easy hike may be just what you are looking for!

Gatlinburg Trail

bridge along the gatlinburg trail

The Gatlinburg Trail is a nature walk through the woods that sits right outside of downtown Gatlinburg. The hike is 3.8 miles roundtrip from the Sugarlands Visitor Center. It runs through the forest along the Little Pigeon River, so you will see views of the water as well as foundations of several old homesites along the way. The Gatlinburg Trail is the only pet friendly trail on the Gatlinburg side of the national park.

Elkmont Nature Trail

The Elkmont Nature Trail is the perfect easy hike in the Great Smoky Mountains when you’re looking for a short, easy hike for a family. It’s a self-guided nature trail that is a little less than a mile long. This trail is great for learning about the Elkmont area and its rich history. Plus, you can find a cool troll bridge a little ways off the trail!

Andrews Bald

andrews bald

This trail begins from the Clingmans Dome parking lot and drops in elevation as you hike to Andrews Bald. You’re actually hiking the Forney Ridge Trail which is 1.8 miles one-way to Andrews Bald. If the time of year is right, you can find blackberries or raspberries along this trail. At the end of the trail, you’ll come out to the bald on the mountaintop, where you will see incredible mountain views.

Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail

The Sugarlands Nature Trail is a short, half-mile trail in the national park. It’s the only trail that is wheelchair accessible because it is paved. You can find this trail about a half mile past Sugarlands Visitor Center, right on Newfound Gap Road. You’ll see remains of homes and a stream running alongside the trail.

Abrams Falls

abrams falls in the spring

Abrams Falls Trail is located along the Cades Cove Loop. You’ll make your way through old forest growth and hike alongside the river. Even though the Abrams Falls waterfall is only 20 feet tall, the amount of rushing water over the waterfall is what makes it so popular. This hike is 5 miles roundtrip. Due to the length of the hike (it takes about 3-4 hours to finish the trail), many may consider this trail moderate in difficulty.

Porters Creek

During the springtime, the Porters Creek Trail blooms with wildflowers, which makes it one of the popular wildflower hikes. Not only will you see wildflowers, you’ll also see a ton of foliage throughout the year, as well as historic buildings along the trail. Porters Creek Trail is 4 miles roundtrip. 

Laurel Falls

Stunning photo of Laurel Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Laurel Falls is one of the most popular hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We recommend this one for families and anyone who needs an easy hike in the Smoky Mountains because the trail is paved. Just keep in mind that the paved trail is somewhat rough, steep, and uneven, so it’s not great for strollers or wheelchairs. The hiking trail is 2.6 miles roundtrip and will take about 2 hours to hike to the waterfall and back. The Laurel Falls waterfall is 80 feet tall, and it is split into two tiers. It’s important to remember that the trail gets very busy during the peak hiking months during the summertime.

Groto Falls

Another easy hiking trail in the Smoky Mountains with a waterfall is Grotto Falls Trail. To get to Grotto Falls, you will take the Trillium Gap Road on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. It’s a 2.6 mile roundtrip hike and takes about 2 to 3 hours to hike to the waterfall and back. The Grotto Falls waterfall is a 25 foot waterfall, and you might see lots of salamanders!

Cataract Falls

Cataract Falls is a 1.1 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Gatlinburg, Tennessee that features a waterfall and is good for all skill levels. The trail is primarily used for hiking and walking and is best used from May until November.

Spruce Fir Trail

The Spruce Fir Trail is a short hike that takes you 0.35 mile through a spruce-fir forest. Along this hike, the most common trees are red spruces and Fraser firs, but you’ll definitely spot some other plants including yellow birch, hobblebush, and blackberries! In addition, there are large chunks of exposed quarts along the trail. Much of the Spruce Fir Trail takes place on wooden boardwalks so you don’t have to worry about rocky or uneven terrain. This trail isn’t on the official park map, so you’re finding a hidden gem! To get to the trailhead, simply follow Clingman’s Dome Road until you reach the parking area for the Spruce-Fir Nature Trail.

Little Brier Gap

If you want to learn about the history of the Smoky Mountains, the Little Brier Gap Trail is the one for you! This 2.6 mile hike follows a stream called the Little Brier Branch for the first portion. Then, at 1.1 miles, hikers will reach the Walker Sisters Place. The Walker Sisters were five sisters that lived in a cabin in the Smoky Mountains and refused to sell their 123 acre farm to the National Park Service. Although the outside world moved on, they continued living their traditional mountain lifestyle until the last sister passed away in the 1960s. Today, all the historical structures on this trail are a part of the National Register of Historic Places.

Noah Ogle Self-Guiding Trail

The Noah Ogle Self-Guiding Trail is 0.8 miles long and takes you past multiple historic buildings. The first is the Ogle Cabin that was built in the 1880s. The cabin is known as a “saddle-bag” house, meaning it is made of two parts with a common chimney. After crossing two small bubbling brooks, you’ll pass the Ogle “tub” mill, where the Ogle family used water from LeConte Creek to power the mill to process corn meal. Finally, you’ll see the Ogle family’s “drove-through” barn, where visitors could drive or park their carriage under a covering while they picked up or dropped off supplies.

Spruce Flats Falls

spruce flats falls

Spruce Flats Falls is a 1.4 mile hike that takes visitors to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Smokies. Spruce Flats Falls cascades down in four tiers, over heights of 30 feet. This is another trail that isn’t on the official park map, but it still gets plenty of visitors because of the beautiful waterfall. To hike this unlisted trail, drive toward the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and start at the Lumber Ridge Trailhead.

If you’re trying to squeeze a hike into a busy day, these are some great options for you! These hikes are short and easy, while still diving into the natural beauty of the Smoky Mountains. Learn more about hiking in the Smokies and plan your trip today!

Taken from Visit My Smokies and Posts

Attractions, Gatlinburg, Great Smoky Mountains, Hiking, History, Parks

Gregory’s Cave

Gregory’s Cave is along the Cades Cove Loop.

Most caves are formed when limestone and sandstone fracture and weather over time. Gregory’s Cave is one of the largest caves in the Cades Cove area. The entrance to the cave is 10 feet wide and 4 feet tall. The cave is primarily a single large passage that ranges from 20 to 55 feet wide and 15 feet tall. There are quite a few side passages in the cave as well. In one of the side passages, there are pick marks along the wall, which indicates mining activity happened in the early 1800s.

Gregory Cave was actually the only cave in the national park that was developed as a commercial cave. In 1925, the cave was opened to the public by the Gregory family, who still lived in Cades Cove at the time. There were planks in the cave to walk across certain areas, and they installed battery powered lights. Gregory Cave was even used as an emergency shelter that would hold a maximum of 1,000 people when people still lived in the Cades Cove area. The cave was still open to the public in 1935, but when the national park bought the property from the Gregory family, it was closed. Today, the cave entrance is securely closed to the public.

Finding Gregory’s Cave

The John Oliver Place in Cades Cove.

You may be wondering how you would find the entrance to Gregory’s Cave. First, you have to drive down the Cades Cove Loop! Then, you’ll stop and get out of your vehicle when you reach John Oliver Cabin. There is a dirt road with metal bars in front of it to block cars, and you should follow it. On the right, there are two picnic tables, and you’ll continue going forward. Then, you’ll see the cave on the right around trees with boxes on them.

Taken from blog