The most visited national park in the country, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has helped millions fall in love with nature—and you and the kids could be next. These are some of the oldest mountains on the planet, and it's one of the most biodiverse spots on Earth. Nature here runs amok with all-ages opportunities to explore—combining verdant forests, pioneer and Indigenous history, scads of waterfalls, and plentiful opportunities to view wildlife.
Three days here gives you a good taste of this beloved park. Here’s what your family can do on a 3-day trip into the Smokies.
There are a lot of elevation changes here, so dress in layers.
If you only have time for one thing, make it Cades Cove (but go early or late).
Whether you stay in family-friendly Gatlinburg or in quieter Townsend, make your first stop at Sugarlands Visitor Center. Peek at the natural history exhibits, and take advantage of seasonal ranger talks.
Then, hop on a tour, getting a whirlwind look at the park’s best sites. Or, take the 40-minute drive to the top of Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the Smokies at 6,634 feet (2,022 meters), and the observation tower. The road has its pullouts and overlooks, too. Pack food or take a tour that offers lunch/dinner as there are no restaurants inside the park.
Go early to popular Cades Cove. The 11-mile, one-way loop can take up to four hours in a vehicle with traffic and stops. This scenic, wildlife-rich terrain offers views of white-tailed deer, black bears, coyotes, and foxes. There are pioneer buildings to explore, too.
Don’t leave the park without learning some history at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, in Cherokee, NC. The museum covers the Smokies from the time of mastodons to the present day—just like the Cherokee themselves.
Now drive Newfound Gap Road to see the park's southeast section. It’s the lowest drivable pass through the national park, making it great for leaf-peeping in fall. You'll see multiple ecosystems in some 3,000 feet (914 meters) with forests of northern hardwood, pine-oak, spruce-fir, and more. Stretch your legs on the Appalachian Trail, which crosses the road. Not a bad final adventure.