Dangers & Annoyances

The mountain wilderness of the Smokies poses many dangers, but you can minimize risks by traveling sensibly and being prepared. You'll always want to account for adverse weather, as conditions can change rapidly in the mountains.

Although there are plenty of bears, as well as venomous snakes, the far greater threat to park visitors is an accident involving motor vehicles, falls (while hiking, horseback riding or cycling) and swimming.

A few other hazards in the park to keep in mind are slippery or icy trails, various poisonous plants (poison ivy among them) and stinging insects.

Insects

Mosquitos can be a problem in the Smoky Mountains, depending on where and when you go. In the height of summer at lower elevations, you'll need to liberally apply repellent to avoid getting devoured. At other times of year (and at higher elevations), the nefarious insects are less of an issue.

Ticks can also be present in the region, so you'll want to check yourself carefully after visiting the park. Since some ticks can carry Lyme disease, you'll want to avoid them if possible. Repellent with DEET and appropriate dress (long pants, a hat) will minimize the risks.

Watch out for yellowjacket wasps, which can be aggressive and deliver painful stings. Their nests are sometimes found on trails and alongside streams. If you have allergies to bee or other insect stings, be sure to travel with an epinephrine kit.

Other insects you may encounter on the trail include gnats and biting flies. DEET and protective clothing will help.

Wildlife

Remember the cardinal rule: stay at least 50ft away from all wildlife in the park. Never approach an animal, and make sure you dispose of food scraps and other waste in the animal-proof receptacles at campgrounds and some trailheads.

Some animals, including skunks and raccoons, carry rabies, so be sure to report any unusual animal behavior to a ranger.

Bears

Black bears are active throughout the park – an estimated 1600 at last guess – and can be dangerous. Campers should keep all food in their cars or tied to cables, and hikers should never approach or feed bears. If a bear approaches you, back away slowly. If the bear continues to approach, shout or wave your arms to intimidate it. As a last resort, throw rocks or other objects, or try to deter the bear with a large stick (again, that walking stick comes in handy). Never try to run.

Snakes

Twenty three species of snake are found inside the park, but only two species are venomous: the timber rattlesnake and the northern copperhead. Snakebites are rare, and no one has ever died in the park from a snakebite. That said, be mindful of where you place your hands and feet, particularly when gathering firewood.

Elk

Though they often look quite docile as they sit chewing grass on park fields, elk can be aggressive, especially during the mating season (September and October). With elk and all other park wildlife, you should always observe the park rule to stay 50yd away from the animal. If your approach changes the animals behavior in any way, you're too close. Don't ever turn your back on an elk, and if one charges you, get behind a large object (tree, car). Be particularly mindful if you're traveling with a dog, as they can cause elk to act aggressively.

Trail Safety

Even short hikes can become treacherous after heavy rain. At any time of year you might encounter moss-covered rocks, wet leaves and slick roots. These can lead to bad falls, and the consequences can be significant on trails that traverse steep, narrow cliff faces. Always travel with appropriate footwear: wear ankle-supporting boots with good soles, and use crampons or some other winter traction device during icy conditions – which can persist into May on some trails.

A good walking stick is also useful. If you lack one, shops in Gatlinburg sell them, as do the Sugarlands Visitor Center and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

Waterfalls & Rivers

The park's numerous waterfalls are among its most outstanding attractions, but take care when visiting them as slippery rocks can lead to some bad falls. Along those lines, don't ever try to climb up the waterfalls – you might see rocky, muddy paths going up – but this is never a good idea as there have been dozens of falling deaths over the years (including one as recently as 2017).

You'll need to be cautious around mountain rivers and streams. Drowning is one of the leading causes of death in the park, and unfortunate hikers have suffered serious injuries from falls along riverbanks. Streams can become swollen after heavy rainfall, making passage across dangerous. Some log bridges can be slippery, so watch your step. On stream crossings where there are no bridges – or the bridges have washed away (not uncommon after heavy storms) – you'll have to use your best judgment; when in doubt, don't do it! In general, if the water is flowing rapidly, don't cross if it's above your knees.

There are no lifeguard-surveyed swimming areas in the Smokies. Rangers advise against swimming and riding inner tubes anywhere inside of park boundaries.

Cold & Heat

Hypothermia is a life-threatening condition that occurs when prolonged exposure to cold thwarts the body’s ability to maintain its core temperature. Hypothermia is an all-season danger and can even occur during the summer at higher elevations due to wind, rain and cold. Remember to dress in layers and always carry rain gear.

During the summer, you'll also need to prepare for the heat, when the Smokies can be very hot and humid. Carry plenty of water to avoid dehydration, wear a wide-brimmed hat and use sunscreen. Know your hiking limits: hikes along the challenging uphill trails can lead to heat exhaustion.

Trees & Limbs

Have a look around before resting on the trail or setting up camp for the night. Move away from any trees or limbs that might fall or pose a hazard.

Emergency & Important Numbers

If you have an emergency in the park and you have cell service, dial 911; be sure you note your location (trail, campground etc).

For long-distance and toll-free calls, dial 1 followed by three-digit area code and seven-digit local number.

Park Headquarters & Park Emergency Number865-436-9171
General Park Information865-436-1200
Backcountry Information865-436-1297
Gatlinburg Police865-436-5181
Cherokee Police828-497-4131

Entry & Exit Formalities

  • US Department of State (www.travel.state.gov) Up-to-date visa and immigration information.
  • US Department of Homeland Security (www.dhs.gov) Clear details on requirements for travel to the US; follow the How Do I?/For Travelers/Visit the US links.
  • Visa Waiver Program (VWP; www.dhs.gov/visa-waiver-program-requirements) Though most foreign visitors to the US need a visa, the VWP allows citizens of 38 countries to enter the country for stays of 90 days or less without first obtaining a visa. Go to the website for a list of participating countries and detailed information.
  • Electronic System for Travel (ESTA; https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta) Visitors eligible for the VWP must apply for entry approval via ESTA. While it is recommended travelers apply at least 72 hours before travel, you may apply any time before boarding your flight and in most cases the process takes no more than half an hour.
  • Passports Your passport should be valid for at least another six months after you leave the US.

Visas

Visitors from Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and many EU countries don't need visas for stays shorter than 90 days. Citizens of other nations should check http://travel.state.gov.

Etiquette

Etiquette in the Smoky Mountains largely relates to respectfully navigating the sometimes vast crowds at overlooks and on popular trails.

  • Photography When looking for that perfect spot to snap that panoramic or waterfall view, be cognizant of fellow visitors taking photographs. Stay out of frame of photographs and don't hog the best spot.
  • Share the Trail Step to the right to allow faster hikers to pass. Uphill travelers have the right-of-way.
  • Noise Keeping quiet is the best way to enjoy the sounds of the Smokies – its gurgling streams, twittering birds and leaves rustling in the breeze. Do not yell up (or down) a trail to a friend, and keep conversation levels low, especially after dark.

Gay & Lesbian Travellers

The Smoky Mountains welcomes gay and lesbian travelers, but there are no particular services or entertainment geared towards LGBT visitors.

Internet Access

Wi-fi is generally available at visitor centers (but only inside). Elsewhere in the park, internet is non-existent. Indeed, it's very difficult to get even cell-phone reception in the park. Hotels and lodges outside of the park generally offer free wi-fi.

Money

You'll find plenty of ATMs in Gatlinburg. If camping in the off-season, bring small bills (dollars, fives, 10s) to pay at the self-pay kiosks upon arrival.

Exchange Rates

AustraliaA$1$0.76
CanadaC$1$0.77
ChinaY10$1.56
Euro zone€1$1.18
Japan¥100$0.91
MexicoMXN$10$0.49
New ZealandNZ$1$0.70
UK£1$1.34

For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.

Tipping

  • Hotels $1 to $2 per bag is standard; gratuity for cleaning staff is generally $2 to $5 per day.
  • Restaurants and bars 15% to 20% from the before-tax total is expected.
  • Guided trips Customary to tip trip leader, at your discretion. Consider the length, party details and itinerary of your trip.

Opening Hours

The park is open 24 hours a day, year-round. However, many secondary roads maintain seasonal closures, and only two of the park's campgrounds are open year-round. Backcountry campsites are open year-round, but some close periodically owing to bear activity. Visitor centers are open year-round (closing only on Christmas Day), but the hours change seasonally. Other park sites, such as LeConte Lodge and the Mingus Mill, open seasonally (typically mid-March to mid-November).

Visitor Centers 8am or 9am–7pm April to August; to 6:30pm March, September and October; to 5:30pm November; to 4:30pm December to February

Riding Stables (Sugarlands, Smokemont, Cades Cove) 9am–5pm

Road Opening Dates

Primary roads such as Newfound Gap Rd are open year-round, weather permitting. After a big snowstorm, however, even these roads may be closed. For the latest info on road closures check the National Park Service website (www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/temproadclose.htm), its Twitter feed (www.twitter.com/smokiesroadsnps), or call 865-436-1200, extension 631.

  • Balsam Mountain Rd Late May to late October
  • Cades Cove Loop Rd Sunrise to sunset year-round, but closed to vehicles sunrise to 10am Monday and Wednesday from early May to late September
  • Clingmans Dome Rd April through November
  • Forge Creek Rd Mid-March to late December
  • Newfound Gap Rd (Hwy 441) Year-round
  • Heintooga Ridge Rd Mid-May to October
  • Little Greenbrier Rd Early April to late November
  • Little River Rd Year-round
  • Parson Branch Rd Permanently closed owning to hazardous trees
  • Rich Mountain Rd Early April to early November
  • Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail Early April to late November
  • Roundbottom/Straight Fork April to October

Campground Opening Dates

  • Abrams Creek Late April to mid-October
  • Balsam Mountain Mid-May to early October
  • Big Creek April to late October
  • Cades Cove Year-round
  • Cataloochee Late March to late October
  • Cosby Late March to late October
  • Deep Creek Late March to late October
  • Elkmont Early March to late November
  • Look Rock Closed for repairs
  • Smokemont Year-round

Post

The US Postal Service (www.usps.com) is inexpensive and reliable. Standard letters up to 1oz cost 49¢ within the US. Postcards and letters to destinations outside the US cost a universal $1.20.

Public Holidays

Public holidays do not affect park opening hours. Visitor centers are open every day of the year except Christmas Day.

New Year’s Day January 1

Martin Luther King, Jr Day 3rd Monday in January

Presidents Day 3rd Monday in February

Easter Late March or early April

Memorial Day Last Monday in May

Independence Day July 4

Labor Day 1st Monday in September

Columbus Day 2nd Monday in October

Veterans Day November 11

Thanksgiving Day 4th Thursday in November

Christmas Day December 25

Rules & Permits

Park Rules

  • Visitors are required to stay at least 50yd from any wildlife – this is especially true of elk, which are often spotted in Cataloochee and near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
  • Drones are not allowed to be used within the boundaries of the park.
  • Feeding wildlife is prohibited (any person found doing so could face a fine of up to $5000).
  • Consumption of alcoholic drinks is not permitted in the park except in designated campgrounds, picnic areas and shelters.
  • Bicycles are not permitted on park trails except for the Oconaluftee River Trail, the Gatlinburg Trail and a small section of trail beginning at the Deep Creek trailhead up to the end of the gravel on the Indian Creek Trail.
  • Picking plants or removing anything from the park is prohibited.

Campground Regulations

  • Food Prep & Storage Bears and other wildlife are a real concern when it comes to proper food handling. All food, preparation and storage items (including pots, coolers and utensils) must be kept sealed in a vehicle (preferably the trunk) when not in use. If you're traveling by motorbike or other means without proper storage, the following campgrounds have food storage lockers: Balsam Mountain, Big Creek, Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Cosby, Deep Creek, Elkmont and Smokemont. Unattended or improperly stored coolers and food may be impounded by campground staff and stored at the campground office. The park takes the issue very seriously, and violators are subject to fines.
  • Garbage & Waste Water Dispose of garbage promptly in the animal-proof dumpsters provided. Put waste water in sinks or in dump stations; don't pour it on the ground.
  • Registration For first-come, first-served campsites, you'll need to register and pay a fee either at the staffed campground office or at a self-pay kiosk. If faced with the latter, be sure to bring a wide variety of bills (plenty of single dollars, fives and 10s) as you may have to put the payment into an envelope and slide it into a box. Currently only Deep Creek Campground has a self-pay credit-card kiosk.
  • Reservations Rules regarding reservations vary from campground to campground. At Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain, Big Creek and Cataloochee, advance reservations are required for the entire season – ie you won't be able to just show up and use a self-pay option. Campsites at Cades Cove, Cosby, Elkmont and Smokemont can be reserved in advance for the period May 15 through October 31. For Deep Creek (and at other times for the above campgrounds), it's first-come, first-served.
  • Length of Stay You can stay a maximum of 14 days at each campground. If you want to stay longer, you'll need to move to another campground.
  • People per Site No more than six people at a time can use one campsite.
  • Campfires & Wood Fires are only permitted in the fire grates. Do not bring firewood into the park, as you can unwittingly bring devastating pests with it. Only heat-treated firewood that is bundled and certified by the USDA is allowed in the park. Campers are allowed to collect firewood from the ground.
  • Bathrooms All of the campgrounds have running water and flush toilets. None have showers, so prepare to rough it a bit.
  • Pets Pets are permitted in campgrounds, but must always remain on a leash. Excessive barking is not allowed (pipe down, Rover!).
  • Backcountry There are specific regulations for hiking and camping in the backcountry.

Smoking

  • Smoking Forbidden in all restaurants, bars, hotel rooms and indoor public areas in North Carolina. In Tennessee smoking is still allowed in many bars. Fire restrictions often include smoking bans on all trails. Call park headquarters (865-436-9171) for current restrictions.

Telephone

Dialing Codes

US phone numbers begin with a three-digit area code, followed by a seven-digit local number. When dialing a number within the same area code, simply dial the seven-digit number; for long-distance calls, dial the entire 10-digit number preceded by 1. For direct international calls, dial 011 plus the country code plus the area code plus the local number. If you’re calling from abroad, the US country code is 1.

Mobile Phones

Cell-phone coverage is generally not available in the park. At some high points near the edge of the park, you might be able to get a signal, but don't count on it.

More Information

You’ll need a multiband GSM phone to make calls in the US. Installing a US prepaid rechargeable SIM card is usually cheaper than using your own network. They’re available at major telecommunications or electronics stores (such as Radio Shack) in Gatlinburg. If your phone doesn’t work in the US, these stores, as well as superstores, also sell inexpensive prepaid phones.

Toilets

You'll find public toilets at the visitor centers, in campgrounds and in picnic areas, as well as at sites such as Clingmans Dome, Newfound Gap, the Mingus Mill and atop Mt LeConte. There are pit toilets near the parking areas at several popular trailheads (including Rainbow Falls and Abrams Falls), but no drinking water is available at any of the trailheads.

If you're in the backcountry and nature calls, the rule is to bury waste in a hole at least 6in deep, and ensure that you're at least 100ft from any campsite, trail or water source. You should also pack out your used toilet paper and other objects – carry sealable plastic bags, just in case.

Tourist Information

The park’s four interior visitor centers:

Sugarlands Visitor Center At the park's northern entrance near Gatlinburg.

Cades Cove Visitor Center Halfway up Cades Cove Loop Rd, 24 miles off Hwy 441 from the Gatlinburg entrance.

Oconaluftee Visitor Center At the park's southern entrance near Cherokee in North Carolina.

Clingmans Dome Visitor Station Small, very busy center at the start of the paved path up to the Clingmans Dome lookout.

Travel with Children

The Smoky Mountains can be a wonderland for small travelers. There are adventures aplenty, with mesmerizing wildflower-filled hikes, horseback rides, rafting trips and star-filled nights gathered around the campfire. To make the most of your family holiday, it helps to plan ahead.

Best Activities for Kids

  • Hiking

With hundreds of miles of trails, you won't lack for options. Easy trails such as the half-mile Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail or the Oconaluftee River Trail are good options for pint-sized visitors.

  • Wildlife-Watching

Watch herds of elk feeding at dawn or dusk near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center or in the Cataloochee Valley.

  • Horseback Riding

Take a short but fun one-hour ride through the forest after clomping through a river near Smokemont Riding Stables.

  • Fun on the Farm

Near the Oconaluftee River, you can check out the log cabins and the seasonal livestock (chickens and pigs) at this old-fashioned, open-air farm museum.

  • Bike Riding

Hire bikes and take a spin along the 11-mile-long Cades Cove Loop Rd – best on Wednesday and Saturday mornings when it's closed to automobile traffic.

Ranger Programs

Like some other national parks in the US, the Smoky Mountains has a junior ranger program, which is geared towards kids from ages five to 12. You can participate by picking up a junior ranger booklet ($2.50) at one of the visitor centers, then having the kids complete the activities in the book. Afterwards, present the book to a ranger at one of the visitor centers, and they'll be on their way to earning a junior ranger badge. While it might sound a bit hokey, it can be a fun way for young minds to get involved and learn about the park in a non-traditional setting.

During the summer, the park offers a number of free ranger-led programs. These cover a wide range of topics, with rangers describing mountain medicines people used in the past, what it was like to go to school in a log cabin in the 1880s, sleuthing strategies in the wilderness (in the ever popular 'Whose poop is this?' talk), wildlife in the park (beavers, bears, elk) and fun facts about geology and the park's formation. Ask at a visitor center or check the website for upcoming activities.

Great Smoky Mountains for Kids

Welcome to one of the most family-friendly national parks in the US. There are loads of outdoor activities, including outstanding hikes (short and long alike), ample picnic areas, open spaces to run around and explore, and intriguing exhibitions with kids in mind.

That said, there are some challenges to keep in mind. Dining services are nonexistent in the park, so you'll need to load up on snacks and picnic fare before entering the wilds. Have plenty of water on hand (or a filtration device), as there are no water fountains at the trailheads.

Drives can be long within the park, so make sure you look at the map when planning the day's activities. The heavy crowds can also be a big turnoff in the summer. You can beat the worst of the holiday parade by heading out early, and avoiding the most popular areas during peak hours.

Lastly make sure everyone is properly outfitted with good shoes, warm clothes and rain gear. The weather can change in the mountains and can vary from one side of the park to the other.

Children's Highlights

Family Hikes

  • Gatlinburg Trail Leave the carnivalesque atmosphere of Gatlinburg behind on this fairly flat 2-mile trail through forest along the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River.
  • Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail An easy, paved half-mile trail with the remnants of 100-year-old cabins and scenic spots along the river.
  • Oconaluftee River Trail A lovely gateway to the Smokies' wonders, this smooth 3-mile round-trip trail skirts the edge of the pretty Oconaluftee River.
  • Laurel Falls Check out the pretty waterfalls and hillside views on this popular 2.6-mile hike.

Children Age 12 & Under

  • Clingmans Dome Making the short but steep walk up to the flying-saucer-like tower, which has a magnificent 360-degree panorama.
  • Junior Ranger Learning about the park by completing the activity book for a badge.
  • Park Programs Touching a furry pelt and learning about baby bears during a hands-on ranger talk at a visitor center.
  • Mountain Farm Museum Peering inside log cabins and saying howdy to the chickens and pigs at this open-air spot.

Outdoor Adventures

  • Horseback Riding Heading off for a fun one-hour ride (or all-ages hay ride) at Cades Cove, or another of the park's stables.
  • White-water Rafting Feeling the cool spray as you paddle along churning class III rapids near Gatlinburg.
  • Camping Roasting marshmallows over a crackling fire as the sky fills with stars at Deep Creek Campground.
  • Picnicking Having lunch at Chimneys Picnic Area, followed by a bit of rock skipping along the West Prong River.

Planning

While it's always a good idea to allow free time for some serendipitous discoveries, you'll definitely need to do some planning before hitting the road.

For all-round information and advice, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.

When to Go

As America's most visited national park, the Smoky Mountains can get frustratingly crowded in the warmer months, particularly during peak season (June to August). That said it's a fine time for water sports such as rafting or tubing, hitting the higher-elevation trails and taking advantage of the park's full program of ranger-led activities.

From September to mid-November, the bright colors of autumn transform the park into a blazing wonderland of red, yellow and orange. The park still draws plenty of visitors, though weekdays are somewhat quieter.

During the spring (March through May), the park offers fewer activities for kids, but it's a good time to beat the crowds if you don't mind the chilly weather (nights can dip below freezing).

The wintery months of December through February draw only the hardiest of souls. Many roads are closed and hikes to the higher elevations can be dangerous. Expect snow and icy temperatures.

Accommodation

If your kids are good hikers, and you've reserved well in advance, you can overnight in the LeConte Lodge, the only non-campground accommodation in the park. The lodge begins taking reservations in early October for the following year, and dates fill up quickly. Note that it closes from mid-November to mid-March.

Reservations for park campgrounds are accepted up to six months in advance. Plan as far ahead as possible if coming during the summer. Cancellations or date changes to a campsite reservation incur a $10 fee.

Outside the park there's a wealth of family-friendly options, including lodges, cabins and hotels, some of which have appealing extras such as swimming pools and play areas. Most accommodations outside the park do not charge extra for children under 12, though policies vary from place to place.

What to Pack

You’ll be able to find just about anything you could need at major towns outside the park, but to avoid a long winding drive out of the park while you're enjoying the forest, it's best to be prepared.

  • Children’s paracetemol and ibuprofen Always good to have on hand for the unexpected fever that arises in the middle of the night.
  • Fleece Even in the summer, nights in the mountains can be chilly.
  • Rain jacket Precipitation is always a possibility in this wet region.
  • Hiking shoes Bring something sturdy that ties and covers the toes, and socks.
  • Sun hat A must at any time of year.
  • Sunscreen and bug repellent Mosquitos and ticks are the concern, and you'll want repellent during the warmer months (May through September).
  • Water bottles Keep everyone hydrated and happy throughout the trip. Consider buying a water purification device to avoid all the plastic by-products.
  • Beach towels For exploring creeks and streams throughout the park, and perfect for picnics.
  • Water sandals You’ll want to splash in creeks without worrying about sharp rocks and stubbed toes.

Safety

It's easy to forget, as you’re browsing the exhibits in the visitor center, that you're on the edge of a vast wilderness area. Trails can be narrow and slippery, with dangerous drop-offs. Rushing streams might look enticing for a wade, but can quickly knock a child (or even an adult) off his or her feet. There's also the threat of poison ivy, not to mention the wildlife – snakes, bears, elk, yellowjacket wasps (be sure to carry an EpiPen if your child is allergic to bee stings).

With all this in mind, it's best to lay down some ground rules before you arrive in the park. Young children will undoubtedly see other kids scrambling up loose rocks off the trail, trying to climb around slippery waterfalls and other risky activities and may want to do the same. Make sure you keep small children close on hikes. As an added precaution, it's wise to have all children carry a whistle in case they get lost.

The bigger threat than falls or drowning is of course the human threat – or rather vehicular one. Car accidents are the leading cause of injury and death in the park. Be particularly careful when parking at trailheads. Sometimes you'll have to park beside the road, without much room to maneuver, and other drivers don't always slow down for young families wandering across the road.

Local law requires that children under four years of age ride in a car seat, while kids aged five to eight must ride in a booster-seat system. Most car-rental agencies rent rear-facing car seats (for infants under one year of age), forward-facing seats and boosters for about $10 per day, but you must reserve them in advance.

Dining

Even the most upscale restaurants outside the park welcome families. Throughout the park you'll find plenty of picnic spots – many with grills for those who want to do a bit of daytime barbecuing. Since there are no traditional restaurants within the park itself, be sure to pack a cooler and load up at a grocery store first. The best places to procure supplies are Gatlinburg and Townsend for the north side of the park, and Cherokee and Bryson City for the south side of the park.

Cades Cove Campground has a small snack bar that sells sandwiches, soup, pizza, ice cream, drinks and other fare. Elkmont Campground has a smaller concession stand that doles out a few snacks. At either you can also buy ice and firewood.

Beyond the Park

Families with children of all ages could spend several days enjoying the sites outside of the park. Gatlinburg is a wonderland for some (and hell on earth for others). Its people-packed main street is littered with attractions of all types – from haunted houses and mini-golf courses to fudge shops, candy stores and souvenir stands. Two open-sided chairlifts whisk you up a mountain for fine views.

If you prefer to avoid the circus-like atmosphere of Gatlinburg, you'll find other options. Bryson City, near the Deep Creek section of the national park, is the starting point for the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, which offers scenic journeys aboard vintage steam- or diesel-powered trains.

Another kid-pleaser is Dollywood, a theme park and water park near Pigeon Forge offering endless days of amusement (it's also a resort with cabins, pools and plenty of kid activities, plus evening entertainment). Further afield to the west, you'll find Chattanooga, famed for its riverside trails, pedestrian bridges, outdoorsy activities and fun restaurant scene. East of the park, Asheville is another buzzing city offering ample rewards for young and old alike.

Travel with Pets

The national park isn't the best place to travel with your dog, though it is possible to bring along the furry friend if you don't mind making some sacrifices. Inside the national park, pets are allowed in campgrounds, in picnic areas and along the road, though they must be kept on a leash (no longer than 6ft) at all times.

Pets are permitted on only two hiking trails: the Oconaluftee River Trail and the Gatlinburg Trail. These smooth, flat walking trails provide a fine introduction to the Smokies, but if this is all you'll see, you're rather limiting yourself. Pets are also not allowed to be left unattended in a vehicle – meaning you can't leave Goldie in the rental car while you go off for a long hike.

Wherever you go, be sure to collect and properly dispose of any pet waste.

Some other natural parks in the region have a more lenient policy with pets. Check out Cherokee National Forest, Nantahala National Forest and the Chattahoochee National Forest.

Pet Boarding

If you decide you'd rather be canine-free for a few hours or days, you'll find boarding centers outside the park, including in Cherokee and Gatlinburg. One recommended Gatlinburg boarding facility is the cheekily named Barks & Recreation, which receives positive reviews. Be sure you bring along your veterinarian records. Most places cannot accept dogs (for daycare or boarding) without them.

Travelers with Disabilities

Although most hiking trails are not wheelchair accessible, the national park does its best to accommodate travelers with disabilities. And all visitors can partake in the park's spectacular scenic drives.

The park's main visitor centers at Sugarlands, Oconaluftee and Cades Cove are all accessible, with dedicated accessible parking spots and accessible restrooms.

The park also has one excellent trail that is accessible: Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail. This half-mile trail is smooth and level with a wide paved path that skirts along a pretty river and past remnants from the early 20th century.

Other places worth exploring include historic sites in Cades Cove, which has hard-packed gravel paths running around the area. Buildings can be viewed only from the exterior, though the Cable Mill and the Becky Cable House are both accessible via a ramp.

The path to Clingmans Dome is paved, but owing to its steepness, it is not ADA approved. However, with assistance, many travelers with disabilities have made the trip up.