- Wildflower Pilgrimage, April
- Synchronous Fireflies, June
- Independence Day Midnight Parade, July
- Mountain Life Festival, September
- Festival of Christmas Past, December
It's a wintry wonderland in the Smoky Mountains, with plenty of snow and icy temperatures. It's a fine time for snowshoeing and seeing the park without the crowds.
Winter remains in full swing in the mountains. If the subzero temperatures don't deter you, it's worth visiting for cross-country skiing, frozen waterfalls and fireside evenings in a rental cabin.
Temperatures are on the rise during the last month of winter. Some campgrounds and mountain roads open towards the end of the month. Not a bad time for hiking, with excellent visibility through tree lines still bare of foliage.
Spring makes its appearance with wildflowers, bigger crowds (during spring break) and the reopening of most campgrounds and roads. Nights can still dip below freezing (take note campers), but days can be delightfully sunny and warm.
A must for nature lovers, this four-day event (www.wildflowerpilgrimage.org) features more than 160 events, including guided hikes, wildlife photography, bird-watching, edible-mushroom walks, nighttime bat or owl strolls, outdoor sketching and indigenous storytelling. Registration opens in February and it always sells out, so plan ahead.
One of the best months to see spring wildflowers and flowering trees such as dogwoods and redwoods in the forests. Warm days mix with rainfall (a year-round possibility), and lodging prices are still lower than peak summer rates.
Tour de Blount
One Saturday in mid-May you can join other cyclists on the Tour de Blount (www.tourdeblount.com), a 78-mile ride that includes a punishing stretch of the Foothills Pkwy with grades of up to 14%. Shorter routes (25, 42 and 54 miles) are also available.
With warm days and cool, pleasant nights, June is a great month for camping, hiking and other outdoor activities. On the downside, expect plenty of crowds and high lodging prices.
For two weeks in late May or early June each year, you can see the incredible display of Synchronous Fireflies, when thousands of fireflies blink in perfect harmony. Elkmont Campground is the best place to see it. Enter the lottery in late April to earn a spot.
Women's Work Festival
One Saturday in mid-June, the Mountain Farm Museum showcases the many skills employed by rural women in the mountains. Learn about hearth cooking, spinning, and doll- and craft-making with corn husks. There's also live music.
The peak summer season continues with traffic-filled park roads and mobbed hiking trails. Prices are high and accommodation options are scarce (book well ahead). Ample ranger-led activities offer plenty of amusement for families.
Independence Day Midnight Parade
Proudly claiming to host the first Independence parade each year, Gatlinburg kicks off its festivities on the evening of July 3 with floats, marching bands and costumed performers setting out at the stroke of midnight. The festivities continue through the next day, ending at 10pm with fireworks over downtown.
Expect hot, steamy days and nights, and high lodging prices if you visit in August – though the crowds do thin out a bit towards the end of August (when many children are back in school).
Cooler temperatures and thinner crowds make September a fine month to take advantage of the Smokies' outdoor attractions. Regular ranger-led talks and several big festivals happen as well.
Music of the Mountains
In early September you can hear traditional Appalachian rhythms at this two-day festival held at Sugarlands Visitor Center and in the settlement of Townsend, TN. Expect quality old-time bands and plenty of toe-tapping tunes at this family-friendly gathering.
Mountain Life Festival
Held over one weekend in mid-September at the Mountain Farm Museum, this festival celebrates the fall harvest. See old-time skills come alive in the making of hominy, apple cider, sorghum molasses and lye soap. There's also a music jam to keep things lively!
One of the busiest months in the Smoky Mountains owing to the fiery fall colors lighting up the forests. Avoid coming on weekends, and expect higher prices and car-filled roads at peak hours (11am to 4pm).
The crowds of leaf-peepers thin as the blazing autumn colors now litter the floor (rather than the treetops). Some roads and campgrounds close for the season. You can score good deals on lodging.
Holiday shows happen in towns near the Smokies (such as Pigeon Forge) and Christmas decorations cover the storefronts of Gatlinburg and Bryson City. As long as you bundle up, it's a fine time for park hikes without the crowds.
Festival of Christmas Past
Celebrate Christmas in the Smokies with live bands, storytelling, harp singing and traditional craft demonstrations (quilting, weaving, basket-making, spinning). There are plenty of hands-on kid's activities to keep small ones amused. Held at the Sugarlands Visitor Center in early December.
In mid-December, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center hosts a holiday shindig with a jam session of mountain music, traditional craft-making, and apple cider and cookies on the porch. A roaring fire in the fireplace adds to the good cheer.
Junior Ranger Programs
From mid-June until mid-August, the national park hosts a wide range of activities for young visitors. Rangers lead talks at the visitor centers, exploring topics such as being a 'history detective' (searching for signs of human life before the national park's creation), how to set up campsites, learning about mountain medicine, geological history and school life back in the days of the early settlers. Stop in a visitor center or check the park's website for upcoming events.