The Best Time to Visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Best Time to Visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Late spring and fall are the best times to visit the Great Smoky Mountain National park.

Late spring brings the opportunity to view the park’s beautiful wildflowers, which it is known for, while still avoiding crowds. Late May is also warm enough to enjoy the park’s many historical sites, waterfalls and scenic hikes.

Summer sees the heaviest park traffic with the greatest number of visitors arriving in July.

Crowds thin in September; however, expect the park to fill up in October when colors reach their peak.

Read More :

Best time for good weather

The summer months present the best times for good weather.

Although the weather is warm, reaching into the 80s, it presents an opportunity to visit the park’s higher elevations, which reach well over 6,000 feet, where temperatures are up to 20 degrees cooler. Because of this temperature change, it’s important to be prepared with jackets and wet weather gear.

Cooler weather from January through March presents an opportunity to visit the park with few crowds; however, these are the most common times for snowfall when some areas of the park can be closed.

Best time for camping​

Camping in Great Smoky Mountains

The best time for camping in Great Smokys National Park is September to early November.

By the start of September, the heat of the summer begins to fade, with high temperatures during the day hovering below 80 and lows in the evening falling into the 50s. This makes for comfortable days at the campsite and trails followed by crisp nights sitting by an open campfire or wrapped in a cozy sleeping bag.

The summer crowds have also thinned, making campgrounds and backwoods campsites more available. Cooler temperatures at night also mean fewer bugs.

Read More : Guide to Camping in Great Smoky National Park

Best time for hiking​

Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains

The best time for hiking is from June to August.

While you’ll face hotter temperatures, much of the park is at higher elevations, which means you’ll find comfortable temps and low humidity even in mid-July. In fact, for the park’s highest summits, you should take a jacket along with you even on a midsummer hike.

Summer also presents the best time to see the park’s wildlife, which is most active during the summer months. Of course, this is largely subjective. Many hikers enjoy beautiful fall colors in autumn, wildflowers in the spring and hiking through snow in the winter.

Read More : Hiking Trails in Great Smoky National Park

Best time to avoid crowds

The best time to avoid crowds at Great Smoky Mountains National Park is September.

Certainly, the winter months beat out September when it comes to light crowds, but those cold months are reserved for those who revel in winter hiking. If cold weather camping and hiking isn’t your thing, September presents an opportunity to visit the park while the weather is still warm but the crowds have thinned as families turn their attention to the new school year.

By October, the park swells with people as the leaves change and visitors flock to the park.

Best time for auto touring

The best time for auto touring in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is October.

This is the prime season for viewing the changing colors of fall, and driving through the park is one of the best ways to do it. With 384 miles of road in the Smokies, there are plenty of routes to choose from with Cades Cove Loop, Cataloochee Valley, and Newfound Gap Road topping the list. Each offers incredible opportunities to view the fall colors during the fall season.

Best time to see wildlife

See Wildlife in Great Smoky Mountains

The best time to view wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is July and August.

Wildlife in the park is most active during the warmer months. It’s the best time to spy a member of the park’s bear population, as well as its elk herd. It’s also when the park’s population of lizards, the park is known as the salamander capital of the world, and wild turkey are most active. 

For those hoping to see bears, watch for them in the morning or at dusk when they typically forage for food.

Best time for biking

Biking in Great Smoky Mountains

The best time for biking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is September to October.

This is when the heat of summer has begun to fade, making biking through such areas as Cades Cove Loop and Cataloochee Valley much more enjoyable.

As these are lower areas of the park, temperatures here during the summer months reach well into the 80s. In the fall, temperatures typically top out in the upper 70s or low 80s, while lows will hove in the 50s or 60s, making for much more comfortable bike riding.

Best time for horseback riding

Horseback Riding in Great Smoky Mountains

The best time for horseback bridging in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is May to June.

The cooler temperatures, coupled with the blooming wildflowers make the spring season an attractive time to ride through the park. It also happens to be one of the park’s low traffic seasons, freeing up trails for horses.

Stables are located in Cades Cove, Smokemont, Smoky Mountain, and Sugarlands. Guided horseback rides are available from mid-March to late November.

Best time to see waterfalls

See Waterfalls in Great Smoky Mountains

The best time to see waterfalls in the park is July.

The park’s waterfalls, including Grotto, Laurel, Abrams, and Rainbow, are fed by rainfall. This rainfall flows down the mountain from such peaks as Mt. Le Conte and Clingman’s Dome, to the falls during the summer months.

The park sees 85 inches of rain each year with July receiving the most rain. This means the falls will be at their highest levels in mid-summer. Winter does offer another variation on waterfall viewing with many of the falls freezing in the colder winter months.

Best time to see wildflowers

See Wildflowers in Great Smoky Mountains

The best time to see wildflowers in the park is February through April.

While February may seem early for viewing flowers, it’s actually the best time to see flowers known as ephemerals, which appear in late winter and early spring, bloom, then disappear by May. Ephemerals include such flowers as trillium, columbine, bleeding heart, and violets.

During the spring the park hosts a week-long festival called the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage. Wildflower blooms will actually continue with different species of flowers until the fall, which is why the park is also known as Wildflower National Park.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Seasons

Summer

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Summer

Summer is the most popular time to visit the park, so expect heavy traffic in the park’s most popular areas, which include Cades Cove, Newfound Gap, and Roaring Fork, and heavy foot traffic on its most popular trails, which include Laurel Falls, Andrews Bald, and Chimney Tops.

The park’s lower elevations experience high temperatures ranging from the high 80s to low 90s while temperatures drop to the 60s and 70s at night. As this is the high season, reservations for cabins and campground spots quickly fill up, so make reservations early if you plan on visiting the park during the summer.

Read More : 12 Essentials to Bring for Summer Camping

Fall

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Fall

Fall is perhaps the best time of year to visit the park with temperatures reaching comfortable highs in the 70s and 80s during the day and dropping into the 50s in the evenings.

Fall foliage is a major draw for the park, resulting in crowds on the weekends from mid-September through October. Reservations for cabins and campgrounds quickly fill up for this period. Late fall brings sub-freezing temperatures at night and snow at higher elevations in the park.

Winter

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Winter

With the park located in the southeast, winters are generally mild in the park with the exception of the park’s higher elevations, which can see large volumes of snowfall. Highs during the day are in the 40s and 50s with temperatures dropping below freezing at night.

Rates for cabins and other accommodations are at their lowest during the winter with the exception of the Christmas holiday. Many trails remain open during the winter with some opportunities to see features unique to the season including snow-covered balds and frozen waterfalls. Some parts of the park do close during the wintertime.

Read More : Winter Camping Checklist – 11 Gear to Bring with You 

Spring

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Spring

Temperatures and weather can be unpredictable in the park in early spring with March snowfalls not uncommon. Warmer weather in April and May see the bloom of wildflowers throughout the park. Temperatures reach highs in the 60s during the day and dip into the 40s at night.

Visitor traffic in the park is low in early spring but slowly builds as the weather warms and the peak summer season nears. Accommodations become less available as with the arrival of warmer weather and spring break for many schools. Memorial Day is one of the most crowded weekends of the year.

Amanda Williams

Amanda Williams is a writer, plant-nerd, and outdoor enthusiast. She has traveled extensively, around the U.S., throughout Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Everywhere she treks, she takes time to enjoy the outdoors. John Muir is her hero. She aspires to inspire people to live better as he did.