Located along the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, in the southeastern United States, the Great Smoky Mountains form part of the Appalachian range. They're believed to be some of the oldest mountains in the US, and even in the world. Whether you’re a hardcore hiker or just a casual trekker, this scenic mountain range has plenty of fun activities to offer. However, if you're looking to visit in the best conditions, you may be wondering when is the best time to visit Smoky Mountains?
With beautiful mountain views, spectacular waterfalls, inviting cabins, and more than 800 miles of hiking tracks, the Smoky Mountains are undoubtedly one of the best places to go on this side of North America. They're a particularly exciting playground for lovers of nature and the great outdoors.
With a lot of activities to offer and fascinating attractions to experience, it’s really a smart idea to find the right time to visit in order to make the most of the area. Keep in mind that every season in the national park has its own beauty. So hopefully, this guide will help you find the best time to visit Smoky Mountains.
Best time to visit Smoky Mountains
High Season in the Smoky Mountains
For most visitors who visit the Smoky Mountains, June, July, and October are considered the best months to go to the Smoky Mountains national park.
Warm, sunny days tend to be the busiest times of the year. In high season, the spectacular forests of the Great Smoky Mountains are at their best and most picturesque. Throughout the month of October, trees lose their leaves, wrapping the area in beautiful fall colors and a romantic atmosphere.
Low Season in the Smoky Mountains
On the other hand, visitor numbers are at their lowest in the spring and winter. Nevertheless, note that a whopping 10 million visitors visit this national park every year. This means that even throughout the sluggish months, you can still expect to cross paths with a good number of people in the Smoky Mountains.
It is important to be familiar with the area’s average temperatures at low elevations. This allows you to estimate the temperatures in the highly elevated regions of the national park, like Clingman's Dome and Newfound Gap, which are usually several degrees colder.
Usually, the Smoky Mountains offer a mild, pleasant climate. Warm summer days in the area hardly reach above the 90-100 degrees range, while in winter, the coldest temperatures do not usually drop lower than the 20s. The winter and spring seasons tend to see more inches of rainfall, while the fall and summer are usually drier.
Regardless of when you decide to visit, you will surely find a lot of things to love about the Smoky Mountains. Here are some things to expect in the area according to the season.
A normal summer day in the Smoky Mountains is warm, hazy, and humid, with thundershowers in the afternoon. Although the lower elevations normally see high temperatures in the 80s or 90s, it is not difficult to move to cooler places. You can usually escape the heat by making your way to higher areas of the park, such as Mt. LeConte, Newfound Gap, and Clingman's Dome, which rarely experience temperatures above 80°F.
Weather-wise, summer is the nicest time of the year. If you want to enjoy outdoor activities such as zip lining, whitewater rafting, or even horseback riding, then summertime is the best time to visit Smoky Mountains. Wildlife such as bear, deer, and turkey are also widely spotted throughout the summer season. So if you’re interested in some great wildlife photography opportunities, you should try to visit at this time of the year.
On warm sunny days, a lot of visitors freshen up by enjoying swimming holes, exploring waterfalls, or hiking to the higher parts of the national park, like The Chimney Tops Trail, Newfound Gap, or Clingman's Dome.
For all these reasons, a lot of visitors would pick summer as the best time to go to the Smoky Mountains.
As summertime gives way to the fall season, the Smoky Mountains begin to experience drier weather but colder temperatures. Bright fall colors start to appear around the second to third week of October, and the first frosts usually take place in late September through to early November. As late fall approaches, there’s even some snowfall in the highest areas of the park.
With this kind of weather and the spectacular autumn foliage on display, fall is considered to be a great time to visit the national park for those planning to hike. There are famous fall hikes that can be taken at that time, including the Mt. LeConte Trail, the Alum Cave Trail, as well as The Middle Prong Trail in Tremont.
Animals such as deer and bears are pretty active at that time of the year, as they prepare for winter. Fall in the Smoky Mountains is extremely scenic, so make sure to bring your travel camera with you!
You must keep in mind that the fall season is a particularly busy time in the area, as a lot of visitors visit the Great Smoky Mountains to admire the stunning fall foliage. Some areas of the park, such as Newfound Gap and Cades Cove, can be very crowded. With this in mind, a smart way to avoid the crowds is to get off the beaten path and explore quieter (yet still gorgeous) areas such as Tremont, Greenbrier, or the Cataloochee Valley.
When the winter season draws near the Smoky Mountains, highly elevated areas of the national park normally experience temperatures below zero. However, lower areas such as Cades Cove and Gatlinburg usually have mild temperatures and do not receive much snow. The months of January and February see the heaviest snow, particularly in higher places like Newfound Gap, Mt. Leconte, and Clingman's Dome.
The colder temperatures transform the Smoky Mountains’ landscape into a beautiful winter wonderland. With spectacular frozen waterfalls and snow-capped highlands, winter is the best time to visit Smoky Mountains if you don't mind braving the cold to witness spectacular snowy scenery.
Better yet, if you're planning to hike, you will enjoy great visibility from the hiking trails once the autumn leaves have fallen on the ground. The Mt. Cammerer Fire Tower and the Laurel Falls Trail are some highly recommended spots for those who are planning to hike in winter.
Keep in mind that the highly elevated parts of the national park can be icy and snowy in the winter season. If you’re planning to hike mountain peaks such as The Jump Off or Mt. LeConte, you might have to pack winter hiking gear.
With the exception of holiday weekends, the Smoky Mountains are typically less crowded in winter. Moreover, the neighboring towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are copiously ornamented with Christmas decorations and offer a lot of ways to celebrate the Christmas spirit.
However, take heed that some roads in the national park are closed throughout winter, including the Clingman's Dome and Roaring Fork Motor Trail roads. Furthermore, winter weather conditions can sometimes cause other high elevation roads, such as the Newfound Gap Road, to be shut. On rare occasions, winter brings heavy snowstorms, and the local government decides to close off the park completely.
Overall, exploring the national park during the winter season shouldn’t be too hard. In fact, this can also be a great time to visit.
As the temperatures start to rise again, spring carries more rainfall. The weather in spring can be pretty unpredictable, with wide variations in temperatures. There are times when the mountains still experience heavy snowfall in the early part of March. On the other hand, there are also chilly, sunny days that are perfect if you’re going on a hike to spot wildflowers.
Spring is known to be the least crowded time to experience the Smoky Mountains. So, if you would like to enjoy some silence and privacy on your trip, you may want to visit in March or April. This is the perfect period to enjoy places like the Alum Cave Trail, Cades Cove, and Clingman's Dome without having to rub elbows with a heavy flow of tourists.
Furthermore, spring is the best time to visit Smoky Mountains if you want to see the park's waterfalls at their fullest and strongest, as this is when they receive the most water. The Ramsey Cascades, Abrams Falls, Rainbow Falls, and The Place of 1000 Drips are particularly remarkable at this time of the year.
In order to fully enjoy the magnificence of spring in the Smoky Mountains, go on a hiking trip in low-elevation parts of the park like Cades Cove and Greenbrier. The Smoky Mountains national park is known for not only for its biological diversity, but also for its spectacular number of wildflowers. The most popular trails to take in the spring wildflowers include The Little River Trail, Porter's Creek Trail, and the Schoolhouse Gap Trail.
Make the most of the Smoky Mountains with our favorite activities!
All in all, the Smoky Mountains offer a great experience no matter what time of the year you visit. So choose a season that appeals to you and prepare yourself for an amazing trip! Your visit of this spectacular national park is sure to leave a lasting impression in any season. Make sure to bring a camera with you to document all the memories you'll want to keep.
Hopefully, this article has helped you decide when is the best time to visit Smoky Mountains. If you have further questions on this topic, don’t hesitate to let us know in a comment below. And if you found this article helpful for planning your trip, make sure to share it with your family and friends!