More people visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park than any other national park, and for a good reason. It’s a beautiful park and easy to access for much of the country. The downside to visiting a popular national park is the congestion that can come along with it. Today, we’ll look at some great park entrances that will get you enjoying the park faster with less frustration.
About Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in southeastern Tennessee. It is the U.S.’s most visited national park, with more than 12 million visitors annually. The park is 522,419 acres in size, making it one of the largest protected areas in the eastern portion of the U.S. Visitors come to enjoy the hiking, scenic drives, and plentiful wildlife.
The park is home to both gorgeous landscapes and abundant wildlife. Many make the journey to the park just for wildlife viewing opportunities. Some of the incredible animals you might run into while exploring the park include black bears, wild turkey, and elk. The park is home to 65 species of mammals, more than 200 varieties of birds, 67 native fish species, and more than 80 types of reptiles and amphibians.
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Are There Any Secret Entrances Into the Park?
Drive about 10 miles southwest of Pigeon Forge, and you’ll find Wears Valley. Known more to locals than to tourists, this is one of the least used entrances at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The area is lovingly known as the “Peaceful Side of the Smokies.” Using this entrance will get you into the park faster with less congestion.
Alternatives to the Congested Pigeon Forge Entrance
With Great Smoky Mountains National Park seeing so many visitors, it’s easy to imagine that the entrance can get pretty congested. It can take a long time to get through the gates as the crowd lines up, which means less time exploring the park. Those visiting during the busy season may want to consider using an alternative entrance.
The Cosby Entrance
How to Get There: You can reach the town of Cosby in about 35 minutes from Pigeon Forge and about 25 minutes from Gatlinburg. The Cosby entrance is about a mile south of TN-32 on Cosby Entrance Road. This entrance will provide not only less traffic but also great hiking opportunities.
How to Get There: The Cataloochee entrance lies on the North Carolina side of the park. This rugged and winding gravel road isn’t for the faint of heart but provides a beautiful first impression of the park. You can reach this entrance from Gatlinburg in about an hour. To get to the Cataloochee Valley from I-40, you should exit at the North Carolina exit 20. Hop onto NC-276 for approximately a quarter-mile. You will take a right to Cove Creek Road, where you can follow signs for the additional 11 miles to the Valley.
How to Get There: As mentioned before, the Wears Valley entrance is a great way to access the park. Located only about 10 minutes from Pigeon Forge, it’s an easy drive from many lodging options. It’s not only one of the least used entrances but also a great choice for those looking to avoid Gatlinburg traffic altogether.
How to Take a Stress-Free Drive Through the Great Smoky Mountains
If you’re headed to a national park, the odds are that you’re hoping for a scenic and relaxing experience. Getting stuck in crowds and waiting in lines probably isn’t what you had in mind. We’ve got a few tips to help you have a more enjoyable experience, even when the park is crowded.
Use a Lesser-Known Entrance
Avoid using the heavily trafficked Pigeon Forge entrance. You’ll likely spend quite a bit of time just navigating into the park if you go this route. While it may take you a few extra miles, utilizing a lesser-known entrance will lend itself to less congestion and a more hassle-free experience.
As with most national parks, arriving early will prove to be worth it. If you can beat the late risers into the park, you’ll experience a peaceful and calm park. By the time the crowds start filing in, you’ll have a great head start setting you up for a great day. You can get quite a bit done in those first few hours. Then you can enjoy the rest of the day once the lines start forming.
Know Where You’re Going
Having a plan is essential. The last thing you want to do is wander around all day and not see or do anything. Not having a plan is a recipe for disappointment. You don’t have to plan every detail, but it is important to know what you’re expecting from your visit and how to go about seeing and doing those things. List out your must-do and must-see items and make a plan to ensure you don’t miss them.
Bring Food With You
Food can be tricky to find in the park, and it comes with a higher cost. Not only will you end up paying more for your food if you don’t bring your own, but you’ll have to stop what you’re doing to scout out your meal. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy your food right where you are. Remember to pack out anything you pack in.
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Should You Use a Lesser-Known Entrance Into Great Smoky Mountains?
While there’s nothing wrong with using the famous Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg entrance, many people are looking for a less congested option. If you have the opportunity to choose a lesser-known entrance to the park, you should consider it. Not only will you have a less crowded experience, but you’ll also get to experience sights that many others miss. Less time waiting to enter the park means more time enjoying it.
Sometimes you can’t help but visit a park during its busy season, but you don’t have to settle for waiting in long lines. Utilizing lesser-known park entrances can be a frustration-free way of starting your park adventure. Have you visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park? What entrance do you feel is the best option for enjoying the park?