More than nine million visitors come to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park each year, and it’s not hard to see why. The Appalachian sub-range stretches across the border between eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina and the park covers over 800 square miles and is home to over 19,000 species. Among them are black bears, elk, which were reintroduced in 2001, and the tiny pygmy shrew.
The range earned its name for the haze that settles across the forested ridges, giving them a smoky quality. With four distinct seasons, there’s really no bad time to visit. The best way to see the park? Pick a cabin rental in one of the nearby towns so you can spend the day exploring before heading home for a cozy evening by the fireplace.
There’s only one lodge inside the park itself, but plenty of options in the surrounding area. These aren’t the roughly hewn log cabins of the early settlers. Today, visitors can stay in comfortable cabins equipped with Jacuzzis and Wi-Fi. On the Tennessee side, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are popular sites. Pick one with mountain views to be able to watch the sun rise behind the mountains.
On the other side of the range, just on the edge of the park in North Carolina, is charming Bryson City. Cabin rentals range from small family-size stays to lodges that can house a few dozen guests. Slightly further north, Lake Junaluska is another good option for visitors.
If you do want to stay in the park and are looking for a unique experience with a little less luxury—read: kerosene lanterns and propane heating—LeConte Lodge is the only permanent accommodation in the park itself. It’s located on Mount LeConte, the national park’s third highest peak, and the only way to reach it is by foot, with hikes to get their ranging from 5.5 to 8 miles.