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When is the best time to visit the Smoky Mountains?
I’ve been visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park ever since I was a toddler. From my family camping there as a child to visiting the Smokies this past summer for three days with my husband, I’ve seen every season. So when is the best time to go to the Smoky Mountains? Honestly… any time of year is great, but there are pros and cons for each.
That’s why I’ve put together this guide all about the Great Smoky Mountains best times to visit based on your goals! Whether you’re seaching for fantastic views, few crowds, or more, this the the best guide on visiting the Smokies.
Table of Contents
- 1 The Best Time to Visit the Smoky Mountains
- 2 When is the best time to visit the Smoky Mountains?
The Best Time to Visit the Smoky Mountains
From the gorgeous fall foliage to stunning wildflowers, this guide is here to help you choose the best time to visit the Smokies for you!
Best Time to Go to the Smoky Mountains: Spring
Spring is an incredible time of year to visit the Smoky Mountains for cooler weather, fewer crowds than summer and fall, and the start of beautiful wildflowers. While there is a chance of some rain if you come prepared it is a great time. Plus, the cooler evenings are perfect for a campfire or hanging out in the hot tub of a cozy cabin. Here are the details on visiting the Great Smoky Mountains in the spring.
Weather: March through May bring in cool weather and some rain. This is the average weather for Gatlinburg.
- March: Average high is 61ºF (16ºC), the average low is 33ºF (1ºC), and rainfall averages around 4.74 inches (12.04 cm) during the month.
- April: Average high is 70ºF (21ºC), the average low is 41ºF (5ºC), and rainfall averages around 4.22 inches (10.72 cm) during the month.
- May: Average high is 77ºF (25ºC), the average low is 50ºF (10ºC), and rainfall averages around 5.88 inches (14.94 cm) during the month.
Crowds: Wondering what the crowds are like in the spring in the Smokies? A fair question, as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country at around 12.5 million visitors in 2019 alone. In general, however, spring is a great month as there aren’t nearly as many crowds.
Pros of visiting the Great Smoky Mountains in the spring:
- First and foremost: baby animals! You may spot some bear cubs, deer fawn, and elk calves, especially in the Cades Cove area in the spring! Be sure to keep a safe distance, though! Mama animals can be very protective!
- Cooler temps make hiking much more bearable.
- Fewer Crowds. No competing for space on the trail or in popular tourist attractions across Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
- Cheaper prices for hotels and cabins as it is low season.
- Thanks to the rain, the waterfalls are incredible!
- Expect dazzling wildflowers! Spring ephemerals like trillium, lady slipper orchids, and violets can be spotted at this time.
- Best time for fishing and challenging rapids for whitewater rafting.
- Spring Events: Wildflower Pilgrimage, Great Smoky Mountain Trout Tournament, and Hands-on Gatlinburg (art festival)
Cons of visiting the Great Smoky Mountains in the spring:
- Some trails and roads could be closed due to weather in the early spring months. Always check the current conditions prior to your trip and before going out for the day on a hike.
- Trails are also pretty muddy– so be prepared! Bring some good hiking boots like Merrell Moabs to keep your feet dry and from slipping.
- May is the rainiest month during the year on average. To be fair, average monthly rainfall hovers between 4-5 inches (10-13 cm) per month throughout the year for the most part, but spring, in general, is a bit rainier. Bring a rain jacket!
Overall, the spring is a great time to visit for less people, baby animals, and gorgeous spring flowers!
Great Smoky Mountains Best Time to Visit: Summer
With the warm months of summer come the crowds to the Great Smoky Mountains. But there is a reason that this national park sees many visitors this time of year: it is a great time to visit to admire the beauty of the Smokies! With longer days, beautiful trails, and many outdoor attractions in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, it is a great time of year to go. Just be prepared to handle some heat!
Weather: During the months of June through August, rain is definitely a possibility, as well as a late afternoon thunderstorm. Be prepared and hike earlier in the day while it is cool.
- June: Average high is 83ºF (28ºC), the average low is 58ºF (14ºC), and rainfall averages around 5.52 inches (14.02 cm) during the month.
- July: Average high is 86ºF (30ºC), the average low is 63ºF (17ºC), and rainfall averages around 5.82 inches (14.78 cm) during the month.
- August: Average high is 85ºF (29ºC), the average low is 61ºF (16ºC), and rainfall averages around 4.57 inches (11.61 cm) during the month.
Crowds: Expect a lot of crowds, especially in cities like Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Restaurants are packed, tourist attractions are full, Cades Cove has some pretty heavy traffic, and many popular trails have a lot of people. Chris and I visited this past June and were able to find some incredible hiking trails to ourselves even in the height of summer! So you can definitely still have a great time here and avoid crowds.
Pros of visiting the Great Smoky Mountains in the summer:
- Beautiful scenery! Several wildflowers are in bloom like rhododendrons.
- Most trails and roads are open and available.
- From May through the end of September Cades Cove offers vehicle-free access to Cades Cove Loop Road on Wednesdays and Saturdays before 10 am. This means you can hike and bike before the cars come in!
- Best time of year for hiking, biking, backpacking, and white water rafting.
- Events: Firefly Lottery (enter to get the chance to witness the synchronous fireflies at Elkmont during late May-early June), 4th of July celebrations in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and the Great Smoky Mountains Hot Air Baloon Festival.
Cons of visiting the Great Smoky Mountains in the summer:
- It can be super hot! When we visited in June, the temperatures were very warm. It was hot even reaching the summit of Mt Cammerer on a sunny day! Be sure to pack plenty of water, electrolytes, and sunscreen. I love my 3L bladder that fits perfectly in my Osprey Hiklite pack. Also, a Lifestraw water bottle is a great idea to have on hand too.
- Random thunderstorms and rain can happen frequently! Also in June, we were sweating one day, and soaked to the bone and shivering at the top of Mt Leconte the next. Rain still happens in the summer months, so be prepared and pack up a rain jacket (and maybe a change of socks).
- The crowds. Yes, this is an extremely popular time of year to visit the Smokies. Families are on summer vacation, the weather is great for outdoor adventures, and it is the season for camping. Again, it is possible to avoid crowds (see a few sections below). Also, be sure to make reservations for meals and attractions if you can!
- Prices increase. With higher crowds come higher prices for hotels, cabins, etc.
- More bugs. With the warm weather comes more bugs, so be prepared and pack a tick key and bug spray.
Yes summer brings in more people to this high trafficked national park. However, it is very much possible to have a fantastic time and avoid crowds. Enjoy the fireflies and various outdoor activities this time of year.
Best Time to Visit Great Smoky Mountains: Fall
The weather starts to cool down and the days get a little shorter, making fall much more bearable than the hot summer months. There is also, of course, the stunning fall foliage on each and every hike to enjoy. It is no wonder that this time of year brings in a fair bit of tourists. Crisp evenings and warm days combine with dreamy colors and a hot cup of cider to make this a blissful time of year to visit the Smokies.
Weather: Luckily, fall also happens to have some of the driest weather in the Smokies, making it ideal if you hate dreary, rainy days. Here is a breakdown of the Smoky Mountains weather by month.
- September: Average high is 80ºF (27ºC), the average low is 55ºF (13ºC), and rainfall averages around 4.35 inches (11.05 cm) during the month.
- October: Average high is 71ºF (22ºC), the average low is 43ºF (6ºC), and rainfall averages around 2.67 inches (6.78 cm) during the month.
- November: Average high is 61ºF (16ºC), the average low is 34ºF (1ºC), and rainfall averages around 4.13 inches (10.49 cm) during the month.
Crowds: While perhaps not as packed as the summer months, the fall is very popular. This is a no-brainer as it is for the gorgeous fall foliage. Plus, hikers enjoy the cooler daytime temperatures. You’ll find several cars driving around, especially Cades Cove, on their leaf-peeping voyages. This is one of the best places in the US for fall, so it makes sense that this place sees a fair bit of traffic this time of year.
Pros of visiting the Great Smoky Mountains during fall:
- Absolutely stunning fall foliage! Expect yellow, red, purple, and brown leaves as you hike, bike, or drive your way around the Smokies. As the Great Smoky Mountains are in the south, expect to see leaves changing from late September through October.
- Amazing weather. This time of year sees some of the least amounts of precipitation and October is the driest time of year! Plus the weather is warmer during the day and cool at night.
- Most trails are open and available until around November.
- Cades Cove Loop has vehicle-free access until 10 am on Wednesdays and Saturdays in September.
- This time of year is perfect for hiking, biking, and white water rafting.
- Events: Several harvest festivals happen in the area, Oktoberfest, and Smoky Mountain Winterfest and Gatlinburg Winter Magic (start in November).
Cons of visiting the Great Smoky Mountains during fall:
- Expect a lot of people, especially in the towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Also, Cades Cove and other popular trails in the area will have many people. October is the most crowded during fall as it is peak foliage and kids are out for fall break.
- As it gets colder, some trails and roads will start to close down for the season or due to weather. Again, check the road and trail closures for more information. Snow and ice aren’t big in September and October, but there could be less than ideal conditions while hiking in November.
- Increased prices as many people are here for the beautiful scenery. Plan to make reservations to restaurants and such if you can.
Personally, autumn is one of the absolute best times to visit the Smoky Mountains. Near-perfect weather, gorgeous foliage, and the crisper air are perfect as is indulging in all of that rich southern cooking after a long hike! October is the most popular month in the fall, but it can still be a great trip or you can visit in late September or early November! It is also super romantic with the changing leaves- perfect for a honeymoon trip to Tennessee!
Best Time to Travel to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Winter
Last, but certainly not least, is visiting the Great Smoky Mountains in the winter months. The weather is much cooler, but the park is open 365 days a year. So expect many hikes all to yourself and great deals on cabin rentals and hotels.
Weather: Yes, even in Tennessee you’ll see snowfall, especially in the mountains. The higher up you go, the colder it is and the more snow and ice you’ll have. But if you’re willing to be flexible on your plans and pack warmly, then this is a great season to take advantage of few people and great prices.
- December: Average high is 51ºF (11ºC), the average low is 28ºF (-2ºC), and precipitation averages around 4.32 inches (10.97 cm) during the month.
- January: Average high is 48ºF (9ºC), the average low is 25ºF (-4ºC), and precipitation averages around 4.56 inches (11.58 cm) during the month.
- February: Average high is 53ºF (12ºC), the average low is 28ºF (-2ºC), and precipitation averages around 4.66 inches (11.84 cm) during the month.
Crowds: Expect very few crowds. This is the least popular time to visit the Great Smoky Mountains, especially in January and February. It is quiet, there are few events, and few people on the trails. If you want to avoid the crowds, this is hands down the best time to visit the Smokies!
Pros of visiting the Smokies in the winter:
- No crowds! This is a great time of year for avoiding other people.
- Really great prices. Snag some fantastic deals on cabins, hotels, and more if you choose to visit in the winter.
- Hiking is still available! Just be prepared with winter equipment and prepare for some potential ice and snow in higher elevations. But there is nothing like a frozen waterfall to yourself to admire! Also, be aware that many days can be quite warm in the winter as well, especially in lower elevations.
- There are places to go skiing, snowboarding, or tubing near the Great Smoky Mountains! Check out Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort and the Cataloochee Ski Area!
- Cades Cove is beautiful and empty!
- Events: Gatlinburg Winter Magic and New Years’ Eve Celebration.
Cons of visiting the Smokies in the winter:
- Some trails and roads close down during the winter months due to inclement weather. Stay up to date by checking the closures on the National Park website.
- Be prepared for snow and ice. Especially if you plan for more strenuous and higher elevation hikes. Be sure to pack plenty of warm weather gear.
- Driving can be a challenge in snow. If you plan to stay in a cabin in the mountains, know that if it is icy or cold it makes driving those steep mountain roads much more challenging.
- Less daylight. This means there is less time for hiking and outdoor activities.
While winter is less than ideal as a time to visit due to weather at times, know that many days are actually fairly warm for winter. And it is a great time of year to hang out in the cabin with the hot tub going and a nice hot cup of cocoa. If you want to have the Smokies to yourself, this is the time of year to go!
When is the best time to visit the Smoky Mountains?
Having said all of that, I feel that the best time to visit the Great Smoky Mountains is hands-down in the autumn months! Yes, there can be some crowds, especially in October, but the weather is incredible for hiking, camping, and being outside in general. Plus, the fall foliage in the mountains is truly stunning. There are also fewer bugs, several harvest festivals, and so much more.
You also can’t beat the smell of the fall foliage on a beautiful fall morning hike. Basically, if you can get here around late September or early November, you’re in for a treat! And even if you visit in October, there are plenty of ways to beat the crowds.
But the best time for you could be completely different! If you love skiing and no crowds, winter is amazing! If you love challenging hikes and getting up early for it then summer is wonderful! The point is to go when it aligns with your goals for the trip!
Tips for Avoiding Crowds During the Busy Months in the Smokies
Whether you can’t getaway during the off season or you really want to visit the Smokies at its finest, here are some tips to avoid crowds:
- Go early: I know it sucks to wake up early, but there is nothing better than having a popular trail to yourself! We ended up getting to popular trailheads like Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte at 6:30 in the morning and there were already cars in the lot. Get there as the sun rises to get most trails to yourself.
- Check out lesser-known trails. We had a waterfall to ourselves in June! Baskin Creek Falls is a less frequented waterfall in the park, and well worth it! We hardly saw anyone the entire hike! We also hiked up to Mt Cammerer almost completely alone and it was stunning! And we had the top to ourselves for a while. It is possible to find great trails in the Smoky Mountains with fewer people. You just have to dig deep!
- Check out the Moon Travel Guide for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for all the details on trails and hidden gems!
- Plan to visit mid-week. This isn’t always possible, but obviously trails during the week are going to be far less crowded than on weekends when more people are free.
- Camp near the trailhead. To get a head start (and not have to worry about parking) why not camp at a campground near the trailhead? For example, Cades Cove Campground is the perfect spot to get a head start to hiking or biking on Cades Cove and Cosby Campground is right next to the trailhead to hike up Mt Cammerer.
Where to Stay Near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
When it comes to where to stay near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there are a ton of options! There is camping, hotels, and cabin rentals available. And trust me, I’ve done them all.
For camping, I recommend Cades Cove Campground and Cosby Campground. Cades Cove Campground is $25 per night and has flushing toilets and drinking water. Cosby Campground is $17.50 per night and also has flushing toilets and drinking water.
I personally love staying in a cabin during my visits to the Smokies. It isn’t something you can do everywhere, and I love the rustic log cabin feel and the hot tub that is perfect for soaking achy muscles after a day on the trails. This was the cabin we stayed in last time and loved in Pigeon Forge! But for cabin rentals, we love checking Airbnb as they have tons of rentals throughout the area. Check out incredible Gatlinburg stays including cabin rentals in the area!
For hotels, here are some great places to stay based on your budget in the area:
- Budget: Clarion Pointe Downtown Gatlinburg. Prices start under $100 per night. Read reviews on TripAdvisor and book here!
- Mid-Range: Greystone Lodge on the River. Prices start at $150 per night. Read reviews on TripAdvisor and book here!
- Luxury: Berry Springs Lodge. Prices start at $225 per night. Read reviews on TripAdvisor and book here!
And last, but not least, there is the option to hike up to Mount LeConte Lodge and spend the night! It offers gorgeous sunrises and sunsets in the serene wilderness of the Great Smoky Mountains! Prices start at $154.50 per adult per night ($87.50 for children ages 4-12) and include lodging, breakfast, and dinner.
We hope you have the best visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! No matter the time of year, the Smokies are incredible to visit, it truly just depends on your goals for the trip!
Would you visit the Smoky Mountains? When is your favorite time to visit?