Ancient mountains, misty forests, waterfalls, a ghost town, underground caverns, and a scenic road to nowhere: welcome to the country’s most visited National Park! Hikers, sightseers, spelunkers, white-water rafting fans and waterfall enthusiasts flock to Great Smoky Mountains National Park throughout the year to enjoy this enchanting swath of Appalachian wilderness located on the border of eastern Tennessee and North Carolina. Here's everything you need to plan your trip.

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Historical mountains, misty forests, waterfalls, a ghost city, underground caverns, and a scenic street to nowhere: welcome to the nation’s most visited Nationwide Park! Hikers, sightseers, spelunkers, white-water rafting followers and waterfall fans flock to Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park all year long to take pleasure in this enchanting swath of Appalachian wilderness positioned on the border of jap Tennessee and North Carolina.

Not like the jagged Rocky Mountains of the West, the Appalachians (together with the Smokies) at the moment are shorter, rounded, and usually tree-covered. These historic mountains are among the oldest on the planet – and so they’ve been worn down over the past 300 million years. Together with being, effectively, previous… the southern Appalachian mountains have so much occurring, biologically talking. The truth is, due to excessive humidity and tons of rain, the Nice Smoky Mountains is essentially the most biodiverse park within the Nationwide Park System!

With all the mountain surroundings, Appalachian tradition, and plant and wildlife biodiversity, Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park makes for a implausible Nationwide Park trip. Pack a rain jacket, lace up your hiking boots, and prepare for a Smoky Mountain journey!

Psst: In search of extra Nationwide Parks inspiration? We have now been exploring as many as we will! Browse all of our National Parks travel guides or check out a few of our favorites:


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A car driving along Little River Road in fall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
In our opinion, the most effective time to go to the park is throughout the fall. With colours like these, driving across the park is half the enjoyable! (Photo Credit)

Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park FAQs

Listed below are some issues to know earlier than you begin to plan your journey to Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park!

How do I get to Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park?

There are three essential entrances into Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park: Gatlinburg, TN; Townsend, TN; and Cherokee, NC.

In the event you’ll be flying to Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park after which rent a car, the closest airport is McGhee-Tyson – simply south of Knoxville, Tennessee. From there, it’s a 30-mile drive to the Townsend entrance or about an hour and half drive to the Gatlinburg entrance.

You possibly can additionally fly into Asheville, North Carolina – 60 miles east of the Cherokee entrance.

Whether or not you’re driving your complete method or coming from a close-by airport, you’ll move by way of both Cherokee, NC; Gatlinburg, TN; or Townsend, TN. Every gateway city has its personal vibe, and all three make an amazing basecamp on your go to to the Smokies in case you select to not keep within the park. 

  • Journey Tip: Booked your flight and rental car but? We advocate utilizing Kayak to price-compare offers and dates to economize… so you’ll be able to spend extra on meals throughout your journey (#letsbehonest). In the event you’re fortunate sufficient to snag a campsite in a couple of of the parks, take into account renting an RV so you’ll be able to street journey and sleep below the celebrities in model! We advocate utilizing RVShare, which helps you to borrow RVs instantly from their homeowners.

How do I get round Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park?

You’ll undoubtedly desire a automobile when visiting the Smokies. Moreover the truth that you’ll need the liberty to discover each nook and cranny of this in depth park, you’ll additionally want a automobile to get right here within the first place. 

While you get to the Smokies, it’s time to place away your GPS: these stunning mountains are likely to mess with navigation techniques and switch them into unreliable co-pilots! However you’ll be able to choose up a map at one of many customer’s facilities or download a topographic map. A guidebook is extremely useful to deliver alongside within the automobile with you – we advocate this Moon Guide!

There isn’t a NPS-run shuttle system (like there are in Zion or Yosemite, for instance), although the Gatlinburg Trolley can get you to a few the primary sights — Sugarlands Customer Middle, Laurel Falls, and Elkmont Campground. There are additionally some personal shuttle companies that service the encircling cities. However if you wish to hit every thing in your record and have full freedom inside the park, driving your self is the best way to go.

A scenic view of fall trees in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
It’s fall, ya’ll! In the course of the fall, the park is quieter (particularly mid-week) and the hills come alive with stunning fall foliage. Plus, the climate is virtually good! (Photo Credit)

When ought to I go to Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park?

There isn’t actually a dangerous time to go to the Smoky Mountains — it’s stunning in each season. But when we’re going to advocate one season to go to the Smokies, it’s gotta be the fall.

Summer season is packed, however the crowds begin to skinny out when fall rolls round. The forested mountains create among the most spectacular fall shade shows within the nation, and the hikes grow to be much more magical.

To prime it off, the climate is principally *good*. This season’s highs vary from the 50s to the 70s. It’s additionally the park’s dry season, so that you’re a lot much less more likely to get soggy whereas exploring this sometimes (very) moist park.

Whereas fall’s our favourite, you’ll be able to count on some highlights throughout each season.

  • Spring brings wildflowers, gushing waterfalls, and warming temps. Anticipate highs within the 70s and 80s by Could. Early spring is unpredictable, however it’s a good time to search out some solitude on the often busy trails.
  • Summer season brings the crowds, and there’s no making an attempt to disclaim it. Waterfalls, trails, and campsites will probably be busy, however you’ll be able to nonetheless discover some quiet in case you get up early sufficient. This time of yr, highs creep into the 90s. That is the season for rafting, swimming, boating, and tubing. 
  • Winter occurs within the Smokies, however it’s not so intense as to scare off hardy guests. Highs within the valleys can attain the 50s, however dustings (and typically truckloads) of snow on the upper peaks provides the park some severe snowglobe vibes. In the event you gown effectively and put together, this can be a implausible time to reap the benefits of the park’s abandoned trails.

Journey Tip: Weekends throughout peak fall shade season get busy, too. Visiting the park throughout the week may help you’ve got a quieter expertise.

Why are the Smoky Mountains smoky?

There’s a blue haze that settles on the Smoky Mountains and the close by Blue Ridge Mountains… however is it actually smoke? Truly, it’s extra of a fog.

The plush, biodiverse forests and mountains of the Smokies give off a vapor that settles right into a misty, blue haze, however it’s utterly innocent (and largely not air air pollution). For a extra detailed rationalization, read this article.

Who’re the unique inhabitants of the Smokies?

The Cherokee people have referred to as the Smokies residence for greater than a thousand years. The Cherokee thought-about the mountains to be a sacred place and referred to the world as “Shaconage” (Sha-Kon-O-Hey): land of the blue smoke They hunted, fished, and farmed the land till battle arose with arriving white settlers.

Not lengthy after introducing illness and struggle to the Cherokee, the US authorities (led by President Andrew Jackson) compelled the Cherokee individuals off their land. Seems, there was gold there, and white individuals thought they deserved it. 

In 1838, 14,000 Cherokee started the journey west on the Trail of Tears. Of people who started the journey, 4,000 died on account of illness, starvation, and publicity.

Nonetheless, again in North Carolina, one other group of Cherokee, who thought-about themselves separate from the Cherokee Nation, have been allowed to remain. This group, the Oconaluftee Cherokee, had an advisor – William H. Thomas – who grew up amongst them and helped them with authorized issues. 

The Oconaluftee Cherokee, together with some members of the Cherokee Nation who hid within the mountains to keep away from relocation, grew to become the Japanese Band of the Cherokees.

Immediately, there are about 11,000 members who largely stay inside the reservation in western North Carolina. The reservation is a giant a part of the native Smoky Mountain vacationer economic system, with campgrounds, motels, and sights.

Like a lot of our nation’s nationwide parks, Nice Smoky Mountain was established on land already inhabited by Indigenous peoples and white settlers. Just like the Cherokee earlier than them, these later inhabitants had a tough time holding onto their land as ideas and support behind the National Park gained traction. Visiting the park right now supplies a glimpse into these early settlers’ lives and the tradition constructed round this land.

Anything I ought to find out about visiting Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park?

  • There’s no charge to get contained in the park. The states of Tennessee and North Carolina paid to construct Newfound Hole Street, and when possession of the street transferred to the federal authorities, it was below the situation that there would by no means be a charge to journey it. 
  • It rains so much within the Smokies, particularly at increased elevations. It rains extra on the upper peaks (as a lot as 85 inches) than anyplace else within the nation besides the Pacific Northwest. A few of the higher elevation areas are categorized as temperate rainforest. Examine the forecast, and put together for some soggy weather.
  • Wildlife is a spotlight within the Smokies — and it’s best to know how to be safe while you see it. There are a variety of animals you may see whereas mountaineering within the Smokies – together with snakes, owls, deer, elk, and bears. Usually, maintaining your distance from these animals is sufficient to hold you secure. You need to keep at least 50 yards away from bears – wilfully getting any nearer is a park violation. Make noise while you’re mountaineering, don’t go away meals unattended, and provides wildlife their area. 
  • Anticipate crowds. This park had greater than 12 million visits in 2020. That’s about 8 million extra visits than the subsequent hottest park of 2020, which is Yellowstone. Even in case you’re visiting throughout a busy season (summer season, peak shade season, weekends), you can find some solitude by waking up early and avoiding the most well-liked areas.

Issues to do in Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park 

With spectacular swaths of wilderness, legendary whitewater rivers, scenic waterfalls, and quaint close by cities, there is no such thing as a scarcity of issues to do within the Smokies.

Listed below are our favourite methods to discover this Appalachian area — although you will have to return again for a second (or third) journey!

Take a Scenic Drive

Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park covers greater than 500,000 acres — so there’s so much to see. Along with the greater than 800 miles of trails, there are virtually 400 miles of roads crisscrossing the park.

A scenic drive is an effective way to see the far-off corners of the park or a enjoyable strategy to sightsee on a wet day. Simply be ready to take it slowww.

And don’t attempt to cram a scenic drive right into a small hole in your itinerary. With crowds, site visitors, and alternatives for brief hikes, photograph ops, and wildlife recognizing, you don’t need to rush a scenic drive within the Smokies! We advocate making a full day of it.

  • Self-guided scenic driving tour: This self-guided audio tour will information you across the park whilst you study Cherokee historical past & legends, Appalachian life, and rather more. Plus, the information will level you to all the most effective spots to soak up the timeless wonders of the mountains, like Clingman’s Dome, Cades Cove, and Rainbow Falls!
  • Cades Cove Loop Road: Cades Cove on the Tennessee facet of the park is a big valley residence to a lot of wildlife. Previous to the park’s institution and European settlement, Cherokee individuals hunted right here. Within the 1820s, white settlers arrived, constructed houses and different buildings, and started farming. As extra individuals settled in Cades Cove, church buildings and schoolhouses popped up. With the designation of the nationwide park, nevertheless, residents have been compelled out of the valley (not in contrast to the Cherokee earlier than them). Immediately, it’s a preferred space of the park, so keep away from taking your scenic drive in the midst of the day. The 11-mile one-way street takes guests on a fascinating journey by way of verdant meadows, alongside historic buildings and below canopied timber, all whereas within the shadow of forested mountain peaks. You may see black bears, wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, and coyotes whereas exploring the world. There are many automobile pull-outs the place you’ll be able to park and discover the historic buildings (church buildings, mills, houses, barns) and close by trails. There’s additionally a customer heart, campground, and several other trails within the space, so in case you don’t thoughts the crowds, you’ll be able to simply fill a day by exploring Cades Cove!
  • Newfound Gap Road: In the event you’re not from the Southeast, chances are you’ll be questioning what the heck a “hole” is — and it’s a great query! A spot is a low level alongside a mountain ridge – what we name a “move” within the West, or a “notch” within the Northeast. A journey over Newfound Hole will take you as much as 5,046 ft, the bottom (and due to this fact best) path to drive by way of the mountains. Both method you strategy Newfound Hole, you’ll acquire about 3,000 ft of elevation — and the corresponding modifications you’ll discover in vegetation are similar to these you’d see whereas driving from Georgia to Maine.
  • Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail: Roaring Fork is called for the fast-moving, forceful stream that parallels this scenic drive. This 5.5-mile, one-way street winds alongside the stream close to an old-growth forest, historic cabins, and wildflower blooms. Earlier than starting the scenic drive, you’ll be able to cease for a self-guided tour of an previous mountain farmstead. You too can choose up a information for the Motor Path that gives extra of the historical past of stops alongside the best way.
  • Little River Road: In the event you’re heading to Townsend from Gatlinburg (or vice versa), chances are you’ll as effectively take the scenic, winding Little River Street. Starting on the Sugarlands Customer Middle and ending at Cades Cove, this street covers about 25 nice miles of overlooks, campgrounds, trailheads, swimming holes, and waterfalls.

Take a Hike

Top-of-the-line methods to spend your time in Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park is to hit the path on foot. Not solely will you be capable to escape among the extra crowded areas of the park, however you’ll additionally get to discover among the nation’s greatest trails.

The truth is, the Appalachian Trail (AT), a Nationwide Scenic Path that runs greater than 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine, travels the size of this park. A number of hikes overlap with the AT, so chances are you’ll share the path with hardcore thru-hikers!

Be aware: Extra hikes are included within the “Waterfall” part of this submit. 

  • Clingman’s Dome: (1 mile, 330 ft elevation acquire) At 6,643 ft, Clingmans Dome is the very best level within the Smokies, in Tennessee, and alongside the Appalachian Path. Guests can attain the dome tower by way of a paved (however steep – and never wheelchair accessible) 1-mile spherical journey hike from the car parking zone. On the prime, you’re rewarded with 360-degree views of the park and past. Due to its elevation, the height is commonly foggy, chilly, and moist – it’s truly thought-about a temperate rainforest up there! Be aware: Whereas Clingmans Dome statement tower is open year-round, the 7-mile lengthy street to the trailhead is closed from December 1 by way of March 31 on account of winter climate circumstances.You may nonetheless hike as much as the tower, simply be ready for moist, chilly, and wintry mountaineering circumstances.
  • Rocky Top: (14 miles, 3600 ft elevation acquire) For an all-day thigh-burner with each distance and a climb, the hike to Rocky Prime is an ideal alternative. This 14-mile out-and-back hike features about 3,600 ft – so you’ll be able to count on a quieter hike away from the crowds. It begins in Cades Cove and winds by way of rhododendron (which blooms in June, if you wish to be blown away by this flowering magnificence), fairly meadows, and mountain laurel, with spectacular views alongside the best way. The bald prime of this peak provides you unimaginable views of the Smokies – and heck, you deserve it! 
  • Andrews Bald: (3.6 miles, 900 ft elevation acquire) This reasonably troublesome hike is a good possibility for these desirous to summit a bald with out giving up their whole day. This can be a nice Goldilocks possibility — lengthy sufficient to really feel like a giant hike (and escape among the crowds), and brief sufficient that you just don’t should be an elite athlete to do it. The hike begins with a descent down Clingman’s Dome earlier than climbing up Andrews Bald. Like different balds within the Smokies, you’ll be able to rely on some wonderful views up prime. Until it’s cloudy… So choose a transparent day for this hike!
  • Schoolhouse Gap: (3.8 miles, 500 ft elevation acquire) Select this hike for a soothing, leisurely stroll by way of the forest, and —  within the spring — to benefit from the carpet of colourful wildflowers, too. The elevation acquire throughout this out-and-back hike is about 500 ft, which isn’t nothing, however is what you may name “fairly flat” while you’re mountaineering within the mountains. A part of this hike follows a creek, and with the peaceable forest and wildflowers, that is the proper path for many who need to zen out.
  • Chimney Tops:  (4 miles, 1400 ft elevation acquire) This is without doubt one of the hottest hikes within the park, and for good cause – it’s comparatively brief, and has wonderful views from the highest. However simply because it’s well-liked doesn’t imply that it’s simple: this hike features 1,400 ft over two miles. This hike is troublesome, strenuous and rocky – in reality, Chimney Tops is exclusive in that it’s one of many solely peaks within the Smokies with an uncovered rock summit.

These are just some of the countless variety of hikes you might piece collectively within the Smokies. With a whole bunch of miles of trails zigzagging this manner and that all through the park, you’ll be able to actually simply choose one and begin strolling — so long as you’ve acquired your map and correct mountaineering gear in tow.


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Elk grazing in Cataloochee Valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Elk are simply among the wildlife you’ll see out on the paths! (Photo Credit)

Hit the Path and Go Backpacking

In the event you love mountaineering and need to kick it up a notch by embarking on a multi-day hike, the Smoky Mountains are a implausible park for backpacking. With some outside expertise and cautious planning, you’ll be able to head out into the woods for a few days to expertise these mountains in a novel method. 

The Smoky Mountains are recognized for internet hosting a bit of the Appalachian Path, the two,000 mile path that follows the backbone of the Appalachians on its method from Georgia to Maine. Whereas finishing the path takes months of mountaineering (and an enormous sense of journey), you’ll be able to at all times backpack a small part of the path. In the event you do, you’ll want to determine transportation from both finish of your hike. 

Enjoyable Facet-Be aware: in thru-hiker terminology, this is named “part mountaineering,” and it’s a wonderfully legitimate strategy to full the whole lot of the Appalachian Path over the course of a lifetime!

With a whole bunch of miles of connecting trails, there are countless backpacking loops to select from. For simplicity’s sake, although, listed here are a couple of choices for nice 2-3 day routes: 

  • Big Creek Loop: (~18 miles, 4,200 ft elevation acquire) This loop begins on the Big Creek Campground. From the Massive Creek trailhead, you’ll comply with a gurgling mountain creek full with idyllic swimming gap (Midnight Hole) and waterfall (Mouse Creek Falls). The primary campsite is 5 miles in, and on Day 2, you’ll climb Mt. Sterling. All that climbing pays off, although, while you get to camp atop this attractive mountain. On Day 3, you’ll take Baxter Creek path down the mountain again to Massive Creek Campground.
  • Twentymile Loop and Gregory Bald: (~16 miles, 4,400 ft elevation acquire) Twentymile loop isn’t fairly 20 miles… however it’s virtually 16. Shut sufficient! Excellent for a one-night journey, this much less populated path options the summit of Gregory Bald, the place you’ll be rewarded with views of Fontana Lake, Clingman’s Dome, and Cades Cove. You may camp on the bald, too, and head again right down to the trailhead the subsequent day. This loop begins and ends on the Twentymile Ranger Station.
  • Tricorner Loop: (31 miles, 8,100 ft elevation acquire) For the super-adventurous who desire a longer journey and so much of elevation, the Tricorner Loop provides backpackers the chance to summit 8 peaks alongside the best way. Some peaks sit proper on the loop whereas others require a fast out-and-back climb off the primary loop. After the preliminary few miles (and couple-thousand ft of elevation acquire), you’ll be able to resolve how a lot these peaks actually imply to you. For 2 larger days adopted by a fast, 4-mile hike out, plan your stays (mountaineering counterclockwise) on the Tricorner Knob Shelter and the Enloe Creek Shelter. This path begins and ends at Round Bottom Campground.

Do not forget that backpacking, like tenting, requires a lot of planning. Within the Smokies, you’ll must plan your route and get permits beforehand.

Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park additionally has some regulations round backcountry tenting, together with storing meals, constructing fires, and wildlife safety. Be sure to’re accustomed to all the park’s steerage earlier than heading into the backcountry – being unprepared isn’t enjoyable, and may negatively have an effect on wildlife and different park guests.


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A group waterwater rafting in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Whitewater Rafting is an efficient strategy to see nature quick! Photo Credit

Go Rafting on a Mountain River

Whitewater rafting is a pants-wetting, heart-racing thrill – and it’s a lot enjoyable! The Smokies, with plentiful rivers and dramatic elevation gradients, is the proper place for a rafting journey.

If the joys of whitewater doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, no worries. Just like mountaineering, you’ll be able to choose your degree of journey – simply be ready to get moist it doesn’t matter what!

Relying on the place you’re staying in or close to the park, there are tons of choices when selecting a rafting information. Totally different corporations provide completely different ranges of depth – from mild river cruise to wild water thrill.

  • This trip down the Upper Pigeon River is for these on the lookout for a thrill. You’ll spend two hours on the water, tackling Class III to IV rapids. Freshmen are welcome, however put together to get soaked!
  • For many who need slightly bit of pleasure with out too a lot thrill, this Lower Pigeon River trip has simply the correct amount of splash. You’ll tackle Class I and II rapids, simply sufficient to steadiness out the in any other case stress-free float down the river.
The Fontana Dam with Fontana Lake in the background along the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina
Fontana Lake is a dam good place to paddle! (Photo Credit)

Paddle on Fontana Lake

Even when wetting your pants from the joys of whitewater rapids isn’t your factor, you’ll be able to nonetheless take pleasure in spending time on the water within the Nice Smoky Mountains. Fontana Lake, simply west of Bryson Metropolis, is a 29-mile lengthy reservoir with a lot of peaceable coves and islands.

Because it’s bordered by Nationwide Park and Nationwide Forest lands, the shoreline is usually undeveloped, making this lake a camper’s, paddler’s, and angler’s paradise. The dam constructed within the early Nineteen Forties to offer electrical energy throughout World Conflict II is the tallest in Japanese US, and the Appalachian Path crosses it earlier than coming into Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park.

Renting a kayak or paddleboard or hopping on a guided sundown cruise are all nice methods to benefit from the splendor of the Smokies from a special perspective. 

  • Bryson City Outdoors, in Bryson Metropolis and Cherokee, NC, affords kayak and get up paddleboard rentals from Almond Boat Park and Marina. Their shops provide all the outside and paddling gear you will have forgotten, and their taproom serves up the proper beer to accompany or conclude your day on the lake. 
  • In the event you’d moderately go away the navigation to a professional, be part of a guided paddleboard tour with Sunny Day Adventure Co. The guides know the lake’s greatest secluded nooks and coves, so that you may be positive you’ll discover slightly peace and quiet close to the nation’s hottest Nationwide Park. If paddleboarding continues to be extra adventurous than you’d like, how about sippin’ a chilly one on a guided sunset cruise?
A Native American display at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina
The Museum of the Cherokee Indian exhibits the historical past of those that have referred to as the Smoky Mountains residence for hundreds of years. (Photo Credit)

Be taught in regards to the Cherokee Folks and Appalachian Tradition

Whereas there’s undoubtedly a variety of wilderness to discover within the Nice Smoky Mountains, you’ll be able to’t skip over the cultural sights that remember this space’s Appalachian heritage. You’ll discover previous cabins, settlements, and villages contained in the nationwide park, however these close by museums are additionally nice locations to study in regards to the native historical past.

  • Museum of the Cherokee Indian: To study in regards to the historical past of the individuals who’ve referred to as this place residence for hundreds of years (which it’s best to undoubtedly do), try the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina. This attraction has been referred to as a “mannequin for museums,” and shares Cherokee tales in a fascinating, genuine method. It’s not an enormous museum, however affords a variety of data for these prepared to take their time.
  • Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center: This museum captures the spirit and tradition of the Smoky Mountain Area. It affords occasions, festivals, academic applications, indoor displays, and an Appalachian village containing historic buildings. You may study native historical past, logging, and the start of the park. The museum is a fast drive east of Townsend, TN, in your method into the Nationwide Park.
  • Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill: The Mountain Farm Museum in Cherokee, NC features a assortment of historic buildings that have been authentic to completely different places in what’s now the Nationwide Park. You may see previous buildings like a home, barn, smokehouse, and blacksmith store — most of which have been constructed within the late 1800s and moved to their new location within the Nineteen Fifties. Along with seeing the buildings, you’ll be able to choose up a information and take a self-guided tour, or take a stroll on one of many two close by trails.

Admire a Waterfall

Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park is chock-full of majestic, inspiring, fairyland-esque waterfalls. These picturesque pure options are a favourite web site for a lot of vacationers, from the hundred-foot drops to the fragile drips.

Why so many waterfalls? Properly, there’s no scarcity of water within the Smokies. At increased elevations, this area can get as a lot as 85 inches of rain yearly. The opposite essential ingredient for waterfall magic is a change in elevation —  and the mountainous terrain of the Smokies suits this invoice, too.

You may take pleasure in waterfalls on nearly each hike and scenic drive all through the park, however comply with the Park Service’s security warnings. Rangers take care of a variety of swift water rescue situations when individuals swim too near waterfalls, try a harmful stream crossing, or climb the rocks round a waterfall. Use your frequent sense, and comply with park safety guidelines

Whereas there are waterfalls all over the place you look within the Smokies, listed here are among the most notable:

  • Rainbow Falls: This waterfall is the tallest single-drop falls within the park. When it’s sunny out, the mist from the falls creates — you guessed it — a rainbow. Seeing this waterfall requires a reasonable hike. It’s 5.4 miles spherical journey with over 1600 ft in elevation acquire.
  • Ramsey Cascades: Whereas Rainbow Falls is the tallest single-drop waterfall within the park, Ramsey Cascades is the tallest total, at 100 ft. This waterfall tumbles down rocky outcroppings earlier than falling right into a pool on the base. These falls are accessible by an 8-mile (spherical journey) hike, and it received’t be simple. This strenuous stroll takes you up 2000 ft of elevation acquire by way of old-growth forest and alongside speeding mountain streams.
  • Grotto Falls: Grotto Falls is a 25-foot waterfall in an old-growth Hemlock forest. There’s a mild, 2.6-mile (spherical journey) hike to achieve it, and in the summertime, it’s a superb stroll for seeing wildflowers. The falls itself is a cool, misty retreat from scorching climate — search for salamanders while you get there!
  • Laurel Falls: This is without doubt one of the hottest falls within the park, so plan your go to accordingly. To succeed in the falls, you’ll hike 2.6 miles (spherical journey) with only some hundred ft of elevation acquire. The falls itself is 80 ft tall, and divided into two sections with a footbridge crossing in between. This photogenic falls is called for the Mountain Laurel that blooms within the spring, so take into account this vacation spot in case you’re visiting in Could.
  • The Sinks: The Sinks is a waterfall proper off Little River Road, and makes an amazing cease alongside the scenic drive. The Sinks is about 12 miles west of Sugarland Customer Middle. This spot is an attractive little stretch of river — waterfalls, large boulders, and shimmering swimming pools beg you to leap in. However watch out — this spot has been the location of a number of accidents and drownings. In the event you’re on the lookout for a swim, this isn’t the most effective spot. However in case you’d prefer to stretch your legs at a gorgeous roadside waterfall, undoubtedly pull over.
  • Meigs Falls: Meigs Falls is one other roadside waterfall alongside Little River Street. 13 miles west of Sugarlands Customer Middle, these falls are tucked away and straightforward to overlook, however there’s a pull off so that you can park your automobile and have a look.
  • Place of 1,000 Drips: Discover these falls alongside the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Path, ideally throughout the wet season or on a wet day! The names come from the best way the falls break up into many various “drips” that circulation over and off of moss-covered boulders. Particularly when it’s flowing quick, this waterfall belongs in a woodland fairy dream.
  • Mingo Falls: Mingo Falls is technically exterior of the Nationwide Park on the Cherokee Reservation, and it’s value a go to. At 120 ft tall, this waterfall is one among tallest within the southern Appalachians. The hike to the falls is a reasonable half mile every method on the Pigeon Creek Path, starting from Mingo Falls Campground.

Go Spelunking in Tuckaleechee Caverns

Whereas the idyllic panorama of the Smokies attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists yearly, fewer persons are conscious of the loopy formations that draw individuals below the Smokies. That’s proper – nature’s awe doesn’t finish with the mountains, wildlife, and rivers aboveground.

Heading underground into Tuckaleechee Caverns, a mile-long limestone cave system, rewards you with otherworldly views of towering stalagmites, glowing streams, and Silver Falls, a 210-foot underground waterfall.

Tuckaleechee Caverns can also be residence to essentially the most delicate seismic station on the planet. These caves, estimated to be between 20 and 30 million years previous, grew to become residence to a seismic station when the Tennessee Valley Authority was constructing dams within the space and needed to know the affect of the water on the underlying tectonic plates.

Due to the caverns’ deep, strong, limestone formations, the caves can choose up on sounds on the opposite facet of the globe. The US army now makes use of this seismic station to watch nuclear testing world wide. So principally, if the Earth has an ear… that is it! 

There are few completely different tales in regards to the caves’ “discovery.” Probably, Cherokee peoples discovered and used the caves lengthy earlier than white settlers did. Some tales say that some Cherokee even used the caves to cover from white settlers. 

“Discovery” of the cave system is most frequently described within the story of two younger boys discovering the opening to the cave, climbing down into it, and “enjoying Tom Sawyer”. One other story hyperlinks the cave’s discovery to sawmill employees who observed rainfall pouring into a close-by sinkhole.

Immediately, you’ll be able to take a guided 1-mile stroll by way of the cave system, witnessing subterranean streams, waterfalls, and geologic oddities. The tour additionally features a cease on the “Massive Room,” an aptly named 400-feet-long, 300-feet-wide, and 150-feet-deep absence of earth. It’s so large, it may possibly practically maintain a soccer stadium.

Whereas exploring darkish, subterranean crevices could be extra of a turnoff for the extra claustrophobic traveler, this can be a moderately snug, roomy expertise!


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A foggy hike along Cucumber Branch Loop Trail in the fall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
(Photo Credit)

Go to a Historic “Ghost” City

The park’s largest campground, Elkmont, is simply steps away from a real ghost city, the place guests can discover the stays of a logging neighborhood and two turn-of-the-century-era resorts.

As soon as a mountain playground for the rich, this ghost city doesn’t look so glamorous now, however it’s the place the world’s enormous tourism trade acquired its humble begin—and the place the motion to create the park was born.

Elkmont acquired its begin within the mid-1800s as a small settlement of homesteaders, hunters, and loggers. Due to the lumber increase and an inflow of vacationers, it grew to grow to be the second-largest city within the county and included a resort, a retailer, a church, a faculty, and a submit workplace.

Quickly, although, the encircling mountains have been naked — as tends to occur when topic to aggressive logging. The Little River Logging Firm stopped their operations on this space in 1926, and discuss of making a Nationwide Park started. 

Ultimately, with the event of the park, Elkmont’s residents headed elsewhere. What was as soon as a thriving lumber and vacationer city now sits empty — a real ghost city within the Smokies! The place earlier than there have been glamorous resorts, houses, shops and a submit workplace, there’s now eerily empty buildings, spirits, and a ghost workplace. Ghost jokes!

In the previous couple of many years, the park began restoring among the remaining buildings on this historic logging city. In 1994, Elkmont was listed on the Nationwide Register of Historic Locations. The Park Service is actively restoring among the buildings in order that guests can catch a glimpse of life (or the afterlife…) on this once-prospering city. 

Wander round this historic space to study life earlier than this land was designated as a Nationwide Park. You too can hike the Jake’s Creek and Little River trails to stroll previous previous chimneys and stone buildings. 

To get to Elkmont from the Sugarlands Guests Middle, head west on Combating Creek Hole Street (towards Cades Cove). After about 4.5 miles, you’ll take a left onto Elkmont Street.


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Eat and Drink

You might not take into consideration meals as a spotlight on a visit to a nationwide park. As a result of, like, it’s the wilderness, proper?

Properly, fortunate for the foodies on the market, Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park is surrounded by quaint Appalachian cities that know tips on how to feed a hungry hiker. There’s loads of southern fare, genuine barbeque, and even craft beer to fulfill after a giant day within the park!

Eating places close to the Gatlinburg, TN Entrance

In Gatlinburg, there are seemingly countless eating choices to select from, and the crowds may be overwhelming. Head to those favourite spots – however plan forward to beat the crowds:

  • For breakfast, get an early begin and head to The Donut Friar at The Village Retailers. And by early, we imply early – this place opens at 5 am. Whilst you can’t go incorrect with any of the donuts, this place is thought for its cinnamon bread, which sells out most days. Once more, get there early! Get a latte and pastry to go, and get to the park earlier than the remainder of the city even wakes up.
  • For dinner in Gatlinburg, you’ll find a top-notch meal off the crushed path at The Greenbrier. This lodge-style restaurant sits on the sting of the Nationwide Park and serves an upscale, steakhouse-style menu. Splurge on a steak or seafood entree, and ensure to check out their artistic craft cocktails and in depth whiskey record. 

Somewhat additional north from Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge affords its personal cozy culinary attraction:

  • In Pigeon Forge, cozy up on a wet day at Pottery House Cafe – although if the solar’s shining, they’ve acquired a captivating patio, too. Indoors, the eating room and crackling stone hearth make an amazing place to take pleasure in a heat southern lunch, like a bowl of soup and pimento cheese-topped fresh-baked olive bread. And if it couldn’t get extra pretty, all the meals is served on handmade pottery made subsequent door.

Sevierville, Pigeon Forge’s neighbor to the north, is slightly farther from the park – and a bit larger of a city. If you wish to escape the crowds of Gatlinburg and get a tremendous meal on the Tennessee facet of the Smokies, Sevierville’s acquired some nice choices.

  • Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant serves up no-nonsense southern dishes like rooster pot pie, fried rooster, and slow-roasted pot roast — and the well-known apple fritters that include each meal. Set on a gorgeous farm amongst apple timber and rolling countryside, you’ll love this place for the vibes as a lot because the meals.
  • You may’t go away Sevierville with out consuming (and ingesting) at Graze Burgers. Attempt the Southern Jam burger (with pimento cheese, caramelized onions, and bacon jam) and a Maple Bourbon milkshake (yeah, it’s boozy!) for presumably the most effective finish to southern Appalachian hike.

Eating places close to the Cherokee, NC Entrance

After all, we will’t neglect the North Carolina facet of the park, which is effectively value a culinary tour.

  • A go to to North Carolina isn’t full with out consuming some barbeque, and Haywood Smokehouse in Dillsboro is the place to indulge. Get a platter of your favourite – brisket, rooster, ribs, sausage – and select from an inventory of traditional (however not abnormal) sides. Trace: Get the mac & cheese! Oh, and save room for dessert — Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie, anybody?
  • Within the little city of Bryson Metropolis, you’ll need to go to Nantahala Brewing Company. The brewery and taproom that emerged from an previous warehouse now serves up mountain-inspired beers just like the Bryson Metropolis Brown and Little Tennessee Logger. Whereas the taproom doesn’t serve meals, you’re welcome to deliver your personal (and even use the grills that they’ve offered on the deck!).


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Discover the “Street to Nowhere”

Outdoors of Bryson Metropolis, there’s a street that results in… effectively, nowhere. And it’s not a theme park trip, sensible joke, or vacationer entice.

The truth is, the Road to Nowhere is a little bit of a dark story. Your first trace that the street isn’t only a vacationer attraction? A wood signal that reads – “The Street To Nowhere – A Damaged Promise.”

There’s nonetheless some hypothesis and controversy over how the Street To Nowhere took place. However right here’s the overall story:

Within the Nineteen Thirties and 40s, the Federal Authorities and The Tennessee Valley Authority took over management of beforehand personal land in Swain County. Beneath new administration, the land could be the house of the long run Fontana Dam (and the ensuing Fontana Lake).

With the waters of Fontana Lake rising behind the brand new dam, Swain County residents have been compelled to go away their houses and villages behind. In an try at restitution, the federal government promised to construct a street to switch the flooded one which led to their previous communities and household gravesites.

Building of the brand new street started, however stopped after solely six of the proposed thirty miles have been constructed. The halt was a results of an environmental challenge that was apparently too pricey to repair. The street by no means made it previous the tunnel on the finish of what’s now Lakeview Drive. 

The displaced households weren’t capable of see the federal government’s promise fulfilled, and by no means regained entry to their houses. In 2010, an effort to appease the previous landowners and their descendants started. In 2018, the US Division of Inside paid Swain County $52 million for the street that was by no means constructed.

As an alternative, this lonely street sits hauntingly incomplete, with a big darkish tunnel ominously denoting the tip.

Attending to the Road To Nowhere requires a winding six-mile drive on Lakeview Drive out of Bryson Metropolis. Alongside the best way, you’ll be rewarded with attractive mountain views round practically each bend within the street.

Regardless of the world’s dreary (although actually not novel) historical past, guests right now can take a gorgeous — if not a bit spooky — hike close to the Street to Nowhere. Several trails start on the tunnel car parking zone. Hikes ranging in mileage and issue embody streams, views of Fontana Lake, previous farms, and even a 365-foot journey by way of the tunnel itself.

The tunnel can get darkish, so deliver a flashlight! And if strolling by way of a dim, ghostly, forgotten tunnel is slightly too spooky for you, there’s a bypass round the tunnel that allows you to entry the identical trails.


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aerial view of parkway in pigeon forge tennessee
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee is a playground tucked between the Smoky Mountains! (Photograph Credit score: Pigeon Forge Division of Tourism)

Take a Day Journey 

Not like many nationwide parks which have a single, tiny gateway city close to the park’s entrance, Nice Smoky Mountains is surrounded by a number of little Appalachian mountain cities which might be filled with character.

Whereas every of them affords extra wonderful entry to the paths, sights, and waterways of the Smoky Mountains, they provide some attention-grabbing cultural experiences too. And their proximity to the park – and to one another – make a day journey a breeze.

Go to Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Gatlinburg, Tennessee sits instantly exterior the Sugarlands entrance of Nice Smoky Mountains. This little city’s inhabitants hovers round 4,000 residents – however there’s no scarcity of issues to do.

For nice views of the neighboring mountains, hop on Gatlinburg’s aerial tramway. It takes you a distance of two miles whereas gaining 1500 ft — from downtown Gatlinburg to Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area. For a special perspective, the Gatlinburg Space Needle supplies riders with a 400-foot carry into the sky (by way of glass elevator) to a 360 diploma statement tower. 

For a rainy-day exercise, go to the 100+-year-old Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. The varsity started as a strategy to serve the native rural neighborhood earlier than formal education grew to become accessible. It advanced to showcase the gorgeous, handmade crafts of this area and to later train and protect Appalachian craft. Immediately, the general public can go to the galleries internet hosting everlasting and rotating displays to study conventional Appalachian paintings.

Go to Pigeon Forge (& Dollywood)

Pigeon Forge, additionally on the Tennessee facet of the park, is a fast 8-mile drive north of Gatlinburg and has its personal distinctive array of issues to do.

This small city might be greatest generally known as the house of Dollywood, the place you’ll find amusement rides, a waterpark, concert events, native arts and crafts, and typically even the queen, Dolly Parton, herself! Dollywood may take up a whole weblog by itself, so it goes with out saying that this attraction is one thing to see. 

One other notable attraction in Pigeon Forge is the Titanic Museum Attraction. Yep, regardless of being landlocked, Pigeon Forge can also be residence to a 30,000 sq. foot reproduction of the Titanic. And you’ll go aboard, too. The museum was constructed with precise Titanic blueprints, recreating the majesty of this ship. 

Lastly, drink your method by way of Smoky Mountain nation with a Moonshine and Wine tour. This half-day tour covers tastings at three distilleries and three wineries, in addition to a information to speak you thru the historical past of moonshine and prohibition within the Pigeon Forge space.

Go to Byson Metropolis

Bryson City is the North Carolina gateway city into Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park. Like a lot of western North Carolina, Bryson Metropolis is charming, outdoorsy, and exquisite. With fewer than 2,000 residents, Bryson Metropolis is slightly city with so much to supply. 

If you wish to sit again and see extra of the encircling nation, you’ll be able to hop aboard the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. You may select from a lot of completely different routes on both a steam or diesel engine, chugging alongside sights just like the Tuckasegee River, Fontana Lake, and the Nantahala Gorge. In the event you’re visiting within the fall, this can be a nice strategy to see the season’s explosion of shade.

On a scorching day in Bryson Metropolis, lease a tube at Deep Creek Tube Center & Campground for a splashy day on the river. Choose up a tube on the campground, and after a brief drive contained in the Nationwide Park, stroll your tube to the river put-in. This 1-mile part of river is split into two sections — a “lazy river” part, or a borderline whitewater part.

If the splashes out of your trip aren’t sufficient, you’ll be able to take a dip within the pure swimming gap alongside the river. There’s no higher strategy to spend a scorching day!


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Wooden lodges and accommodations of LeConte Lodge atop Mt. LeConte in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
On prime of previous Smoky is the place you’ll be staying in case you hike as much as LeConte Lodge. (Photo Credit)

The place to remain in Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park

With the numerous surrounding cities close to Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park, it’s no exaggeration that there are a ton of locations to remain. Lodging inside the park, nevertheless, are restricted, except you need to camp.

When deciding the place to remain, it actually depends upon the place you need to spend your time. Listed below are some choices each within the park and within the surrounding cities.

Keep within the Park

Inside Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park, there are two choices: tenting or mountaineering as much as LeConte Lodge.

Nice Smoky Mountains maintains 10 campgrounds inside the park. Cades Cove and Smokemont campgrounds are open year-round, and the remaining are open seasonally. All campgrounds have working water, flush bathrooms, picnic tables, and firepits — however no showers or electrical hookups. E-book your campsites upfront at

In the event you plan to backpack and want a backcountry campsite, you’ll should get a allow upfront. Learn up on rules, path closures, and allowing here.

If you’d like a roof over your head and also you’re prepared to work for it, try the one indoor lodging inside the park — LeConte Lodge. LeConte Lodge sits atop Mt. LeConte, the third highest peak within the Smokies, and is the very best visitor lodge within the jap U.S.

No roads result in this lodge, and getting right here requires mountaineering one of many trails (ranging in size from 5 to 9 miles). This charming lodging affords beds in cute, rustic log cabins in addition to meals in a shared eating room.


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Keep Close to the Park

If you wish to keep exterior of the park, you’ve acquired choices all over the place you look. This space is chock-full of the quaintest mountain cabins, a lot of which characteristic Smoky Mountain views, wraparound porches, and cabin-chic interiors. Listed below are a couple of of our favorites:


  • The Romantic Luxury Cabin sits between Townsend and Gatlinburg, simply north of a nondescript entrance into the park. This place is what you consider while you hear “log cabin” — however 1,000,000 occasions higher. This ultra-cozy cabin has all you want for a snug Smoky Mountain trip, together with a gorgeous scorching tub, rustic furnishings, and wood rockers for stress-free on the finish of a protracted, fun-filled day.
  • In the event you’re touring along with your pup, this Pet-friendly Cabin east of Gatlinburg is ideal for you. It’s acquired a scorching tub and spa tub – that means you’ll be able to actually soak your worries away. The cabin sits on the sting of the forest and is sufficiently distanced from the exercise in Gatlinburg. It’s the proper place to relaxation and refresh earlier than a busy day within the Smokies.
  • The model new Cliff’s Edge Cottage is just 4 miles from Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park and three.5 miles from downtown Gatlinburg. This place is a contemporary, mountain cabin dream — and may we speak about that bathe? After a protracted hike within the mountains, soak within the scorching tub whereas having fun with an unbeatable Smoky Mountain View. 

North Carolina

  • Just a few miles exterior of Bryson Metropolis, this Cabin on the Tuckasegee River welcomes {couples} or solo vacationers on the lookout for a serene, fashionable residence base. This cabin sits proper on the financial institution of the Tuckasegee River, the place you’ll be able to benefit from the peaceable waterway from the personal scorching tub. On the finish of the day, calm down on the deck earlier than cozying up in a king-sized mattress. Heaven!
  • The Blue Moose is as cute because it will get — I imply, come on, that title? This little cabin is lower than a mile from Bryson Metropolis, however has a view of the mountains that you just’d solely count on a lot farther from civilization. Sizzling tubs are *a factor* within the mountains, and this cabin doesn’t disappoint. Get pleasure from a glass of wine whilst you soak, and gawk on the unimaginable mountain view simply previous your step. And when it will get chilly exterior, begin a hearth within the firepit or head inside to heat up by the comfortable stone hearth.
  • In the event you’re focused on having a couple of extra facilities at your disposal, try Nantahala Village Resort. Simply ten minutes from Bryson Metropolis, this resort affords an array of “treehouse” cabins, stone cottages, and mountain view rooms. There’s additionally a full restaurant and bar on web site, swimming swimming pools, and horseback using. And naturally, every thing’s nestled within the attractive mountain foothills. 


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About Our Visitor Poster: Emily is a copywriter, nature lover, and artwork dabbler who lives within the northern Michigan city of Traverse Metropolis. Her favourite elements of journey are the outside pursuits distinctive to the vacation spot — and the most effective native foods and drinks she will be able to discover. Be taught extra at

Which factor to do in Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park are you excited to do first? Is it the hikes or the waterfalls? Inform us within the feedback beneath

Psst: Exploring the world? We’ve acquired loads of posts on close by locations since Lia grew up in Kentucky! Learn all of our posts about destinations in the South here or for Lia’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky check here.

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Our Prime Journey Ideas & Assets

Listed below are our favourite journey suggestions & assets for saving cash and planning journey logistics! For extra suggestions, try our travel tips resource page or our guide to planning a trip.

  • Reserving Flights: To attain flight offers, search on Skyscanner or Kayak. Cash-saving suggestions: fly mid-week or on the weekend; fly carry-on solely on a price range airline; and take red-eyes or early morning flights.
  • Lodging: We often keep in budget-friendly, trip leases, boutique motels or personal rooms in hostels. We use to ebook motels (we love their versatile cancellation coverage) and Hostelworld to ebook hostels (low deposit, simple change/cancellation, and glorious opinions). For trip leases, we want to ebook utilizing VRBO (they have decrease charges and higher assist than Airbnb, and we’re not followers of Airbnb’s unethical monitor report.) You too can ebook trip leases on Expedia and We have additionally used TrustedHousesitters as each hosts (for our residence and our fur-child) and vacationers!
  • Journey Insurance coverage: We at all times, at all times, ALWAYS purchase journey insurance coverage for worldwide journeys, and we STRONGLY counsel it – go to our Travel Insurance Guide to search out out why. We advocate both World Nomads or SafetyWing for worldwide journey insurance coverage. SafetyWing is without doubt one of the few insurance policies that covers Covid-19, and so they have glorious month-to-month insurance policies which might be good for Digital Nomads and long run vacationers!
  • Vaccines & Meds: We use the journey guides on the CDC website to analysis beneficial medicines and vaccines for worldwide journeys. We at all times advocate getting each vaccine beneficial by the CDC! You will get them at your major care physician’s workplace or a walk-in pharmacy.
  • Excursions: We love reserving guided excursions, particularly meals excursions and strolling excursions, to get a neighborhood’s perspective and a historical past lesson whereas sight-seeing! We ebook our excursions utilizing Viator and GetYourGuide.
  • Transportation: We use Rome2Rio to determine tips on how to get from place to position utilizing public transit, and ebook native transportation on-line utilizing Bookaway wherever we will. Once we ebook a rental automobile, we use Kayak to match rental corporations and discover the most effective deal.
  • Baggage Storage: Every time we’re trying out early or making the most of a protracted layover, we use Stasher or LuggageHero to soundly retailer our baggage whereas we’re working round. On Stasher, you need to use the code PW10 for 10% off!
  • What to Pack: Here are the travel essentials that we deliver on each journey. We even have packing lists for hot weather, cold weather, and plenty of extra. Check out all of our packing guides!

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