VISITING THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS IN SUMMER
Learn what to expect when visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the summer months
Summer is one of the best times of the year to visit Great Smoky Mountain National Park! There is so much to see and do in the park, the weather is ideal in the summer, and there are many activities to help you enjoy the outdoors. Visiting the Smokies in the summer has many benefits, as well as some drawbacks. Below, we will go into detail about what to expect in the summer, and how to best plan for your trip. No matter what you decide to do during your trip, you will surely have a fantastic vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains!
BENEFITS OF VISITING IN SUMMER
There are so many benefits to visit Great Smoky Mountains in the summer. First, the weather is wonderful—warm and sunny during the day, with the occasional afternoon rain shower to cool it off. Old-growth forests provide shade on especially hot days, and there are over 2,100 miles of streams and rivers in the park, so it is easy to get respite from the sun. Secondly, the scenery is absolutely stunning in the summer. Wildflowers create kaleidoscopic meadows throughout the summer, rivers are rushing with water from the afternoon rains, and wildlife can be seen in lush, green valleys. Lastly, there are numerous Ranger Programs each day during the summer. The National Park Service provides guided walks, historic mill demonstrations, cultural demonstrations and many other programs for visitors.
DRAWBACKS OF VISITING IN SUMMER
The only drawback to visiting in the summer is the crowds. Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited park in the United States, so there are many, many visitors during the summer. Don’t let that deter you from enjoying the beauty of the park, there are various ways to escape the masses:
- 1. Go on a hike: The further you go on a trail, the more likely you are to experience peace and quiet. There are many, very popular trails, but there are also trails that are more off-the-beaten path. Find a trail that is best for your interests, and enjoy the hike.
- 2. Get an early start: The Smokies see a lot of day visitors; since a major north to south highway runs through the park, there are a lot of people “just passing through”. Beat the crowds by getting an early start in the morning.
- 3. Spend more than one day in the park: If possible, enjoy a couple of days in the Smokies. There is so much to see and do in the National Park and the surrounding area, you can’t see it all in one day.
- 4. Visit the less-frequented areas: Cades Cove and Clingman’s Dome are the most popular (read: most crowded) areas of the park, and they are definitely worth checking out. But, there are other places in the park that don’t see as much traffic. Areas such as Fontana Lake, Deep Creek, Cataloochee and Balsam Mountain may provide a little more solitude.
- 5. Go on a picnic: There are limited choices for food once you are in the National Park—some campgrounds have vending machines or a snack bar. And, to avoid the congestion of eating lunch in Gatlinburg or another surrounding community, leaving the park to eat is not recommended. Be prepared, and bring snacks and lunch materials with you. There are plenty of wonderful places to enjoy a picnic lunch in the park.
THINGS TO DO IN SUMMER
Summer is a great time to visit the park—the weather is nice and warm, the wildflowers are still in bloom, and the park is bursting with life. There are so many things to do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you are bound to find something that sparks your interests. Below are the most popular activities in the summer:
Hiking: Summer is the ideal season to strap on your boots and go for a hike in the Smokies. The weather is near-perfect, and the trails are beckoning adventure. Don’t let the crowds scare you off, there are so many trails that are less travelled, and help you forget about the congestion at Clingman’s Dome. Read our trail descriptions below for more information.
Backpacking: Great Smoky Mountains National Park has over 100 backcountry campsites, making it easy to string together for a multi-night adventure in this world-renowned wilderness. Backpacking in the Smokies is the best way to fully immerse yourself in the beauty and joy of the park, and an activity you do not want to miss out on!
Bicycling: Cades Cove Loop Road is perfect for bicycling, and even more perfect when there is no traffic. Wednesdays and Saturdays, from early May to late September, the 11-mile loop is closed to vehicles in the morning until 10 am, giving bicyclists freedom to explore the area without traffic. Even if you arrive after 10 am, or on a different day of the week, biking this loop is a fantastic way to see wildlife, historic homesteads and the beauty of the valley. Bicycles are available for rental at Cades Cove Campground.
Kayaking: If paddling on a clear, blue lake under the shadows of the mighty Smoky Mountains, exploring places you can only get to by watercraft, sounds like a good time, you must try kayaking on Fontana Lake. It is also popular to run the heart-racing rapids on one of the many rapids in the park. Kayaks are available for rental in Gatlinburg, TN and Bryson City, NC.
Whitewater Rafting: Another popular activity in the surrounding area is whitewater rafting. Trips go out every day throughout the summer, and you can choose a scenic float along a calm part of the Pigeon River, or a bumpy ride along the rapids of the river.
Sightseeing: To make the most of a limited amount of time in the park, you may choose to hit the most popular attractions on a sightseeing self-tour. With numerous pullouts on Newfound Gap Road, Clingman’s Dome Road and Laurel Creek Road, you are sure to see some of the best landscape in the country. Check out the Park Service’s air quality webcams to determine where will give you the best vantage point.
Ziplining: A great way to appreciate the big and beautiful trees of the Smoky Mountains is to literally zip past them. Ziplining is an exhilarating activity for an afternoon in the Smokies. Tours are available each day throughout the summer, and vary in length.
HIKING IN SUMMER
Summer is a wonderful time to hit the trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The forests are green and lush, the wildlife is out and about, and many trails are lined with extraordinary wildflowers. It is easy enough to escape the crowds at popular pullouts; the further you go on a trail, the more likely it is to experience solitude. Below are the best trails to hike in the summer:
- Gregory Bald: Start at the Gregory Ridge Trailhead in Cades Cove, and hike 5.7 miles to the summit, passing exuberant Flame Azaleas along the path. Azalea enthusiasts flock to the Smokies to witness their display of colors—shades of orange, red, pink, white, yellow—the bloom peaking in mid-June. The trail is difficult, with a steep uphill climb right off the bat, gaining 2000 feet of elevation in 3 miles. At 4.9 miles, you will reach a trail junction, and have one more climb to the summit, where you will be rewarded with acres and acres of beautiful azaleas. This trail is strenuous with an elevation gain of 3020 feet.
- Brushy Mountain: Start at the Trillium Gap Trailhead on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. You will hike on the Trillium Gap trail through a lush old-growth forest, and past a vast array of wildflowers. At 1.2 miles, you will reach Grotto Falls—you can stand behind the waterfall, letting it’s mist cool you off on a hot summer day. Continue past the falls for another 2 miles to the junction of Brushy Mountain, the summit is .3 miles through a tunnel of blooming wildflowers. From the summit, you can look out to Mount LeConte, Mount Guyot, Charlies Bunion and others. This trail is strenuous with an elevation gain of 1745 feet.
- Ramsey Cascades: Start at the Ramsey Cascades Trailhead in Greenbrier. Hike 4 miles, through a beautiful old-growth forest, up to Ramsey Cascades, a fantastically cascading 100-foot waterfall—the tallest cascading waterfall in the park. The trail is strenuous with an elevation gain of 2200 feet.
- Big Creek Trail: Start at the Big Creek Trailhead in the Big Creek area of the park. The trail is relatively flat on it’s 2 mile course to Mouse Creek Falls. Wildflowers and rhododendron line the path for most of the hike. At 1.5 miles, you will reach Midnight Hole, a deep, emerald green pool created by two cascading waterfalls—this is a good place to take a dip in the water on a hot day. This trail is moderate with an elevation gain of 605 feet.
- Schoolhouse Gap Trail: Start at the Schoolhouse Gap Trailhead on Laurel Creek Road. Wildflowers are found in abundance along the trail throughout the summer. This trail is easy with an elevation gain of 513 feet.
Another option for hiking in the summer is going on a guided hike. With a professional and knowledgeable guide, you will learn all about the rich cultural and historical history of the Smokies. Day hikes are available every day in the summer, as well as backpacking trips. The guiding company provides all of the appropriate gear, meals, and takes care of all logistics, so you can enjoy your trip without stressing about the details.
BACKPACKING IN SUMMER
Backpacking in the Smokies is ideal in the summer. With warm to hot days, and cool nights, it is perfect for camping under the stars. The park hosts more than 100 backcountry campsites that you can string together for an unforgettable multi-day adventure. Be aware, however, that since summer is so perfect for backpacking, there may be a chance that you don’t get the itinerary that you want; have a backup plan, and be flexible. A great option is to go on a guided backpacking trip, where the company will take care of the permits, so you don’t have to stress. Guided trips are all-inclusive; gear, gourmet meals, transportation and permits are all provided for you, allowing you to fully appreciate your surroundings without planning the details!
WEATHER IN SUMMER
Summer months in Great Smoky Mountains National Park are often relatively hot, humid and at times rainy. However, summer is an excellent time to visit the Smokies, especially for hiking and backpacking, which will take you into the higher elevations, where it’s cooler. Summer is also a great time for spending time in and near the rivers and lakes of the Smokies.
|Month||Sugarlands Visitor Center||Clingmans Dome||Days of Precip|
|Avg Hi||Avg Lo||Avg Hi||Avg Lo|
|June||83°F (28°C)||59°F (15°C)||63°F (17°C)||49°F (9°C)||9-11 Days|
|July||86°F (30°C)||63°F (17°C)||65°F (18°C)||53°F (11°C)||11-13 Days|
|August||85°F (29°C)||62°F (16°C)||64°F (17°C)||52°F (10°C)||10-12 Days|
JOIN A GUIDED HIKING ADVENTURE
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a rich, pristine wilderness with abundant wildlife, amazing views and unforgettable opportunities for hiking vacations. Wildland Trekking offers a variety of ways to enjoy the Smoky Mountains, including backpacking trips, portered treks, inn-based tours and day hikes.
Guided Smoky Mountain treks are all-inclusive meaning the following is included: local round trip transportation from Asheville; wonderful meals; top-of-the-line equipment; risk management systems; professional hiking/wilderness guides and more.
SMOKIES ADVENTURE TOURS
- GUIDED BACKPACKING TRIPS: these adventures are opportunities to explore the deep wilderness and extraordinary beauty of the Smokies.
- PORTERED HIKES: hike and camp far in the backcountry of the Appalachian Mountains with the convenience of light day packs and expert guides.
- INN-BASED HIKING TOURS: discover the magic of the Smoky Mountains on amazing daily hikes and enjoy wonderful Appalachian accommodations at night.
- DAY HIKE TOURS: make the most of your time in Great Smoky Mountains National Park with our expert guides and all-inclusive tours!
- BLUE RIDGE HIKING TRIPS: explore the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains around Asheville on backpacking, portered, and inn-based tours!