5.11.24 6

10 Rules For Visiting the Great Smokies

Belle and I went home to the mountains last weekend. We planned to attend Decoration Day for the Woody Cemetery on Fontana’s North Shore. But as things often do on long trips, our plans derailed.

Since we couldn’t make it to Decoration Day, we decided to make the best of our trip by exploring the Great Smokies.

Trips to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been. 50? 100? More?

I’m basically a professional at visiting the park at this point. So today, I thought I’d share some of my wisdom with y’all. Below you’ll find my 10 rules for visiting the Great Smokies.

Cades Cove

10 Rules For Visiting the Great Smokies

Visit During the Off-Season

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is busy from June through August. It gets busy again for the fall foilage around October. If you want to avoid all the people and traffic, do yourself a favor and visit in May or early September.

Do Not Bring Your Dog

I know, I know. Some people like to bring their dogs with them on the hiking trail. I’m one of them. I get it. But dogs are only welcome on two trails in the Great Smokies – and there’s a good reason for that: wildlife. You don’t want an elk or bear to see your best friend as a threat. Keep your pet safe by leaving them at home.

Pack a Hiking Bag

I love hiking and take a hiking bag with me everywhere. My hiking bag is loaded down with a first aid kit, ponchos, sunblock, snacks, binoculars, and anything else I might need in the middle of nowhere.

Even if you’re not going to explore any trails, packing a hiking bag for trips into the Great Smokies is always a good idea. There aren’t any convenience stores in the park. Be prepared.

Buy a Parking Pass

When I pulled into the parking lot for the Mountain Farm Museum and discovered I now have to pay to park in the Great Smokies, I cussed up a blue streak. But that’s a different topic for a different time. Get your cussing out of the way, and buy a parking pass. You don’t want to be stuck in the car your whole trip. Besides, getting out, stretching your legs, and exploring the sites are part of the magic.

Stop at the Visitor Centers

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitor Centers are amazing. Inside, you can ask rangers questions, find maps, and use the restroom. Even better? They have museums and gift shops.

Stay a Safe Distance Away from the Animals

It never fails – on every trip to the Great Smokies, I watch groups of tourists crowd wild animals. I’ve seen it with deer, elk, and even bears. Wild animals are dangerous. They will maul you if they feel threatened. Please, please use common sense. The last thing I want to see is someone get hurt because they didn’t stay 50 feet away.

Bring a Camera

Visiting the park is an adventure, and you will want to capture all the memories you make. Bring a camera. Take photos of the views, the wildlife, the plants, and all the other things you can only find in the Great Smokies.

Be Respectful of Historic Sites

It wasn’t so long ago that people lived within the park’s boundaries – including my family. Those homes, churches, and cemeteries are much more than historic sites to some of us. Don’t deface them. And be mindful of the fact that some of us visit places to mourn. The last thing you want to do is get caught by a hillbilly tromping on their great Mamaw’s tombstone while laughing and dancing. We don’t take kindly to that sort of thing.

Do Not Pick the Wildflowers

Wildflowers are more than abundant in the Great Smokies. Everywhere you look is one type of flower or another. I know it’s tempting to pick a wildflower bouquet. I get it. But don’t do it! Picking flowers in the park can come with a $5000 fine.

Let People Pass You

When I’m in the park, I do my best to remember not everyone has been a million times like I have. I move out of the way when someone is trying to see an exhibit, make room for others to peek at the elk, and keep my stops brief at pull-offs so others can see a pretty view.

Kindness goes a long way.

Please return that favor. Many roads in the park are single no-pass lanes. If you want to cruise at low speeds, everyone understands. But do regular visitors a favor and use the pull-offs to allow the traffic behind you to pass by.

There you have it. 10 rules for visiting the Great Smokies that will improve everyone’s experience. What do y’all think? Do you abide by these rules? If not, do you have your own tips? Drop me a comment, and let me know.

Leave a Comment


  1. Thomas R. Fowler wrote:

    Excellent rules. Listed by one who truly loves her home. I have a question though. How did you trace your family back for 8 generations? I barely knew my grandparents! Last time I was at Cade’s Cove, stood and looked at the view from in front of one of the cabins and felt amazed that people from years and years ago looked at the same view!

    Published 5.11.24
    • Cassie wrote:

      I spent my early years living with Mamaw and Papaw. My great-Papaw Cochran lived next door. So I’ve always known a lot about my family history. That led to an interest in local history and genealogy. I’ve been researching for 20 years. 😉

      Published 5.11.24
  2. Rick Currie wrote:

    Very good advice. I enjoy learning some nuances as I do my best to assimilate in this beautiful culture. 🙂

    Published 5.11.24
    • Cassie wrote:

      Awww! Thank you, Rick! 🙂

      Published 5.11.24
  3. John Hoffman wrote:

    All great advice Miss Cassie,only thing I do that you didn’t mention is carry Bear spray ,spent alot of time in the Wyoming/Montana wilderness. Never had to use it but felt better havin it, you’d know better than me if that applies to the Smokies though. And always be aware and respect the Fire warnings

    Published 5.11.24
    • Cassie wrote:

      We have black bears in North Carolina – they’re not aggressive. As long as you give them a wide berth, they’re happy to ignore you. 😉

      Published 5.11.24