The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is among the most diverse parks in the United States. Within these mountains and valleys, there live over 240 bird species, more than 80 species of reptiles and amphibians, 67 native fish species, and 65 different mammals. There are also approximately 1,600 species of unique flowering plants that include hundreds of native trees and shrubs! In short, the hills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are certainly alive with natural beauty and wonder. So much so that it can be hard to know just where to go to see most of it. This is part of what makes driving through the Great Smoky Mountains such an attractive idea. But before you get behind the driver’s wheel to explore the area this way, we’re sure you have questions. The following is a look at some of the more common questions we get about driving through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
How Long Does it Take to Drive Through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park itself encompasses more than 800 square acres through which one primary roadway cuts: U.S. Highway 441, known locally as Newfound Gap Road. This road runs along the West Prong Little Pigeon River. If you were to take the shortest route driving through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you would travel between the Gatlinburg Trail Trailhead (northwestern edge of the park) and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center (southeastern edge of the park). This route is 30.3 miles and, if you were to drive it without stopping, it would take you approximately 50 minutes.
However, most people will take at least one other side route when doing a driving tour of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For this route, people will go west on Fighting Creek Gap Road to the Cades Cove Visitor Center. You will still take US Highway 441 in and out of the national park, but adding this side trip west will mean a total of 90.7 miles to travel. It will take drivers a total of 3 hours and 15 minutes to do this route in full, without stopping. Of course, you are going to want to stop, so we recommend planning this as an entire day’s excursion.
Are Those Main Throughways the Only Roads I Can Take Through the Great Smoky Mountains?
Those are the two primary roads, but they are certainly not all of them. According to the National Park Service, there are 384 miles of roadway in and along the Great Smoky National Park. Much of this includes secondary roads as well as unpaved roads. Some of which are not accessible with a trailer, RV, or bus. Furthermore, the park service will close many of the side roads during winter due to their becoming dangerously slick and icy.
Do I Have to Pay to Drive Through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
No! The Great Smoky National Park does not have an entrance fee. You will encounter fees, however, if you want to camp at any of the park’s campsites. You can find out more information about parking passes here.
Will I Have Cellphone Service Throughout my Drive in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park may be near sizable towns with plenty of accessible technologies, like Gatlinburg. However, it itself is pretty remote and drivers should not expect to have continued cellphone service throughout their journey within the park’s borders. Additionally, installed vehicle navigational systems have proved inaccurate in the mountains. Especially in the winter when those integrated systems don’t know what is and is not closed off for the season.
For these reasons, we strongly recommend downloading or otherwise making sure your cellphone’s maps are available for offline usage before you venture down Newfound Gap Road or any of the other roads cutting through the mountains.
Is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Dog-Friendly?
Not really. More and more federal parks are going no-dogs on hiking trails and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was one of the leaders of that trend. Dogs are not allowed on any of the hiking trails within the park’s boundaries. Except for two very short trails within the national park. As of this writing, you can bring dogs to campground areas, marked picnic spots neighboring parking lots, and along roadways.
Are There Gas Stations Within the Park?
Great question! But no. There are no gas stations or any type of fueling station located along the way when driving through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You also won’t find any ready convenience stores. So, we recommend filling up at one of the fully-outfitted gas and convenience stores in Gatlinburg, TN, Townsend, TN, or Cherokee, NC.
Can I Drive Through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Night?
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park land is open all day and all night long. You can certainly drive all up and down the routes to your heart’s content. That said, the visitor centers, including those located within the park, are not open or accessible. Additionally, just because, doesn’t mean you should, as there are several things that make driving at night irksome, to say the least. There are no streetlights lighting the way, there are a ton of twists and turns, and animals frequently cross at night. All of these characteristics increase the risk of even the safest of drivers getting into a night collision. So stay safe and enjoy driving through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park when you can see them in the bright light of the day!
Interested in Learning More About the Great Smoky National Park? Make Sure to Visit Our Other Pages
The Great Smoky National Park is a gorgeous place full of beautiful vistas with rich vegetation and plenty of animals to sight. However, that’s not the only thing this stretch of mountains has to offer. Make sure to visit our other pages to learn more about this region and about what popular communities like Gatlinburg have to offer for travelers.