Lodging is a critical, but often overlooked element of vacation planning — especially in the Smoky Mountains. Where you spend the night can have a huge impact on which areas you explore and whether you’re relaxed and well-rested enough to actually enjoy your adventures in the Smokies.
No one location or type of lodging will supply a perfect experience for every vacationer; where you stay depends not only on price and reputation, but also on your unique situation as a traveler. A family visiting Dollywood will naturally have different priorities than a solo hiker or a group of friends hitting up Gatlinburg for a bachelorette party. These varying purposes can considerably narrow your selection, but you’ll still need to choose between many places and many types of accommodations. Below, we offer a detailed overview of the myriad of options available.
Places to Stay
The process of finding the perfect accommodations begins with determining the general region in which you intend to stay. Some people know from the get-go that they prefer to be in the heart of the action of Pigeon Forge, or, perhaps, away from it all in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Others prefer to weigh their options, a few of which are outlined below:
There’s always something exciting to see or something fun to do in Gatlinburg. This bustling Smoky Mountains town is known for its vibrant atmosphere. Still, it manages to maintain a good deal of small-town appeal while also keeping active types happy with its location right at the base of the Smoky Mountains.
Gatlinburg caters to many types of tourists while maintaining a personal feel. The area’s walkable nature appeals to those looking to minimize their time behind the wheel. Most importantly, the views in Gatlinburg can’t be beat. You’ll find the scenery particularly enjoyable if you stay somewhere with a patio or a balcony.
Although similar to Gatlinburg in many respects, Pigeon Forge holds a few key differences worth taking into account. Active types often prefer Gatlinburg for its proximity to the Smokies. While the mountains are easily reached from Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg sits adjacent to the national park. It is therefore the best option for those who love outdoor activities but also desire access to dining and entertainment. With Pigeon Forge, however, vacationers’ priorities may go beyond the great outdoors. Music, for example, reigns supreme in this town. Dolly Parton leads the charge with all things country.
At first glance, Gatlinburg appears to have the better location — but it all depends on your idea of the perfect getaway. Pigeon Forge offers easier access to Sevierville, Dollywood, and the LeConte Center. Dollywood lovers, in particular, will appreciate the convenience of the DreamMore Resort. This popular destination offers several exclusive perks, including a TimeSaver feature for minimizing ride waits, door-to-door transportation, and early ride access on Saturdays.
Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge may offer easy access to Great Smoky Mountain National Park, but there’s something truly majestic about camping or lodging within this national treasure. Yes, your experience may verge on rustic, but you’ll be rewarded with the most stunning views imaginable.
Because they’re slightly removed from the hustle and bustle of Gatlinburg, Smoky Mountain accommodations provide a peaceful atmosphere — ideal for those looking to escape the real world. Dining options may be comparatively limited, but it’s not too difficult to get into town. Recreational opportunities abound, with many campers able to hit the trail as soon as they put on their hiking boots. If you’re not willing to hang out in a tent, hit up the LeConte Lodge for delightfully rustic accommodations.
Types of Accommodations
While some lodging niches are limited to a specific area, most categories are available at several locations throughout the Smokies. Detailed below are a few of the main types of accommodations, as well as where they can be found and why they may or may not work for your vacation.
Conventional hotels abound throughout the Smoky Mountains. Several are recognizable chains, but the area is also home to many large specialty hotels. These locations offer true ease of access; while some book up well in advance, it’s typically possible to find a spot in at least one hotel on short notice.
When you arrive, you’ll likely be guided through every step of the check-in process and perhaps even assisted with your luggage. Many local hotels come with pools, hot tubs, and other fun amenities. Some offer considerable discounts on top tourist attractions. Your hotel may include an attached restaurant where you can dine in the evening or even a continental breakfast to get your day off to a wonderful start.
Bed and Breakfasts
Large chain and specialty hotels deliver a myriad of benefits — particularly for vast groups seeking easy access to top attractions. Some travelers, however, prefer a quainter and quieter experience off the beaten path. Bed and breakfasts offer many of the same services associated with conventional hotels — but they also promote a personalized and serene atmosphere. Some are situated on the Parkway, but many can be found on the outskirts of town, where they provide exceptional views and plenty of peace and quiet.
Families often prefer the comfort and convenience of condo rentals, which tend to provide more space than a conventional hotel room — and often, at an impressive rate. Condos also offer a homelike environment in which you and your loved ones can instantly relax. Your condo might not come with a continental breakfast, but you’ll likely enjoy access to a sizable kitchen in which you can prepare both your morning cup of coffee and your evening meal. This kitchen can prove valuable for picky eaters or for those looking to save money on dining.
Condos vary considerably in terms of both size and luxury. Because these accommodations are far from cookie-cutter, you’ll want to investigate each option thoroughly before you make your final decision. Unit size, number of bathrooms, and kitchen amenities should all be considered.
If you own an RV or a pop-up camper, you’re in luck — you can set up shop at one of several campgrounds located in the Smoky Mountains region. This approach is especially ideal for long-term stays or for those stopping in the Smokies on their way elsewhere. Most locations provide water, sewer, and electric. Some even add cable and WiFi. RV campgrounds tend to be pet-friendly, making them appealing to vacationers with canine companions.
What if you want a more rustic experience than a hotel can provide but aren’t quite willing to rough it in a tent? Camper cabins provide an excellent middle ground, and in some cases, much-desired privacy. Like condos, they can vary considerably in terms of luxury. Some are decidedly rustic, while others provide every creature comfort imaginable. Many have kitchens or kitchenettes, which appeal to those unwilling to prepare their meals on the grill or over the fire.
There’s plenty to be said for the comfort and convenience of staying in a hotel, condo, or camper, but there’s something special about tent camping that cannot be replicated in any other setting. When you stay in a tent, you can enjoy pristine views of the stars at night or wake up to beautiful birdsong. This option is inherently affordable if you already own camping equipment. It’s also a wonderful choice in the Smokies, where you’ll find a variety of standard campgrounds and rustic sites.
No matter your travel preferences, you’ll have no trouble finding accommodations to suit your unique needs in and around the Smoky Mountains. Take some time to assess your priorities and determine which location and type of lodging best fits your needs. A little advance effort will go a long way as you bring your dream Smoky Mountains getaway to life.