The Great Smoky Mountains

May 19, 2023

Written by Katy Ward, Assistant Director of Outdoor Adventure

The semester has come to an end. Some of you are heading home to a far-off state while some of you may be staying local. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park in America! There are several reasons for this and they are all reasons that you should make you want to visit this summer!

  1. It’s easy to get to, the park is within one day’s drive of 2/3 of the nation’s population!
  2. It’s free to visit and always will be!
  3. It has a MASSIVE amount of wildlife and is full of American history!

Now that I’ve convinced you to visit, what can you do there? How do you know where to go for each activity? Well, I have created a list with helpful resources to use when planning different trips to the  Great Smoky Mountains.


As most National Parks do, the GSM Park offers several camping options. From backcountry sites to group front-country sites, you can stay at the park in whatever avenue you desire. You can find all options here.

Open year round, Cades Cove Campground offers plenty of sites. You can reserve yours at . Once you arrive at your site, you will want to start by setting up camp. Take into account any hills, large rocks or sticks, or particularly bumpy spots when deciding where to place your tent. A bad tent placement can make or break your trip and you want good sleep while you are camping!


With a portion of the Appalachian Trail falling within the GSM Park, in addition to other park trails, there are hundreds of miles of trails to explore. Whether you are looking for a day hike, a weekend hike, or a weeklong hike, you have options galore! While the Trail Map can be a little confusing, stop by any Ranger Station on your way in and they would be happy to help you with any questions you may have.

There is also some wonderful waterfall hiking in this National Park. With almost 20 significant waterfalls throughout the park, you could fill 3 weeks if you went to one each day!

  • Ramsey Cascades is the tallest waterfall in GSMNP, coming in at just over 100 feet tall. The trail to get there is 8 miles roundtrip and is classified as a strenuous hike, not for the faint of heart but definitely worth the effort.
  • For a moderate 1 mile hike, Juney Whank Falls is a great option. Providing a two-part waterfall which totals over 90 feet tall, Juney Whank Falls can be seen from the foot bridge in the middle of the two parts.
  • An easy two-falls-in-one hike is Indian Creek and Toms Branch Falls. This hike comes in at just over 1.5 miles roundtrip and displays two beautiful falls.


The GSMNP is home to more than 70 species of fish. Their 2,100 miles of diverse streams, creeks, and rivers allow fish of all kinds to create their own spaces. Fishing in the park requires the proper licenses and comes with its own set of Rules and Regulations so be sure to research which side of the park you want to use in order to buy the proper licenses.

The Brook Trout is the only native fish species to the GSM and trout can only be found in a little more than 100 miles of the streams. This is because only about 20% of the park’s streams are large enough to support the trout. If you are looking for some trout, the best place to find them is in any of the larger streams above 3,000 feet in elevation. Any waterways below that point will be primarily smallmouth bass, rock bass, shiners, minnows, suckers, and darters.

Planning Your Trip

These are just a few of the many activities and resources available when planning your trip to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Whether you want to go for the day, weekend, or even a week, you can use the resources provided here or on the Plan Your Visit  page.

If you decide to use any of this Campus Recreation would love to hear about it! We would also be happy to look over any trip itinerary for you if you email it to

Happy adventuring!