What's the best time to visit the Smoky Mountains?
The best times to visit the Smoky Mountains are in the summer and fall. Summer is great for outdoor lovers, with everything from tubing to ziplining under the warm sun, not to mention the unique spectacle of synchronous fireflies lighting up June nights.
In fall, the mountains transform into a canvas of stunning colors, making hikes and drives especially breathtaking. While summer brings lush greenery and lively wildlife, fall counters with crisp air and clear views, each offering its own version of the park’s undeniable charm.
The Smoky Mountains have some of the most beautiful landscapes in the United States, with stunning vistas as far as the eyes can see. Visitors can drive the scenic Newfound Gap, hike along the beautiful peaks such as Clingman’s Dome, and explore the thousands of trails found throughout the area.
There are plenty of other things to do, such as horseback riding, tubing, or visiting nearby attractions such as the kitschy Dollywood theme park. The Smoky Mountains are beautiful no matter when you visit, but there are certain seasons when visiting is easier. We’ll show you this and more below.
Overall Best Time to Visit the Smoky Mountains
The best time to visit the Smoky Mountains is the summer, when you can experience the best weather in the park and try your hand at the most outdoor activities.
The fall is also a good time to visit for the spectacular foliage. According to the official website for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, summer brings the hottest temperatures.
Although high temperatures can be as hot as the 90s in the lowlands, once you climb higher in the mountains, the weather becomes pleasant and mild. Thanks to the hot weather, this is the best season for plenty of outdoor activities.
Summer is also the best time to get out on the many waters in Great Smoky Mountains National Park by going tubing or white-water rafting.
Other adventure activities, such as ziplining, are fully operational in the summer. The summer does get a lot of rain, meaning that views aren’t the clearest and afternoon thunderstorms are common.
Thanks to the rain, everything is at its lushest, and popular streams and waterfalls such as Laurel Falls are at their most spectacular. Summer is also one of the best times to see wildlife in the park.
Animals such as black bears are at their most active (although it is black bear mating season, so they can get aggressive). June brings one of the most beautiful displays in the park, the synchronous fireflies viewing, when thousands of fireflies light up the park during their mating season.
Fall is another gorgeous time to visit the Smoky Mountains as colorful foliage covers the mountains. The leaves changing color make the mountains absolutely gorgeous. Plus, the weather is also great for exploring.
Some people prefer the fall over the summer because there is less rain and the views from the mountains are clearer since there is no haze. Throughout most of the mountain range, the colorful foliage peaks in October, although you can see leaves changing in higher elevations as early as mid-September.
Expect plenty of other drivers on the roads and hikers on the trails during this time. To celebrate the beautiful leaves, the park tends to organize many events during this time.
The Smokies Harvest Celebration is a great time to visit for history lovers as rangers demonstrate the ways farmers survived in the mountains during falls of centuries past.
Cheapest Time to Visit the Smoky Mountains
The cheapest times to visit the Smoky Mountains are in the winter and early spring, when they get far fewer visitors. Winter is the low season for the Smoky Mountains, because the chillier weather means that fewer visitors arrive.
If you have to fly to the Smoky Mountains, this is the least expensive time to do so because flights within the United States tend to be the most affordable in January and February, after the holidays. Car rentals from nearby cities also cost less in the winter.
Accommodation tends to be the least expensive in the winter. In nearby towns such as Gatlinburg, you can get hotels for 20-30% off of peak-season prices.
If you want to visit the Smoky Mountains but still stay in a nice hotel, winter is the best time to visit. However, keep in mind that you may not save as much money as you think in the winter because there are fewer accommodation options.
Most campgrounds inside the park are closed, as are many lodges within the park proper. In the spring, more accommodation options are open, but rates are still relatively low.
While some late spring weekends can get crowded, in early spring (especially during weekdays), you can still find good rates on accommodation.
Least Busy Time to Visit the Smoky Mountains
The least busy time to visit the Smoky Mountains is in the winter, but you can also avoid the worst of the crowds in the spring and early fall. Winter is the absolute least busy time to visit the Smoky Mountains since the colder weather makes the park less appealing to visitors.
While many attractions and even some of the trails are closed, you can enjoy the stark beauty of winter in the mountains all to yourself. Although spring gets more visitors than winter, the park rarely gets crowded during this season.
In April and May, the wildflowers begin blooming, carpeting the mountains with colorful blooms. Rangers lead events such as the Wildflower Pilgrimage to celebrate.
The temperatures are warmer than in the winter but expect plenty of rain. It’s even possible to enjoy leaf-peeping season without being surrounded by crowds.
In September and early October, there’s a brief window between the summer high season and the peak of leaf season in mid-October. The leaves in higher elevations begin to turn in early September, and there is some colorful foliage visible throughout the park by early October.
Worst Time to Visit the Smoky Mountains
The worst time to visit the Smoky Mountains is during the winter, when the cold weather makes it hard to explore and many popular attractions are closed.
Although the Smoky Mountains are located in the South, where winters are generally milder than up north, temperatures can still get quite cold in the area. The higher up you go, it gets colder as climate at higher elevations tends to be harsher.
Temperatures can be well below freezing at higher elevations, and snow is frequent, although less common at lower elevations. During the winter, parts of the National Park shut down.
Whenever there is snow, park authorities can’t clear the snow fast enough to open the entire park back up for visitors. Many backcountry trails close for the season. If you’re visiting in the winter, always check the official park website for trail closures so you don’t show up disappointed.
There is also less to do in and around the park during the winter. The park offers fewer ranger tours. Many tour operators stop offering adventure activities during the winter or offer fewer tours.
Accommodation options in and around the park also tend to close for the season. Popular nearby attractions such as Dollywood are closed in January and February. However, it is still possible to visit the Smoky Mountains in the winter and have a good time.
The park is open all year round. Although the events calendar is thinner, there are still things going on, such as the Festival of Christmas Past, celebrating traditional handicrafts.
If you wear warm gear, you can still enjoy the outdoors in the winter, with the added bonus of cross-country skiing when there is snow on the ground.
Frequently Asked Questions
You might find these popular questions to help you find the best time to visit the Smoky Mountains:
What is the best month to visit the Smoky Mountains?
The best month to visit the Smoky Mountains is September, which has the best weather and the beginning of the fall foliage.
What is the rainiest month in the Smoky Mountains?
July is the rainiest month in the Smoky Mountains, and you can expect plenty of precipitation all throughout summer.
What state is best to see the Smoky Mountains?
The park and mountain range stretch over multiple states, but most of the top sights are located in Tennessee.
Which airport is closest to the Smoky Mountains?
The closest airport is McGee-Tyson Airport in Alcoa, Tennessee, but you can also fly into a bigger airport, then rent a car.
So, What’s the Best Time to Visit the Smoky Mountains?
The best time to visit the Smoky Mountains is in the summer for plenty of outdoor activities, and in the fall to catch the best of the foliage.