sun shining mountain range in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
January 17, 2022

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is still the most visited national park in the United States. However, many guests tend to spend a lot of time on the Tennessee side of the Smoky Mountains, even when there are interesting places to go in North Carolina like Cataloochee Valley. There is much to see and do when you visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, so here’s our ultimate guide for doing just that!

Places to Visit

Fontana Dam NC1. Fontana Dam

The tallest dam built on the eastern side of the United States, Fontana Dam stands at 480 feet. It is located near Fontana Village and Bryson City, North Carolina. When you are in the area, you have options for enjoying the scenery, boating and fishing on Fontana Lake, or hiking part of the Appalachian Trail.

2. Blue Ridge Parkway

If scenic drives are your thing, then you’ll love the Blue Ridge Parkway! The parkway stretches for 469 miles and goes through several counties in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. Popular stops along the parkway include places like the Blue Ridge Music Center, Mabry Mill, and the Museum of North Carolina Minerals. Last, but not least, the Blue Ridge Parkway also gives you outstanding mountain views, access to beautiful waterfalls, and more!

Cherohala Skyway3. Cherohala Skyway

Cherohala Skyway serves as a National Scenic Byway, ranging from 900 to 5,400 feet above sea level as it spans more than 40 miles between North Carolina and Tennessee. A fun fact about the road’s name? It was formed from the names of the Cherokee & Nantahala National Forests! By taking this skyway, you’ll also have access to several water features, including Citico Creek and Hiwassee River, so be sure to take a break to explore as you make this drive.

4. Oconalufteee Visitor Center

The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is another perfect place to go when you’re in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. It is open every day except on Christmas Day, and you can browse the center’s history museum, bookstore, and shop. Interested in seeing some historic buildings? Mountain Farm Museum and the Mingus Mill are also near the visitor center. Guests will have the chance to see log structures like a smokehouse and an applehouse, and during some seasons, you can even see reenactments of historic farm activities!

Things to Do

1. Camping

family camping in the mountains

If you’re planning to go camping in the national park, you have a few options on the North Carolina side. Cataloochee Campground is near Waynesville NC. It is a tent-only campsite available for reservations from April to October, but it comes with picnic areas, campfire rings, and other amenities! If you like to camp at any time of the year, Smokemont Campground in Cherokee NC is open all year long. The campsite offers spots for tents and RVs, so you have some flexibility in how you can spend your time in the great outdoors. Additionally, you don’t have to go far for any camping supplies if you need them, as there is a camp supply store close to the campground for your convenience.

2. Biking

Do you want to enjoy a great bicycle friendly trail while you’re on the North Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains? You can take on the Oconaluftee River Trail or the lower Deep Creek Trail in the national park! The Oconaluftee River Trail is around 3.2 miles round-trip, is relatively flat, and comes with a river view. Although a little more challenging, the Deep Creek Trail has water features along its route and wonderful spots for a picnic.

3. Hiking

hiking alone

With over 850 miles of hiking trails, you’re bound to find one you’ll love while visiting North Carolina. Some notable trails you may want to try are:

  • Oconaluftee River Trail and Mingus Creek Trail near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center
  • Smokemont Nature Trail near Smokemont Campground
  • Boogerman Trail and Little Cataloochee Trail in Cataloochee Valley

As a bonus, if you hike in the early morning or late evening, you might even get a chance to spot some Smoky Mountain wildlife like elk, white-tailed deer, or black bears in the Cherokee, Oconaluftee, or Cataloochee areas! Just remember to do so quietly and from a safe distance.

Now that you know about the many activities you can do in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, we can’t wait to see you in the park soon! Interested in learning more about the Smoky Mountains? Check out some historical facts about how the national park came to be!