Planning a picture-perfect stay in the Smoky Mountains
With free admission and entrances in two states – Tennessee and North Carolina – the Great Smoky Mountains National Park draws more visitors than any other national park in the United States. Summer and early fall understandably represent the peak seasons for visitors to the Smoky Mountains. The park is open year-round, however, and exploring at other times – in late spring, for example – means smaller crowds. No matter what the season, temperatures inside the park vary depending on the elevation.
Spring in the Smokies
A dazzling display of wildflowers, blooming shrubs and trees makes spring a lovely time to visit the Smoky Mountains. Be sure to pack for unexpected weather, however. In early spring especially, a sunny day can quickly give way to snow. The average high in March is 61 degrees F, though at night, temperatures can drop to the freezing point. March is also one of the wettest months in the Smokies. May is a better option, with highs in the 70s and 80s and lows in the 40s and 50s.
The three visitor centers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are open from April through October.
Summer in the Smokies
The Great Smoky Mountains are at their most verdant in the summer, which is one of the best times of the year for spotting animals in the park. However, afternoon thunderstorms are common during this time. In fact, July tends to be the wettest month in the region. Moreover, in July and August, daytime temperatures can climb into the 90s at lower elevations. Humidity can interfere with hiking and other activities. Explore in the early morning to enjoy better weather and sparser crowds.
Fall foliage in the Smokies
Autumn brings a spectacular palette of hues to the Smoky Mountains. At higher elevations, the process begins in early October. The best time to visit, however, is in the latter half of the month, when the trees in the park's lower climes have had a chance to catch up. Expect to share the park with plenty of fellow leaf peepers; October is one of the busiest months in the Smokies. On weekends during this time, the park becomes particularly crowded, and traffic into and through the park can be very slow.
A winter wonderland
Winters in the Smoky Mountains are cold, though low elevations experience mild temperatures during the daytime. For instance, the average high in the lower climes in January is 51 degrees F. At night and at higher elevations, however, temperatures can drop below freezing. Hikers who visit the park during this time are treated to snow-covered landscapes and mountain vistas that can be somewhat obscured the rest of the year.