A Family Affair: Vacationing in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Getting to and around the Smokies
By Deborah R. Huso
  |  Gorp.com
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Entrance Sign
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Entrance Sign (Gatlinburg Tourism)

By Air
While most people who travel to Great Smoky Mountains National Park drive here, there are options for those who need to fly. The closest airport on the North Carolina side of the park is Asheville Regional Airport, about an hour away. If you’re coming in on the Tennessee side, fly into McGhee Tyson Airport just south of Knoxville, also about an hour from the park.

By Car
You absolutely have to have a car to explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so if you fly in, make sure to arrange for a car rental. There is no public bus service to or in the park.

The easiest route if you’re coming into Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the north or west is to take I-40 from Knoxville, Tennessee, to U.S. 66 at Exit 407. U.S. 66 will feed into U.S. 441 south to Gatlinburg. Stay on 441 all the way to the park entrance. While the simplest route, this is also the busiest, and it could take you a full hour or more to reach the park. An alternate option is to take Exit 435 off I-40 at Knoxville and follow U.S. 321 to Gatlinburg.

If you’ve flown into McGhee Tyson Airport outside Knoxville, then your best bet is to avoid Knoxville altogether and head south on Highway 129 to Maryville. At Maryville, take U.S. 321 north to the park entrance at Townsend or to Pigeon Forge, where you will take a right onto U.S. 441 and follow it right into the park.

If you’re coming in from the south, take U.S. 441 north to Cherokee, North Carolina. U.S. 441 goes right into the park’s Oconaluftee entrance.

From the east, follow I-40 west of Asheville, North Carolina, to U.S. 23/74 (the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway). Stay on the expressway until you reach the exit for U.S. 441 north, and follow 441 into Cherokee.


Published: 16 Mar 2012 | Last Updated: 3 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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