Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Visitor Centers
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Ben Sumner)
Interpretive rangers or other park staff work at the three park visitor centers. Summer is the busiest season, and the park runs a full schedule of ranger-led programs. Spring and fall have less extensive schedules. The winter season, which runs from November through early April, has no programs. However, visitor centers remain open, and their orientation, information, and museum displays provide a good starting place when visiting the Smokies.

The Sugarlands Visitor Center is open daily except on Christmas. It is two miles south of Gatlinburg, TN on U.S. Route 441 at the intersection of the Newfound Gap and Little River Roads. Focusing on natural history, this visitor center has displays on the park's plants and animals. A slideshow and orientation run throughout the day. Staff is available to help with questions or comments.

The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is also open daily except Christmas. It is one mile north of Cherokee, North Carolina. It is also near the southern terminus of the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway. Its displays center on the economic and environmental changes associated with logging, farming, and other 19th century activities. Adjacent to the visitor center, the Pioneer Farmstead lets you see how the early mountain people lived. Just up the road into the park is Mingus Mill, a large water-powered mill for grinding corn that can be seen in operation from mid-April through October. Orientation information is available.

Sugarlands and Oconaluftee are connected by the Newfound Gap Road, a scenic drive across the Smokies crest that is closed to commercial vehicles. Numerous scenic pullouts are provided. You can park on the crest at Newfound Gap, where the Appalachian Trail crosses the road. Or you can drive the spur road out to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the park, and its observation tower, which can be reached via a strenuous half-mile hike from the parking lot.

The Cades Cove Visitor Center is open daily, except in winter, when it is open only on weekends. Cultural history displays are integrated with sales items. Orientation information is also available. Cades Cove visitors can drive an 11-mile loop through a pastoral Smokies scene with restored buildings and an old mill.

Each visitor center has a bookstore. The Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association operates these bookstores and has outlets in Townsend, TN, the Institute at Tremont, and Franklin, North Carolina.


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