Recently, I had some out-of-town guests visit me near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They stayed in a nice cabin overlooking the Gatlinburg SkyBridge.
It got me wondering about where I would choose to stay for my vacation if I was not local.
For example, would I want to stay in a popular destination to maximize the fun? Or would I want to stay somewhere more remote?
In an ideal world, when you visit the mountains, you want to wake up in the morning, stumble to the front window and be smacked straight in the face by majesty.
Area Deals and Discounts
Subscribe to our newsletter and we will instantly deliver the best area discounts to your inbox.
What is the best place to stay in the Smoky Mountains?
There are a handful of destination types to consider when picking your place to stay in the Great Smoky Mountains. Here are some ideas for the best places to stay for your trip to the Smokies:
7. Camp in an RV
Most of the area’s campgrounds feature sites that come with fire rings, picnic areas or a playground.
Some will even have a swimming pool, splash pad or access to a nearby creek or river.
But most importantly, they will offer easy access to attractions, entertainment or the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Be sure to check out our roundup of area campgrounds for some recommendations.
If you’ll forgive the pun, camping in the Smokies fits under a fairly big tent.
If you want a step above the traditional camping experience, you can go for a full glamping experience, where you might get the best of both worlds. For example, Smoky Hollow Resort offers glamping tipis, wagons and yurts that would certainly make for a memorable experience.
There’s also Camp Margaritaville. It is a great resort that is perfect for families who want a traditional campground, a hotel or a combination of the two. It offers free wifi, an outdoor pool, a lazy river and an arcade center.
Options like these offer an upgraded version of camping.
A good hotel is a nice and traditional option. The good news is, it’s not difficult to find in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg. There are hotels in town that offer indoor pools, private balconies, spacious rooms or maybe even a water slide. It all depends on what your priorities include.
For example, Home2 Suites by Hilton in Pigeon Forge is a highly rated hotel that is within walking distance of The Island in Pigeon Forge.
There are several great cabins to choose from in the area. My family likes to select a cabin from VRBO when planning our trip.
A lot of times, you can find a really nice cabin without too much extra cost to your trip and get way more for your precious vacation dollars.
Be sure to check out the reviews for the best options. Whether you have a two-person cabin for a romantic getaway or a gigantic cabin that sleeps 24 people, there’s definitely a cabin on VRBO that meets your needs.
There are hundreds of suppliers who want to provide you with a vacation home base for family fun.
A resort is a destination in and of itself. Maybe it offers spa services or its own on-site water park or an on-site restaurant.
Country Cascades Waterpark Resort is a great family-friendly resort in the area.
Wilderness at the Smokies has the state’s largest indoor waterpark, multiple slides and play areas for the little ones in the family.
There are a handful of companies in the area that will bring you the rental of your childhood dreams.
These treehouse cabins have modern amenities and are truly romantic getaways.
For example, Treehouse Grove offers luxury treehouses for those coming to the mountains for peace and quiet.
1. Visit LeConte Lodge
The most beautiful place to stay in the Smokies may well be LeConte Lodge. However, not all of us are ready, willing or able to make that hike or plan that far in advance.
Mt. LeConte Lodge is a hard-to-reach, fairly hard-to-book getaway.
For example, supplies are brought to and from the lodge via a trail by pack animals like llamas. Bookings can be hard to come by. So if you have your heart set on staying in this remote, historic lodge, be sure to book far in advance.
Is it better to stay in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge?
I like Pigeon Forge. In fact, we have had a little getaway vacation there with the family recently. We had Dollywood theme park tickets and decided to make a weekend of it since we were going to the amusement park. There are great dining opportunities in both areas.
It was fine and convenient for our general purpose. If you’re a Dolly Parton fan, you might vote for Pigeon Forge or even Sevierville.
But, honestly, I just like Gatlinburg better. It makes for the best romantic getaway or starting point for outdoor adventures.
I like being able to park the car and walk around. In fact, I saw a gaggle of pedestrians trying to cross six lanes of traffic – with a crosswalk – in Pigeon Forge this weekend.
It was like real-life Frogger. Downtown Gatlinburg was made for pedestrians, almost everything is a short walk.
Gatlinburg, with its vaguely European architectural touches, just feels more like a real getaway. It’s prettier. I prefer the view of the Gatlinburg Space Needle to anything in Pigeon Forge.
Gatlinburg also has better access to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park picnic areas.
How far apart are Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg?
Not far, but the time it takes to get you from one to the other will depend on traffic.
On a good day, it might take you about 20-30 minutes to get from one town to the other. A bad day? Maybe an hour or more.
Overall, you obviously have to access what is important to you on vacation. If you’re going to spend most of your time in Pigeon Forge, then it would make sense to stay there.
Plus, if you account for Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort, I think Pigeon Forge has the best hotels.
Pigeon Forge has the most popular attractions and a clear advantage during Rod Runs. If you’re a classic car enthusiast, you want a spot on the strip.
Otherwise, I’d just as soon make the short drive home.
Where should I stay in Tennessee to see the mountains?
The Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee offer some of the most beautiful mountains you’ll see on this side of the country.
For my money, the town has to be Gatlinburg.
Nearby, Pigeon Forge is fun and convenient, but unless you find a cabin off the beaten path, it’s not necessarily beautiful. Gatlinburg, on the other hand, combines the best of both worlds.
You can get majestic views of the mountains and still have access to all the other stuff that makes the Smokies fun.
What is the quiet side of the Great Smoky Mountains?
If you want something a little less touristy away from the hustle and bustle, Maggie Valley, North Carolina might be your cup of tea.
I’m enamored with the North Carolina side of the mountains. We recently drove through Wears Valley on our way to Cades Cove.
There was a time I might have said Wears Valley is the prettiest area. But the expansion of businesses and cabins has kind of lessened the visual experience.
We generally don’t like huge crowds – we want something a little quieter.
I grew up 20 minutes from Townsend, Tennessee, and spent a lot of time on the river, camping and hanging out in that part of the park.
The Townsend entrance to the park offers quick access to some of the best places in the Smokies, including Cades Cove. So it’s hard to go wrong. It is hard for me to go against Townsend.
I think Maggie Valley itself is a little prettier, though. When you get up on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the views can be spectacular.
And if you really want to get a little bit more away from other tourists, Maggie Valley is the perfect place. The equation could change if they ever get Ghost Town in the Sky reopened.
Is it better to stay on the North Carolina or Tennessee side of the park?
Occasionally, I marvel at how different the people on one side of the mountain are from the other. Speaking in generalities, Western North Carolina is an artist’s paradise and one of the more liberal parts of the state.
East Tennessee is more musical and also more conservative. Only separated by a few miles, communities like Hendersonville, Asheville and others couldn’t be more different than Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge or Knoxville.
With the caveat that I love to visit Hendersonville, I think the Tennessee side remains best for the widest variety of vacation purposes.
Certainly, with Harrah’s Casino at Cherokee and Biltmore in Asheville, the North Carolina side of the mountains has plenty of charm. The argument can surely be made that the North Carolina side of the border has the best restaurants.
But I would argue that the Tennessee side has the best roller coasters and the most fun attractions. The Tennessee side offers a better variety of accommodations, the best outdoor activities and easier access to more of the country through the interstate system.
Where’s the best place to stay in North Carolina?
Again, I love Hendersonville. It’s a great place. The apple picking in the fall is fantastic. The mountain views are wonderful. The downtown is lively and full of interesting shops and artisan restaurants. The area is rich in history. It’s wonderful.
Certainly, Cherokee has grown over the years. It has natural beauty and celebrations of native culture. It’s also the best place in the mountains to see elk. And they offer gambling at Harrah’s if you’re into such things.
Also, Bryson City is a bit off the beaten path, but the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad and its museum make for a fun getaway.
There are just enough interesting restaurants and you can see locations used in the Harrison Ford classic movie, “The Fugitive”.
Ultimately, the best place to stay largely depends on your preferences. Do you have a favorite place to stay in the Smoky Mountains? Let us know in the comments.
View the web story version of this article here.