7 Tips for Best Places To Stay in the Smoky Mountains

overview of parkway in pigeon forge tn with mountains in background

There are a lot of things to consider when choosing a place to stay in the mountains, but views should definitely be one of them (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

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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.


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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:

Camp Riverslanding tv with gravel lot
Camping in an RV is a great way to spend your family vacation in the Smokies. Pictured: Camp Riverslanding (photo by Dr. Candi Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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.

Read Also: Campgrounds in East Tennessee: The Best Places To Go, a Complete Guide

inside a glamping tent at the smoky hollow resort
Smoky Hollow Resort offers a full glamping experience (photo courtesy of Smoky Hollow Resort)

6. Go glamping or visit a resort campground

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.

Read Also: Camp Margaritaville in Pigeon Forge Unveils All-New Features

Home2 Suites Pigeon Forge
Pigeon Forge has several great hotels that are close to popular attractions (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

5. Stay in a hotel

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.

Super 8 in Gatlinburg is a good, affordable option for many families. I also enjoy the historic Gatlinburg Inn, conveniently located right along the Parkway in town.

Read Also: 13 Best Hotels in Gatlinburg, Ranked

a bed inside a cabin in the smoky mountains
A cabin is usually part of a perfect Smoky Mountain getaway (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

4. Rent a cabin

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.

A look inside DreamMore resort (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
A look inside Dolly Parton’s DreamMore Resort (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

3. Stay in a resort

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.

And of course, DreamMore is a high-end option that is the perfect base of operations if you’re planning a trip to the Dollywood theme park.

Read Also: 8 Best Family Resorts in Pigeon Forge, Ranked

2. Stay in a treehouse

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.

Read Also: Treehouse Grove Gatlinburg: A Treehouse for Adults in the Smokies

LeConte Lodge in the clouds, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Staying at LeConte Lodge will take a lot of planning in advance (photo by Martina/stock.adobe.com)

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.

Read Also: The Mt. LeConte Hike: How Long Does It Take? Can a Beginner Do It?

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.

sign to pigeon forge
Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are neighboring towns, but getting back and forth between them will depend on traffic (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

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.

Trailhead Steak and Trout House in townsend tn
Townsend is a smaller, less touristy part of town that still offers good views and great places to eat, like Trailhead Steak and Trout House (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

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.

swain county courthouse downtown bryson city
Bryson City, North Carolina is a great little town to explore and is best known for being home to the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad and the Nantahala River (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

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.

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Photo of author


John Gullion

John Gullion, Managing Editor at the Citizen Tribune, is a freelance contributor for TheSmokies.com LLC – the parent company of TheSmokies.com and HeyOrlando.com.

4 thoughts on “7 Tips for Best Places To Stay in the Smoky Mountains”

  1. The best place is to rent a house or a room in the Blue Mountain Mist bed and breakfast they are in Sevierville, Tennessee best place on earth ,goodies temptations station ,drinks beverage and cakes cookies
    Ask for Eric Ball owner

  2. The Highlands condos that burned in 2016. What a view and easy access to the park, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge via the bypass. Location, location, location for me.

  3. I love the Sydney James Motor Lodge… The old mom and pop feel, a balcony room backed up to a rushing creek, and easy walk to town…. It makes me think of Gatlinburg in the early 80’s and my youth!

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