Vacation days are precious.
So how many days should you allocate for your Smoky Mountain vacation?
Of course, that’s really only a question you can answer. Factors like distance, personal preferences and drive time have to be weighed as well as cost.
You also want to pick the best time of year to visit.
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What is the rainiest month in the Smoky Mountains?
Summer afternoon showers are very common in the Smokies.
In fact, according to the National Park Service, July is the rainiest month with monthly precipitation of 5.7 inches.
However, don’t get too discouraged by some rain. I find that typically, rain showers come and go and do not always interfere with your day as much as you might expect.
Here are the monthly precipitation numbers by month:
What is the busiest season in the Smoky Mountains?
Each season has its charms, of course. Anytime is a great time for a quick visit – let’s say a weekend. But popular times to visit can also mean crowds.
According to the National Park Service, here is the monthly visitation in 2021:
As you can see, July is the busiest month and October is the second busiest.
But the only two times I would seriously consider avoiding a trip to the Smokies are in the late winter, early spring of March and the post-Halloween, pre-Christmas days of November.
In fact, let’s rank the best times to visit the Great Smoky Mountains:
8. Winter (post-Christmas)
After the holidays, many attractions in the area operate on a reduced or limited schedule.
January is one of the least popular months of the year to visit the mountains. Of course, if you’re looking for small crowds, this may be a benefit.
However, if you’re hoping to visit Dollywood or see some dinner shows, it is definitely a downside.
The Dollywood theme park is closed seasonally from early January through mid-March, and many of the other area’s popular attractions tend to follow suit or operate on a much more limited schedule.
There are also seasonal road closures within the national park. Still, some visitors enjoy visiting the Smokies in January.
But the only reason I’d consider it is if we got a great off-season deal on a cabin with a hot tub.
February is also out in my opinion except for Valentine’s Day weekend.
7. Early spring
March in the Smokies is lukewarm to me.
I think it’s too late to enjoy the charms of a Smokies winter but too early to really enjoy spring.
If you visit too early in the spring, the weather may still be cold and you may still run into seasonal closures.
Give it a few more weeks, and you’ll be visiting during one of the best times to visit. More on that is below.
6. Late fall
I find November in the Smokies somewhat blah.
Once you’re past the Oktoberfest and Halloween of everything, the glorious colors are fading into brown. For me, it’s a little early to kick into the Christmas spirit.
If you’re considering a trip in this in-between stage, I’d recommend either visiting just a tad earlier or a tad later.
5. Early summer
Summer, of course, is the most popular time in the Smokies for obvious reasons. The kids are out of school, the mountains are alive and green and blooming.
Because I live close, summer is the season I tend to avoid Pigeon Forge, Sevierville and Gatlinburg, ceding the cities to the tourists.
If we go to the mountains in summer, we try to keep up in the mountains, take the drive to North Carolina or visit some of our favorite picnic spots like the Chimneys, Metcalf Bottoms or Cades Cove.
One upside is that wildlife such as deer, bear and turkey are active in the summer.
In June, many visitors come to see the famous synchronous fireflies as well.
4. Late summer
I prefer to spend time in the mountains in the late summer. With many school kids going back to school in August now, late summer can be a great time to visit and have summer fun while avoiding most of the crowds.
Honestly, though, I find August a little depressing now that it’s been gerrymandered into fall.
While June and July are all Beach Boys and bright sunlight, August is a reminder of how fleeting everything is – like we’ve crested a peak and are now plummeting ahead into autumn and winter.
We are reminded of how quickly the seasons leap forward, carrying us ever more swiftly into our inevitable demise.
3. Early fall
Fall is almost as popular as summer because of the colors from the fall foliage in the mountains. If you want to see the prettiest colors of leaves, try a drive along the Foothills Parkway.
With temperatures still quite warm through late September, especially in the lower elevations, this is my favorite time to visit Dollywood.
I like seeing a bit of fall color in the park. Plus, the slightly less crowded days make for an enjoyable getaway.
October is much the same – most schools offer a fall break for a quick getaway – but you do run the risk of cooler temperatures invading.
2. Winter (before Christmas)
If you’re going to come to the Smokies in winter, December is the logical choice. Dollywood is magical in December and holiday shopping is at its peak.
Nighttime temperatures will be cool enough to give the right feeling for the season. And the spirit of the yule is enough to make up for the depressingly brown mountains.
It’s the best time to drive around and see Christmas lights or go snow tubing or skiing up at Ober Mountain.
Of course, temperatures are always cooler in higher elevations, so be sure to bundle up.
1. Mid-late spring
Mid to late spring is my absolute favorite time of year in the mountains as everything is reborn and fresh and green.
Spring is also the peak season to see wildflowers. It’s generally not too hot to enjoy outdoor activities like horseback riding.
It’s also a good time to see some hiking trails, waterfalls and more. Clingmans Dome Road opens again at the beginning of April, the perfect place to see a sunrise or sunset.
This is, for me, is also the best time of year to visit Cades Cove. There’s just something about all that revival that is refreshing.
How many days do you need to visit the Smoky Mountains?
Generally speaking, I think you need at least five days for a real Smoky Mountain vacation that isn’t just a quick getaway.
If it were me, I’d allocate one day each in …
- Gatlinburg (Ripley’s Aquarium or Anakeesta)
- Pigeon Forge (The Island, a show or a museum)
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Wears Valley, Townsend or Cades Cove
- Dollywood theme park
Depending on the time of year, you can adjust. If you visit during the summer, you might want to allocate a day for a waterpark like Soaky Mountain or Dollywood’s Splash Country.
The options are nearly endless.
As previously noted, it’s also important to remember that some things close seasonally.
Primary roads such as Newfound Gap Road, Little River Road and Cades Cove Loop Road stay open year-round (weather permitting).
But others close seasonally, like Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and Clingmans Dome Road.
What is your favorite time to visit the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee or North Carolina? Let us know in the comments!
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