These Are the 3 Busiest Months in the Smoky Mountains According to NPS

the entrance sign to the great smoky mountains national park

Visitors pass by the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (photo by 010110010101101/shutterstock.com)

These were the busiest months and most visited locations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2023 according to the National Park Service

When is the best time to go to the Smokies? It depends on what you’re after. Do you want the peak colors of fall? The lush greens and warm weather of summer or the fresh renewal of spring? Do you enjoy the bright lights and crisp holiday air at Christmas? Or is the best time to visit the Smokies whenever you can avoid the maddening crowds of people? 

According to data from the National Park Service in 2023, not surprisingly, January and February saw the lowest number of recreation visits to the Smoky Mountains. The busiest months were June, July, and October. Followed closely by September and August. The busiest locations inside the park were Sugarlands, Oconaluftee and Townsend.

chimney tops trailhead
The Chimney Tops trailhead is especially beautiful in the fall (photo by Weidman Photography/shutterstock.com)

The 3 Busiest Months in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2023

MonthRecreation Visits
October1,704,922
July1,609,741
June1,545,906

1. October – 1,704,922

Welcome to the height of the leaf-peeping season. October saw 1,704,922 recreation visits. It’s not shocking that this is the case. With winter approaching the animals are active – especially the bears. And the sights around the park are breathtaking. There’s a spot on the way up to Cades Cove that turns a golden yellow for as far as the eye can see each October. I can’t tell what kind of tree dominates the forest right there, but it’s breathtaking. 

2. July – 1,609,741

The height of summer marks the perfect time to visit the Smokies. The days are long, and the high mountains and cold streams can help you beat the heat. Last July saw 1,609,741 people visit the park. It’s certainly a perfect time for hiking and picnics and long drives through the scenic mountains. If only there were a bit more splashes of color besides green, July would be king.

3. June – 1,545,906

Ah, the freedom that marks the beginning of summer. June 2023 saw 1,545,906 explore the park’s natural wonders. But what do those numbers mean? They mean a boatload of people visited the National Park on the way to more than 13 million visits in the year. Those numbers are adjusted to bar duplicate reporting. That means the park service is not counting a family that stayed in the park for a week, seven different times each. 

Other months with more than a million visitors include April, May, August and September. The only real surprise was November outdrawing December. However, I suppose December visitors to the region spend less time in the mountains and more time at the outlets. 

sugarlands visitor center
The Sugarlands Visitor Center offers a wealth of information to would-be trail goers and park adventurers (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

The 3 Most Visited Destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2023

MonthRecreation Visits
Sugarlands4,121,854
Oconaluftee2,515,803
Townsend1,718,403

1. Sugarlands – 4,121,854

Located just above Gatlinburg, Sugarlands serves as half of the bookend entrances on Newfound Gap Road. This area attracted more than 4 million recreation visits in 2023 and was the most visited area in the park. There’s a visitors’ center and plenty to do.

2. Oconaluftee – 2,515,803

Located just outside Cherokee, Oconaluftee is the best spot to see elk in the park. Throw in the visitors’ center and the pioneer village and it’s no wonder it drew over 2.5 million. 

3. Townsend – 1,718,403

The Townsend entrance to the park is the one I grew up frequenting. It offers access to the Townsend Wye, maybe the best swimming hole in the park. It’s also the entrance to Cades Cove, Elkmont and more. Therefore, it’s no surprise it comes in third with 1.7 million recreation visits. 

Not included in the official count is Cades Cove. The Cove is included in the miscellaneous counts and, I believe, not adjusted for duplicate reporting. The NPS reports Cades Cove Loop Road had over 2 million visitors. 

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is beautiful in the fall (photo by jdross75/ stock.adobe.com)
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park attracted more than 13 million visitors in 2023 (photo by jdross75/ stock.adobe.com)

Recreation Visits to the Smoky Mountains in 2023 

In 2023, more than 13 million people recorded recreational visits to the National Park. If you wanted to avoid the crowds, your best months to visit were in the winter and early spring. The busiest time of the year was October, in the height of leaf-peeping season.  I don’t think anyone is shocked to find June and July are popular months in the Smokies as well. Ultimately, there’s no bad time to visit the mountains. Even in the busy months, however, there is a way to enjoy your favorite activities. You might have to go a little deeper into the mountains to get away from the crowds. 

PS: Are you planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains? Be sure to check out our coupons page for area promos.

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