Tips for the Chimneys Picnic Area, 7 Things You Should Know

sandwich in foreground with creek in background at chimneys picnic area in the great smoky mountains

The Chimneys Picnic Area is a great place to pack a lunch and enjoy the sounds of nature (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

I’ve visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park many times, and one of my favorite spots to have a picnic is the Chimneys Picnic Area.

It’s in close competition with Metcalf Bottoms. This is partly due to its idyllic setting on the banks of the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River.

Over the years, I’ve found that the soothing creek by the Chimneys Picnic Area is perfect for an achy back or simply wading and relaxing.

Where can I have a picnic in the Smoky Mountains?

Taking a picnic is one of the officially encouraged activities in the park.

There are several well-designed, well-maintained picnic areas in the park. Each picnic site has a charcoal grill, picnic table, a nice level pad and easy access from the road.

Most of them are located next to a river or creek where you can cool off in frigid mountain waters.

And the Chimneys should be considered a great picnic spot. It’s certainly among the best in the park. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the best in the Eastern United States.

But you don’t have to picnic at one of the approved sites. There are dozens if not hundreds of places where you can unpack your own lunch.

Cades Cove and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail are also especially good places for this.

Today, we’re focusing on the Chimneys Picnic Area. Here are a few things you should know before you visit:

black bear cub in tree
The Smoky Mountains are home to many black bears and it’s important for visitors to do their part in protecting them by leaving no trash behind and respecting the national park rules (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

1. Are there black bears at the Chimney Tops Picnic Area?

Yes. This area is an active black bear habitat.

The National Park Service encourages you to take care of your trash to protect the local wildlife. Human garbage is very harmful to black bears.

And, always keep your distance and respect their space. Finally, brush up on what to do if you see one.

Chimneys Picnic Area in deep Green Forest
The Chimneys Picnic Area is a peaceful place to have a picnic and stretch your legs (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

2. Where are the Chimneys in Gatlinburg? How do you get there?

Leaving Gatlinburg, take U.S. 441 – aka Newfound Gap Road – like you’re going to Cherokee N.C. The Chimneys Picnic Area isn’t too far up the road.

If you’re leaving the Sugarlands Visitor Center, it’s about four and a half miles up. The entrance will be on the right.

chimney tops picnic area bathrooms
There are lower loop and upper loop restrooms nearby that are open seasonally (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

3. What amenities does the Chimneys Picnic Area have?

The picnic area includes 68 sites and plenty of places in the wooded picnic area to rest and enjoy the beauty of the mountains. It has an elevation of 2,739 feet.

You can grill your own hamburgers or hot dogs there. Just bring your own charcoal and something to light it with.

You can do something more ambitious if you like, but remember the grills aren’t gigantic. Also, be aware that wood fires are not permitted.

The site also offers a short 0.8-mile loop and offers plenty of shade.

Parking is available for picnic sites and the trailhead.

Remember, visitors are now required to have valid parking tags to park for more than 15 minutes.

Read Also: A Simple Guide to Smoky Mountain Parking Passes, Park it Forward

4. Are dogs allowed at the Chimney Tops Picnic Area?

You can bring pets, but they must be on a leash and cannot be left unattended. They are also not permitted on the nearby trails.

The only pet-friendly trails in the park are the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail, just on the North Carolina side of Highway 441.

Chimney Tops Trail Sign
The trailhead to the Chimney Tops is nearby the picnic area. Remember, if you bring your dog for a picnic, they are not permitted on the nearby trails (photo by Jason Sponseller/shutterstock.com)

5. Is the Chimneys Picnic Area open in winter?

Nope! The Chimneys Picnic Area is open from early April to late November. It closes at 8 pm through late spring and summer and at sunset the rest of the year.

When making your plans, it’s important to remember the seasonal closures.

6. What other activities can I do nearby?

If you’re looking for more to do, this area is a great starting spot for other activities. For example, the trailhead to the Chimney Tops is nearby, which is about four miles roundtrip.

The area is also a neat spot for an outdoor breakfast before making the rest of the drive on Newfound Gap Road into North Carolina.

There are some incredible views located at multiple pull-offs along the way. You can also take the same route but head to Clingmans Dome for the day.

a picnic table
Picnic tables are abundant throughout the Cades Cove campground (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

7. When should I plan my Smoky Mountain picnic?

I would say, when possible, if you’re going to Metcalf, Cades Cove or the Chimneys, try to get there early.

The competition for the best spots can be fierce. As a result, during the busy seasons, you may not find an open picnic site.

If you have an early riser in the family – one who doesn’t mind calm, cool early mornings in the woods – send them as an emissary to claim a spot before the rest of the party arrives.

Where is the Cades Cove Picnic Area?

The Cades Cove Picnic Area is one of my favorites right behind Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area and the Chimneys and just ahead of the Greenbrier Picnic Area.

The Cades Cove Picnic Area is right at the entrance to the Cove.

To access it, simply turn like you’re going to the horse stables or campground and you’re right there. It has 81 sites flanked on either side by Abrams Creek and Green Branch Creek.

The water is considerably more serene and better for small children.

Do you have a favorite picnic spot in the Smokies? Let us know in the comments.

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