I was a teenager and some of our family had come down from Indiana. As per usual, we planned a day in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We went to the Chimneys Picnic Area.
At any rate, we lived in Blount County at the time. I’m not sure why we picked the spot above Gatlinburg for our adventure. In fact, we had to drive past a couple of our other favorite picnic grounds to get there.
To this day, the Chimneys remain my favorite picnic spot, 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.
My back was really stiff that weekend. I remember it well. It was the first time I’d ever dealt with such a thing. As a result, on the trip, I was taking it easy.
Being young, my taking it easy only lasted so long. The temptation to get out among the massive rocks and downed tree trunks over the serene rushing of the Little River was just too much.
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So there I was, jumping from massive boulder to massive boulder when I lost my footing.
Do you ever think about how many times in life you come close to disaster? The number of things that could have gone wrong at the moment my foot slipped on that rock is extensive.
A broken leg, broken foot or a broken ankle are just a few. I could have hit my head or my shoulder or my tailbone. Our day at the perfect picnic place could have turned into a trip to the hospital.
But I did none of those things. I landed flat on my very stiff, very sore back.
God, it seems, protects children and fools and I was lucky to be both.
There was a resounding thud followed by an “oooh” that was even audible over the sounds of the water echoing in my ears.
I got up gingerly, expecting a lot of pain. Instead, my back felt better and I was soon back in the creek.
Maybe that’s why I like it so much.
Can you picnic in the Smoky Mountains National Park?
Sure. It is one of the officially encouraged activities. But 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.
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 the frigid mountain waters.
Whether or not you’ve got positive back injury karma there as I do, 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.
For example, bring food and have a picnic in the park. Cades Cove or the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail are especially good places for this.
Where are the Chimneys in Gatlinburg?
Take U.S. 441 – aka Newfound Gap Road – out of Gatlinburg like you’re going to Cherokee N.C. The Chimneys Picnic Area isn’t too far up the road. The entrance will be on the right.
The picnic area includes 68 sites and plenty of places in the wooded picnic area to rest and enjoy the beauty of the mountains.
You can grill your own hamburgers or hot dogs – 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.
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.
Is the Chimneys Picnic Area open in winter?
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.
The picnic area also serves as a great starting spot for other activities. The trailhead to the Chimney Tops is nearby. It’s 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.
Does Cades Cove have a picnic area?
It does. It’s one of my favorites right behind Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area and the Chimneys and just ahead of the Greenbrier Picnic Area.
It’s right at the entrance to the Cove.
Just 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.
I would say, when possible, if you’re going to Metcalf, Cades Cove or the Chimneys, try to get there a little 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.
Have you visited the Chimneys Picnic Area? What are your tips? Let us know in the comments!