What Is the Closest Airport to Gatlinburg TN? Your Best Option

alcoa airport in front of mountains

The McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) is likely your best bet if you plan to fly to the Smoky Mountains (photo by Joseph Creamer/shutterstock.com)

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What makes the Great Smoky Mountains National Park such a popular tourist location?

Well, there’s the natural beauty, of course.

There’s the tradition. People return year after year, sharing the experience with their kids and grandkids. 

More recently, the growth of Dollywood has bolstered the region’s tourism. 

Read Also: How much is Dollywood worth? Would Dolly Parton ever sell it?

And, of course, the area offers a lot of entertainment, dining and shopping options. It’s just a lot of fun. 

But there’s another reason, one that can be often overlooked or, for the geographically challenged, misunderstood.

It’s that old real estate chestnut: Location, location, location.

You see, the Smokies had the great fortune to be located in the perfect spot to develop as a tourism destination. 

With the confluence of several major interstate arteries running right up to the mountains, several major cities along the east coast, into the Midwest and across the South are within a reasonable drive.

In fact, using Google Maps, I counted 21 states, not including Tennessee and the Canadian Province of Ontario, within a 10-hour drive to Pigeon Forge. 

But while nearly half the United States has somewhat reasonable driving access to East Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains are an internationally popular destination. 

So, what do you need to know if you’re flying into the mountains? 


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What airport do you fly into for Gatlinburg, Tennessee?

The McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) in Knoxville is the closest airport to Gatlinburg. Frankly, it’s usually the preferred airport for most travelers. It’s a little over an hour drive to Gatlinburg from TYS.

There are a few other commercial regional airports that offer reasonable access to the mountains near Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

The small airport Tri-Cities Airport (TRI) in Northeast Tennessee and the Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) in North Carolina are also options that are worth price checking.

TRI and AVL are approximately a two hour drive away from Gatlinburg.

american airlines plane parked on runway
American Airlines is one of the airlines that services McGhee Tyson Airport (photo by Tupungato/shutterstock.com)

What airlines fly in and out of McGhee Tyson Airport?

Knoxville (TYS) is the largest of those options and has direct flights to 30 cities, many of which are in Florida. The airport offers five airlines: American Airlines, Delta, United Airlines, Allegiant and Frontier Airlines.

It seems Floridians come here on vacation. Tennesseans go to the beach.

Which airport is closest to the Smoky Mountains?

McGee Tyson is Knoxville’s airport, but for all intents and purposes, it is located in Alcoa in nearby Blount County. You can be in Townsend from the airport in less than half an hour and Pigeon Forge via I-40 and exit 407 in an hour. It will take just a little over an hour to get to Gatlinburg.

Once on the ground, McGhee Tyson offers a variety of rental carriers, Lyft and Uber, taxis and charters. But be aware, rideshares can be difficult to find once you’re in the mountains.

Your best bet would definitely be to get a car rental. Knoxville McGee Tyson Airport car rental companies include Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, National, Dollar and Payless.

Asheville (AVL) might be the preferred destination if you’re planning on exploring the North Carolina side of the mountains about 60 miles east of the Cherokee Park entrance.

It’s nearly two hours from there to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

Chattanooga also has a nice (yet small) airport, but I can’t imagine it being the preferable choice to any of the others. It would be about a three hour drive.

southwest airlines
You will need to fly into a major airport in the area if you fly Southwest (photo by Jeramey Lende/shutterstock.com)

Does Southwest fly into Gatlinburg TN?

If you wish to fly Southwest, you’ll have to fly into one of the larger airports and then rent a car to drive the rest of the way. Your options would one of the major airports below.

What is the closest major airport to Gatlinburg?

If you’re considering the closest major airport, look at Charlotte, Nashville or Atlanta.

The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Charlotte Douglas International Airport in NC (CLT) and Nashville International Airport (BNA) are within about 3-5 hours from the Smoky Mountains, depending on traffic.

You could also consider the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in Greenville, South Carolina, a little over three hours away.

nashville sign with plane overhead
Nashville or Charlotte are likely good options if you wish to find a major airport and drive the rest of the way (photo by Andy Dean Photography/shutterstock.com)

Is Memphis or Nashville closer to Gatlinburg?

Definitely Nashville. If you’re flying internationally, you might be able to save enough money to make your flight destination one of the international airports. From there you can rent a car and drive to the mountains.

When I’ve flown internationally, it has been occasionally worth my time to drive to a large airport like Atlanta or Nashville to catch a flight. 

So which one is the best option for flying to Gatlinburg?

There are a lot of factors that play a role when booking a flight. But in short, the Knoxville airport (TYS) is likely your best option.

If you want to fly into a major airport, Nashville and Charlotte (BNA and CLT, respectively), are likely your best options.

Which airlines fly into the Gatlinburg Pigeon Forge Airport?

The Gatlinburg Pigeon Forge Airport is a general aviation airport. It does not have commercial aircraft flights.

It is located in Sevierville, not far at all from the back entrance to Dollywood and a good way to bypass Pigeon Forge traffic if you’re going to Gatlinburg. 

Located on almost 200 acres, the airport currently has 50 hangars and is home to over 100 aircraft, the Tennessee Hall of Fame, and the Tennessee Museum of Aviation. 

My hometown of Morristown offers a similar option.

The Morristown Regional Airport has undergone several upgrades and is about a 45-minute drive to Pigeon Forge.

McGhee Tyson also has a fixed-base operator that services corporate jets as well as private planes. 

Read Also: Is it better to stay in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge?

Have you flown to Gatlinburg TN? Let us know about your experience in the comments!

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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.

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