May is a beautiful time to explore the Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee. With so much to see and do, we thought it would be helpful to create this little May round-up of upcoming local events.
May is one of our favorite months in the Smokies because it marks the start of summer with (mostly) sunny weather. And it lacks the intense crowds that we tend to see in June, July and August – and sometimes even into late September.
And of course, May also marks the start of the new summer season when you can ride some slides and water rides for both Soaky Mountain and Splash Country – two of the area’s most popular waterparks.
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Things to do in the Smoky Mountains in May
Activities for indoor enthusiasts
This year, Dollywood plans to continue its popular Flower and Food Festival (that started in April) throughout the entire month of May and into June. It’s an event that both kids and adults enjoy.
And Anakeesta’s Blooms and Tunes event – with special art installations, music and culinary treats – will be in full swing. (Pro-tip: Before visiting Anakeesta, check Tripster for discounts.
And of course, as always, Puckett’s, Hard Rock Cafe, The Listening Room and Ole Red will be featuring free live music on select nights.
If shops and Southern dining are more your speed, try stopping by the Old Mill District – which features a collection of historic buildings turned tourist attractions in Pigeon Forge – for a meal at the Pottery House or the Old Mill Restaurant and a photo-op at the Grist Mill.
Arts and crafts lovers will enjoy the Arts and Crafts Community – one of our favorite places – located in Gatlinburg.
Activities for outdoor enthusiasts
May is also the ideal time to explore nature in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Hikers may want to consider one of our popular trails like Porters Creek Trail, The Gatlinburg Trail, Trillium Gap Trail (to the Grottos Falls waterfall), Laurel Falls, Alum Cave Trail, Clingmans Dome (the highest point in the Smokies), the Little River Trail, Ramsey Cascades Trail or even Baskins Creek Trail.
The Smoky Mountains are full of waterfalls and nature trails.
Just be sure to stop at the Sugarlands Visitor Center if you’re on the Gatlinburg side before heading out on your Smoky Mountain adventure for maps, guides and supplies.
Those who prefer nature “lite” can opt for naturing by car (one of the best ways to see the park on a hot day in our opinion) on one of our popular scenic drives like Cades Cove Loop Road, Newfound Gap Road or Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
In the month of May, you can see wildflowers. If you’re lucky, you might even see wildlife like a few black bears and wild turkeys. Be sure to keep your distance – at least 150 feet.
There’s also the Foothills Parkway, the Blue Ridge Parkway – another popular scenic drive – and the Tail of the Dragon, both located on the North Carolina side of the Smokies.
If you’re looking for a specific event in May, check out our curated list below. Be sure to click on the “details” button for additional information on each event.
Weather in the Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg in May
It doesn’t get much better as far as weather conditions are concerned in the Smokies.
The winter months can be brutal with freezing temperatures. And summer months are often sweltering. But May, as Goldilocks would say, is “just right”.
It’s truly a great time to visit.
You’ll enjoy mostly sunny days throughout the entire month of May with scattered showers and thunderstorms sprinkled in throughout.
According to the National Park Service, the temperature in May is mostly in the 70s and 80s with lows in the 40s and 50s.
More specifically, low elevations will see temperatures ranging from 61-85 degrees Fahrenheit with an average temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
But don’t let those warm days fool you – if you plan on exploring the higher elevations, you could still experience a cool night or two. In fact, temperatures could vary as much as 10 degrees from the top of the mountain to the bottom.
What should you wear in the Smoky Mountains in May?
Any cold-natured member of your group should consider packing a light sweater or jacket if you plan on visiting in early May or exploring some of those previously mentioned higher elevations.
Rainfall is not uncommon in the spring. The month of May has a monthly precipitation of 4.5 inches. Raincoats, ponchos or umbrellas are advisable to everyone as thunderstorms and rainy days are commonplace in late spring.
When in doubt, pack layers or at least a light rain jacket. But summer attire should be the default.
And don’t forget to pack a comfortable pair of walking shoes, just in case.
The days are typically longer as well, with sunset falling around 8 or 8:30 pm on most evenings and sunrise a little after 6 or 6:30 am most mornings.
How busy is Gatlinburg in May? Crowd sizes in the Smokies
As mentioned earlier, May can be busy, but not nearly as busy as the peak season rush we see every year between June-September.
Although, you will notice larger crowds begin to flood the area on Saturday mornings. These crowds typically linger throughout the weekend into late Sunday.
So be sure to plan ahead and seek reservations where available while making weekend plans.
Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day and Memorial Day in the Smoky Mountains
Finally, the three big crowd-drawing holidays are Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day and Memorial Day weekend.
On Cinco de Mayo local Mexican restaurants usually offer plenty of specials and put on their own mini-celebrations.
Mother’s Day weekend can sometimes draw large crowds on weekends and cause some minor competition for booking cabin rentals.
But the crowds don’t really start to pile in ’til ya get to Memorial Day.
Memorial Day usually means a variety of bluegrass music festivals, parades and military discounts at a variety of popular attractions, shops and restaurants – like Anakeesta and Tanger Outlets.
What do you think is the best time of year to visit the Smoky Mountains? Are you planning a trip in May? Let us know in the comments below.
And if you own or operate a local attraction in the Smokies and wish to add your event to the calendar, please contact our editorial team here.