The Sugarlands Visitor Center is one of four facilities of its kind in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
It’s is the perfect place to launch a variety of Smoky Mountain adventures. And it makes for a great first stop for those wishing to embark on an exploration of the park.
The Sugarlands Center is named for the valley in which it resides. The valley served as home to a number of small Appalachian communities in the 100-plus years before the National Park existed.
As the original homesteading families grew, the younger generations found their way to the Sugarland Valley, located on the outskirts of Gatlinburg, in the shadow of Mt. LeConte.
In the days before the park, Sugarlands was ripe with farming and, also one of the Smokies’ other chief crops; moonshine.
In fact, famed naturalist author Horace Kephart described the Sugarlands around the turn of the century as “…a country of ill fame, hidden deep in remote gorges, difficult of access, tenanted by a sparse population who preferred to be a law unto themselves. For many a year, it had been known on (the North Carolina) side as Blockaders’ Glory, which is the same as saying Moonshiners’ Paradise, and we all believed it to be fitly named.”
Is Sugarlands Visitor Center open?
Today, Sugarlands serves as one of the most frequently visited areas of the park. This is due to both its proximity to Gatlinburg and also to the natural wonders contained within.
The center is open year-round, with the exception of Christmas.
At the time of this writing, the center’s hours are as follows:
- January: 9 am-4:30 pm
- February: 9 am-4:30 pm
- March: 9 am-5 pm
- April: 9 am-6 pm
- May: 9 am-6 pm
- June: 9 am-7 pm
- July: 9 am-7 pm
- August: 9 am-7 pm
- November: 9 am-5 pm
- December: 9 am-4:30 pm*
*Sugarlands Visitor Center is closed on Christmas Day.
You can reach the Sugarlands Visitor Center by calling 865-436-1291.
But before you worry about what you can do once you leave the center, it’s important to know more about the center itself. And what it has to offer.
What is there to do at Sugarlands Visitor Center?
The GSMNP is vast. Even Sugarlands itself is a place where the uninitiated can get themselves in trouble quickly.
This is why Sugarland’s convenient facility has trail guides, maps and papers to help burgeoning explorers find their way, and be aware of possible pitfalls. There are also books available for purchase for those thirsty for knowledge or who want to learn more about the history of the area.
It’s also the perfect opportunity to pick up a park map if you haven’t already. Remember, the further you venture into the park, the sketchier cell service becomes.
But more importantly, the center is home to a park ranger.
Do you have specific questions about the park that can’t otherwise be found in a guide? The rangers are a living fount of knowledge. They can take the information in the guides and maps and distill it in a way that makes sense. Are you hiking a nearby trail for the first time? Stop by the information desk and ask to talk to a ranger who can give tips on what to look for, which forks to take and how to make the most out of your time in the mountains.
The Backcountry Information Office is also available for those planning to go deeper into the mountains.
The Visitor Center can also be a great place to take a break. For example, get out of a storm or just find a resting spot while you wait for the rest of your party to finish their hike.
The center is home to soda machines and water fountains as well as public restrooms, a valuable commodity for those not willing to go in the wild, so to speak.
Prior to 2020, the Sugarlands Visitor Center was also something of a small museum with extensive natural history exhibits that even young children could enjoy, which included a free 21-minute movie about the park.
The museum and movie theater has since been temporarily closed. But guests can still catch the movie from the lobby, which plays on repeat.
In addition, ranger-led programs are conducted seasonally that can add to your appreciation of the mountains.
There’s also a gift shop full of all sorts of interesting things from knick-knacks to souvenirs to basic hiking supplies.
Waterfalls and hikes near Sugarlands Visitor Center
There are a number of scenic waterfalls with beautiful scenery, trailheads and great hikes in the surrounding area.
The terrain surrounding the Sugarlands is marked by a swiftly decreasing elevation and rivers and streams that have cut their way through over a period of time. This has created a number of scenic waterfalls reachable by hiking trails with trailheads near the center.
These waterfalls include the Cataract Falls – a beautiful waterfall located just behind the Visitor Center; Grotto Falls on the Trillium Gap Trail (a popular trail and a fairly easy hike); Baskins Creek Falls and the immaculately named The Place of a Thousand Drips.
The Roaring Falls Motor Nature Trail isn’t far from the Visitor Center. And it also offers a perfect slow, one-way drive for nature and wildlife viewing.
In addition, the park itself features over 270 miles of roads offering dozens of opportunities for scenic drives.
In fact, Newfound Gap Road runs essentially from the Sugarlands Visitor Center to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, North Carolina.
Picnic areas near Sugarlands Visitor Center
Located about 15 minutes from the Visitor Center is the Chimney Picnic Area. It is home to one of the best picnicking spots in the Smokies.
The Little Pigeon weaves its way over around giant boulders next to the area making for great wading in the warmer months.
Also, the Cove Hardwood Nature Trail is a three-quarter-mile loop showing the diversity of trees in the park. And the trailhead for the formidable Chimney Tops Trail is nearby.
Did you visit the Sugarlands Visitor Center on a recent National Park visit? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.