The Great Smoky Mountains National Park sees about 12.5 million visitors in a year, according to the National Park Service (NPS).
This makes the Smokies a huge tourist area. But with great fame comes great growing pains.
While we love our visitors, there are a few things us locals want you to know before you come visit Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg or Sevierville.
Here are some tips from a local on how to visit the Smoky Mountains:
7. Drive the speed limit, follow the rules of the road
No one likes traffic.
It’s the easiest thing in the world to agree to hate, right up there with taxes and robocalls.
And traffic around the Smoky Mountains can get rough at times, particularly around the Parkway, the road that connects Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and a vast majority of tourist destinations.
It gets overwhelmed. And at some points during the year, most notably during Rod Runs, it’s nearly impossible to navigate.
The least you can do as a visitor is make sure you drive the speed limit and be alert.
There are a lot of distractions for a driver along the Parkway. The road in front of you is a lot less interesting than King Kong scaling a building or a gigantic Titanic replica.
But failing to keep up with traffic or driving too slowly can cause traffic jams, and some of us are just trying to get to work.
Go the speed limit, be alert and drive safe.
6. Be courteous to our staff
I don’t know a single person who has worked with the public who doesn’t have a horror story about a bad customer.
All of us in this world are just trying to make a living and sometimes, just get through the work day.
We know you want to have a great vacation and many of us pride ourselves in making sure that happens.
But if a bad experience does occur, remember that kindness and understanding goes a long way.
5. Don’t feed our black bears
Look, I get it. We live in an era of “doing it for the ‘gram”. Those Tik Tok videos don’t populate themselves.
But some things just aren’t worth it. And such is the case with getting too close to a black bear in the Great Smoky Mountains.
While these creatures are beautiful and majestic, it’s of the most vital importance that you do not get too close and practice safe viewing etiquette.
Getting within 150 feet of a black bear is not only dangerous for both humans and black bears, it is illegal within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Bears that get too comfortable around humans are more likely to get euthanized. I hope we can all agree that a bear’s life is not worth temporary Tik Tok fame.
And even if you sadly think otherwise, you could be facing a significant fine or even jail time if you’re caught breaking the law.
4. Don’t litter
A spike in tourism and outdoor activity in 2020 also led to an increase in trash and litter.
The staff of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is often too understaffed or under budget to be able to handle the trash build up that occurs in the Smokies.
We encourage all visitors to throw trash in the proper bins. Better yet, if you see litter on the ground, pick it up.
Practice the principles of Leave No Trace, a mission that teaches people to enjoy the outdoors responsibly.
Whether you’re visiting Cades Cove, driving through Newfound Gap or hiking to see Clingmans Dome, please don’t litter.
3. We don’t know what the weather forecast will be
I see a lot of folks asking about what the weather will be like on their upcoming trip.
Here’s your answer. Ready?
No one knows.
You can pretty much safely bet that the summer months (June-August) will be hot and humid.
You can probably bet it’ll rain at some point during your trip also. (According to the NPS, it rains 9-10 days out of the month during the summer).
But outside of that? It’s anyone’s guess.
In the spring and fall, we flip our thermostat between cool and heat every other day.
It could be 70 degrees in December. Or we could see freezing temperatures.
Check the current weather forecast before you go and pack layers.
2. Honk in the tunnels
Welcome to the South.
We drink our tea sweet, we eat our vegetables in a casserole and we honk in tunnels.
It’s tradition, and it makes us sad when you don’t honk back.
1. Have fun
I know I just bombarded you with some vacation rules, and that’s no fun.
But hopefully these guidelines are easy to follow and lead to a more pleasant experience for everyone in the Smoky Mountains area.
Do you agree with our list? Let us know in the comments.