11 Packing Essentials You’ll Need When You Go to the Smoky Mountains

woman sits on swing overlooking great smoky mountains on a warm winter day

The weather in the winter months can be surprisingly warm, so it's important to bring layers (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Tennesseean offers tips on what to pack on a Pigeon Forge trip

You’ve booked your cabin and picked your must-see attractions and restaurants. Now it’s time for the not-so-fun part of vacation planning: Packing your bags. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Smoky Mountains. In fact, I grew up within an hour of Gatlinburg, and I rent a cabin in the Smokies with friends and family at least a couple of times each year. So when a friend asks me what they should pack for a trip to Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg, here’s what I tell them:

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1. A swimsuit or swim trunks

Whenever I rent a cabin in the mountains, I always bring some swim gear, no matter what time of year it is. In the summer, you may want to hit up one of our great water parks. And in the winter, there’s a good chance your cabin or hotel will have a hot tub.

person holds trash can lid over their head in the rain
A woman is caught in some rain during a parade in Townsend (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

2. An umbrella or poncho 

Ya’ll, it rains a lot here. But that being said, don’t be too sad if you look at the forecast and see gray skies. In East Tennessee, it can be pouring rain one minute and sunny the next. Still, I always recommend bringing some rain gear and keeping it on hand. The rain will come and go, but it can take a while to dry off if you’re caught in a downpour.

3. Comfortable shoes

Unless you plan on getting to your cabin and staying there the whole time, you’ll want some comfortable shoes. Will you be shopping at the outlets? Going to Dollywood? Doing some hiking? East Tennessee is hilly, so bring your best shoes.

woman wars sunglasses on bright sunny day at anakeesta in gatlinburg tennessee
Bring some sun protection since you’ll be in higher elevations (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

4. Sunglasses and sunscreen

There’s a good chance you’ll encounter some higher elevations at some point during your trip. This makes it even more important to bring some high-SPF sunscreen with you. Whether you’re hiking or visiting an attraction like Anakeesta, you’ll be glad you brought sun protection.

5. Cash

While most places will take a credit card, there are a handful of places that only accept cash, and being prepared will help you avoid those ATM fees. Plus, if you do moonshine or wine tastings, you’ll want to have some tip money.

womaon poses in front of christmas lights in pigeon forge tennessee
When you’re out seeing the lights in the winter, make sure to have a nice, warm jacket (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

6. Layers 

The weather can be unpredictable here. I often heard growing up in East Tennessee that you can experience all four seasons in one day. So no matter what time of year you’re visiting, bring some extra layers. Even when daytime temperatures are warm and sunny, the mountains can cool off drastically after the sun goes down. Always check the weather forecast, but be prepared to bundle up or cool down as needed.

7. Snacks

Bringing snacks with you is a good idea on pretty much any vacation. However, it’s an especially good idea if you’re renting a cabin that is a good distance away from the main strip. Schlepping up and down a winding backroad gets tiring. Certainly, you don’t want to spend half your vacation driving because someone got hangry.

groceries sitting on doorstep
Sometimes you can have extra essentials delivered to your cabin from a local grocery store (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

8. Basic toiletries (if you’re renting a cabin)

If you’re renting a cabin, you may need a few additional items to make sure you’re prepared for a comfortable stay. Most cabins do not supply basic toiletries like hotels do. I also find that the water can be more drying than most people are used to because it’s often well water. So, my typical cabin list includes travel soaps, shampoos and lotions. Extra dish and laundry detergent may save an extra trip to the store. I also bring bottled water, paper towels and extra toilet paper.

9. Hiking gear (if you plan on hiking)

If you hope to do some wildlife viewing or hiking on your trip, you may also want to consider some binoculars, hiking sticks, a first aid kit or a compass. Also, mosquitos are rough here in Sevier County. Bring some good bug spray with you as well.

a cabin in the snow in the great smoky mountains
Snow is somewhat uncommon in the Smokies, but will be more likely in the higher elevations (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

10. Flashlights or lanterns (in the winter)

While it’s rare and unlikely to happen, I’ve seen a snowstorm leave travelers stranded without power in their rental cabin. Bring some flashlights or battery-operated lanterns so you have a light source if the power goes out. It’s unlikely that you will need it, but it’s great to have something just in case.

11. Backup power supply and heat source (in the winter)

Again, if you do lose power, consider what you will do for power or heat. Consider bringing extra blankets or a power supply to charge your cell phone.

Is there anything on your must-have packing list that I missed? Let me know in the comments!

Have a question or comment about something in this article? Contact our staff here. You may also contact our editorial team at editor@thesmokies.com.

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