The worst times to visit the Smokies, according to a local
The perfect time to hit the Smokies depends on what you want out of the experience. For example, in the spring, the mountains are fresh, green and blooming. They retain a bit of the nip in the air. Summer is also great when nothing is more refreshing than a cold mountain stream. We certainly love the Smokies in the fall when the kaleidoscope of colors is bursting all around, and the hint of the coming winter is in the air. Finally, the Smokies in winter with its Christmas traditions, and Dollywood with the bright, colorful lights and the holiday spirit everywhere simply can’t be beat. Therefore, there’s never a bad time to go to the Smokies. That said, as someone who has lived in the foothills of the mountains for more than 35 years, I can confidently say that some seasons are worse than others. Here are, in my opinion, the worst,
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1. In the off-season
For Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, January and February (minus New Years and Valentine’s Day), are like one long December 26th. The anticipation of the holidays is gone. It’s cold. It’s gray. The mountains are dormant. Dollywood is closed. Several other attractions are closed or on limited winter hours. Sure you can shop. Sure you can do indoor stuff. But a general malaise hangs in the air. While there’s not much traffic to battle and the crowds have dwindled, there’s a reason. The best thing to do in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge in January and February is to look ahead to better days.
2. During Rod Runs
Rod Runs (held twice a year in April and September) are great. The cars are super cool and the people-watching is excellent. But if you’ve ever accidentally driven onto the main drag unaware that it’s a Rod Run weekend, you are missing out on a special kind of misery. It’s a little bit like being the victim of a mob hit in a Martin Scorsese film. Everything’s going along swimmingly; you’re having a nice drive with your family. You see a classic car and then another. Then the cold realization of what is about to happen hits just as everything goes slow-motion and you’re powerless to stop it. Then everything fades to black and you spend the next four hours motionless in the fast lane listening to the Rolling Stones.
3. On holidays
I’m pretty sure it was Jean-Paul Sartre who said “To every yen, there is a yang.” The beauty of the mountains in the fall and winter is unmatched and it’s a great way to spend Thanksgiving with the family. It’s even prettier at Christmas with millions of twinkling lights along the Parkway. But every family outing to the mountains during the holidays requires a certain kind of calculus. What combination of backroads and main roads is the right combination to get us where we’re going in a reasonable time? Can I risk coming in from Exit 407? Should I go through Newport? If the nerves are a little frayed, what are the chances you’ll find yourself laying on the horn and telling a tourist from Cleveland that deer are everywhere and certainly are not worth blocking the loop for 35 minutes while you gawk at them. Yelling “If you stop for anything less than a bear, I will go full Earnhardt and put your butt in the ditch,” is an indication, you picked the wrong day to go to the Cove.
I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the East Tennessee humidity can be oppressive. Summer can be a great time to be up in the mountains or it can be a sweltering hellscape of soggy, sweaty humanity. Once, while traversing the concrete concourse of Dollywood on our way from the Country Fair up to the relative shade of Craftsmen’s Valley, the combined effects of the staggering heat and the relocation of all of the liquid inside my body to dripping off the outside of my body left me shuttling through the relative planes of existence. I started looking for a wedding ring I thought dropped from my finger even though I lost that ring 12 years prior while spinning it like a top. Summer, my friend, can be brutal.