A Guide to the Gateway Cities of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park


The Great Smoky Mountains National Park spans 500,000 acres across Tennessee and North Carolina, and is known for its wildlife and historic properties. It’s the most visited national park in the country (yes, beating Yellowstone), with 12 million visitors last year alone.

With six park entrances to choose from, it’s important to set up near the sites you want to see the most. Each gateway city has its own unique personality, but most don’t get as much press as the famous Gatlinburg. Here, we break down what each of the six cities has to offer to help you decide where to stay for your Smokies getaway.

All of the ads featured in this story are independently selected by our editors. However, when you book something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Bryson City and Cherokee, North Carolina

Best for: Family holidays

Bryson City is the hub of the North Carolina Smokies and is popular with families riding the Great Smoky Mountains Railway, as the most famous road winds through the mountains between Bryson City and Dillsboro. Train tickets include entry to the Smoky Mountain Trains Museum, which features over 7,000 model train locomotives and cars.

The neighboring Cherokee is an essential stopover in learning about the indigenous peoples who were forcibly evicted from this land in 1838. The tribe is still present here, and the Cherokee Indian Museum details their 11,000-year history. Support the community by purchasing Cherokee crafts at Mutual Arts and Crafts Qualla, Inc.

When you get hungry Naber’s Drive it’s like stepping back in time, with carhop service and a simple menu that includes burgers and hot dogs. Antoine’s restaurant, in the heart of downtown Bryson City, is known for its white pizza and garlic knots (you’ll need to refuel for all of those hikes, after all).

Make yourself comfortable at Sky Ridge Yurts, located right across from rafting outfitters like Nantahala Outdoor Center. Permanent tents have porches overlooking the forest, fireplaces, full-size bathrooms, free Wi-Fi, TVs, and kitchens (some come with kitchenettes, others offer full setup).

AnaVista Tower in downtown Gatlinburg, Tennessee


Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Best for: Beginner smokies


Comments are closed.