Great Smoky Mountains for Visitors on a Budget

Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Dennis Govoni/Getty Images

It might surprise you to learn that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, located on both sides of the Tennessee-North Carolina border, regularly draws more visitors than famous places like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, or Yellowstone

Two key reasons for its popularity: it is located within driving distance of many major East Coast and Midwestern metropolitan areas (representing about 60 percent of the U.S. population), and there is no admission charge for entering the park.

Visitors arrive to find scenic beauty, superb hiking, and other recreational opportunities. Although there is no admission charge (a term negotiated by the families that donated this land to the park service), you will have to pay for camping sites and a variety of optional services within the park such as horseback riding, hayrides, and pavilion rentals.

Reservations are wise for camping and other services, especially in the summer and during fall foliage season, which this far south can run into November. 

The region is served by airports in Knoxville, Tenn. and Asheville, N.C., with Knoxville providing more convenient access. Drivers can use Interstates 75 and 40 to arrive at the park.

Below, are overviews of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the attractions and accommodations offered both within the park property and in the nearby Sevierville-Pigeon Forge-Gatlinburg area, which offers an array of services such as hotels and restaurants. On days when the weather doesn't cooperate, a visit to attractions in town can salvage a vacation day that otherwise would be dull or unpleasant.

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Budget hotel balcony near Great Smoky Mountains Park
Mark Kahler

In an area that attracts millions of tourists from all over the world, you might expect to find most accommodations are expensive -- perhaps overpriced. But, in the Sevierville-Gatlinburg area, it's possible to find reasonably priced hotel rooms that offer jacuzzi suites, fireplaces, and private balconies. Camping options and cabin rentals round out the attractive options for overnight stays. Travelers should pay careful attention to the calendar, as vacancy rates vary with the seasons.

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National Park Attractions

Horse in field of Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Mark Kahler

From towering waterfalls to one of the world's most famous hiking trails, Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers a host of natural treasures and is definitely one of the best parks to visit in the fall. Traveling to the park in the fall will be an absolute treat as the leaves of the yellow birch, sugar maple, and other species of trees begin to turn from green to ruby red, rust orange, and bright gold. Planning ahead and making your own "must see" checklist by mapping out a satisfying itinerary can lead to a memorable and budget-friendly trip.

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Nearby Attractions

Sevierville arial view
Mark Kahler

The natural attractions within the park are the main draw, but the Sevierville-Gatlinburg corridor is filled with secondary destinations. Not all of them are worth your time and money, but the attractions that appear here merit consideration as your budget and interests dictate. It's possible to take a break from the mountains and enjoy some unique attractions and eating establishments in the Great Smoky Mountains. These are places that could replace a rainy day in the mountains with a day of family fun.