Rock Creek, along the hen wallow falls trail

Rock Creek, along the hen wallow falls trail



Established June 15th, 1934

800 miles of hiking trails

Among the oldest mountains on Earth

70+ preserved homesteads from early settlers




Year-round. Winters are generally moderate and summers can be hot, but manageable, especially if you head to higher elevations. Weather changes can occur rapidly so plan your attire accordingly. Compass & Key visited over the July 4th holiday weekend and enjoyed spectacular weather. 

A visit in late May/early June provides the only place in America to see the "synchronous fireflies" (aka lightning bugs) that light up the night in a spectacular display. But best to plan several months ahead as this is a popular event.

A beautiful July Morning in the Smokies


Compass & Key recommends the Lodge at Buckberry Creek, a charming Adirondack-style lodge only two miles from the Park with an excellent onsite restaurant ($, By staying in one of the 14 suites, you're also supporting the lodge as they rebuild part of the hotel that was lost in the November 2016 Gatlinburg fire.

Or, for fans of bed-and-breakfast lodging, The Foxtrot has spectacular views of the mountains.

While there is lodging in the park, rustic LeConte Lodge is only accessible by foot. There are campgrounds at ten locations throughout the park and many can be reserved in advance.

Room Views from Buckberry Lodge


Anticipate that the rebuilt Buckberry Lodge will have an outstanding restaurant, as it did before the fire. In nearby Gatlinburg, we tasted local craft beers (try the Black Bear Ale) and traditional bar fare at Smoky Mountain Brewery and found fresh trout and friendly locals at Crystelle Creek restaurant. We packed our own lunches to enjoy during our hikes, including sandwiches, fruit and snacks from Gatlinburg grocery store Food City.

A delicious End to Dinner at Buckberry Lodge Restaurant


Most visitors drive to the Smokies. If you're coming from the North, you will drive through Pigeon Forge into Gatlinburg and then on to the park. If you're coming from the South, you will drive through Cherokee.

A note on Pigeon Forge: traffic can be heavy as the main highway is a strip of neon lights highlighting over-the-top mini-golf, souvenir shops, pancake houses (we counted 12), budget motels and the main attraction, Dollywood. Unfortunately this is the only way to reach Gatlinburg and the park. Be ready for delays depending on the time of day of your travel. And while we wanted to drive through it as fast as possible, make a stop if you're up for some amusement!

For those flying into the area, the closest airport is Knoxville's McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS), which is serviced by all the major car rental companies.  Expect 1-1.5 hour drive to the Lodge at Buckberry Creek.


Actually there is no entry fee. When the state of Tennessee transferred ownership of Newfound Gap Road to the federal government, at a time when it was a major thoroughfare for the area, it stipulated that no fees or taxes would be imposed. If you would like to support the park, you can make a cash donation on site, shop at the Great Smoky Mountains Association store at the visitors centers or support the nonprofit Friends of the Smokies.




Compass & Key has curated a list of five diverse, interesting hikes for wandering the Smokies. Select a hike for trail notes and photos, and view our interactive map to plot your course. To save these hikes, visit our AllTrails hike list for Great Smoky Mountains, and download the AllTrails app to reference your saved hikes on the go. You can also peruse other hikes in the park based on difficulty, distance, and community reviews.




Our favorite day hiking guide and map is published by the Great Smoky Mountains Association and the NPS, with trails organized by interest: loop hikes, waterfalls, old-growth forests, views and strolls. It also has helpful safety and planning information.

The cost is only $1 and can be purchased online here or at one of the Visitors Centers.

In addition, the Falcon guidebook for the Smokies was invaluable during the planning stages and our actual visit. To purchase through Amazon, click on the image below or visit your local bookstore.

By Kevin Adams

The National Park visitor centers have lovely souvenirs, but we are also fond of the unique creations by the artist community at Etsy. For everything from vintage posters to original art, tea towels to jewelry, check out our curated list of National Park mementos. If you're looking for a specific park, many of the products are available for different National Parks, just click on the shop name to explore their offerings.

National Park Mementos

Curated by Tara Anbudaiyan on Etsy



Explore some of our favorite places in Great Smoky Mountain National Park through our interactive map. This is only a small sampling of the trails, historic sites and natural wonders to discover. For complete maps, visit the National Park Service map page.

OR, take the Compass & Key map of the Smoky Mountains with you by downloading the Mapstr app and following us @compassandkey.


Compass & Key Curated List of Trails

1. Hen Wallow Falls, a quiet but rugged 1/2-day hike

2. Cades Cove Tour, a popular drive exploring life of an early settler

3. Spruce Flats Falls, one of the best-kept secret hikes (until now)

4. Clingmans Dome, with spectacular views of the entire park

5. Kephart Prong, a historic hike following the steps of the CCC

Visitor Centers are marked in gold with a star



Here are the specifics of our actual itinerary for Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our visit coincided with the July 4th Independence Day holiday, and despite the crowds, we were able to enjoy almost all of our hikes/tours with limited crowds just by timing it right. We arrived at the Lodge at Buckberry Creek in the evening and began our 3-days in the Smokies the following day.

Day 1: Hen Wallow Falls morning/mid-day, relaxed at the Lodge at Buckberry Creek in the afternoon/evening

Day 2: Cades Cove loop morning/mid-day, Spruce Flats Falls in the afternoon

Day 3: Clingmans Dome EARLY morning, Kephart Prong late morning/mid-day


Nearly 900 families receive help from Dolly Parton's fund

SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) - Weeks after the deadly Sevier County wildfire, nearly 900 families have received help from Dolly Parton's "My People Fund." The newly established fund will provide $1,000 each month to families in Sevier County whose homes were damage or destroyed by the massive wildfire.

Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains National Park Is Reopening

After suffering from devastating wildfires that forced 14,000 evacuations, took 14 lives, and damaged about 2,500 buildings, eastern Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains National Park and neighboring resort town of Gatlinburg reopened to the public on Friday, ABC News reported. The fires first began on November 28.

After the flames, 'mountain tough' Gatlinburg looks to the future

As two wildfires that nearly destroyed this tourist town continue to smolder in the surrounding mountains, officials vowed to reopen for business Friday. "I want to let everyone know that Gatlinburg is still here," Mayor Mike Werner said. "The shopping district is intact. People need to know that the beloved pancake houses are still standing.