Thinking about visiting the Smoky Mountains in the summer? That’s such a great decision because you can’t beat summertime in the Smokies! During the summer, the entire Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open, camping conditions are ideal, and the rivers criss-crossing through the area make the park an oasis on a hot summer day.
I live 20 minutes from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so I have experienced this park in every season and every condition, and summer in the Smokies is my favorite time to splash in the creeks, camp in the frontcountry and the backcountry, and go tubing in the rivers.
In this guide, I will share with you everything you can expect when visiting the Smoky Mountains in the summer like temperatures, conditions and closures, and crowds. I’ll also share some great things to do in the Smoky Mountains in June, July, and August.
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK AT A GLANCE
Before diving in, here are a few highlights for planning a trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
- Getting There: The closest airport to Great Smoky Mountains is McGhee Tyson, which is about 1 hour and 15 minutes from the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Book your flights here.
- Entrance Fee: No entrance fee but you do have to purchase and display a parking pass.
- Where to Stay: Camp in the park or stay right outside the park in the town of Gatlinburg or Cherokee.
- How to Get Around: You’ll need to rent a personal vehicle to get around the Smokies.
- Best Time to Visit: March – October
- How Long to Visit: 3-5 days
Smoky Mountains in the Summer: What to Expect
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Pros and Cons of Visiting the Smoky Mountains in the Summer
Pros Of Visiting The Smoky Mountains In The Summer
- Everything is open. All roads, campgrounds, and picnic areas are open all summer long, meaning you have access to just about every inch of the park.
- Perfect tubing, swimming, and camping weather. The weather is ideal for camping, swimming hole hopping, and river tubing, which are some of the best things to do in the Smokies.
Cons Of Visiting The Smoky Mountains In The Summer
- Crowds. July is the busiest month, so expect long lines, crowded trails, limited parking options, and vehicle jams.
- Hot hiking weather. Hot weather is common in the summer months, but the higher into the mountains you travel, the more relief you’ll get. Mount LeConte and Clingmans Dome are rarely warmer than 80 degrees, even in the middle of the summer.
Smoky Mountains in the Summer: Temperatures
Low Elevation – Gatlinburg, TN
|AVERAGE TEMPERATURE (HIGH/LOW)
High Elevation – Clingmans Dome, TN
|AVERAGE TEMPERATURE (HIGH/LOW)
Smoky Mountains in the Summer: Conditions and Closures
Elevations in Great Smoky Mountains National Park range from 876 feet to 6,643 feet. This means that the temperatures and conditions in the park are different in the lower elevations than they are in the mountains. The higher in elevation you travel, the cooler and more unpredictable the weather becomes. The lower in elevation you travel, the hotter and stickier the weather becomes.
So what conditions can you expect from the Smoky Mountains in the summer? You can expect all roads, visitor centers, campgrounds, and picnic areas to be open all summer! You can also expect daytime temperatures to be in the 80s in the lower elevations and 60s in the higher elevations.
In the early summer, trees are blooming, wildflowers pop up on the trails, and wildlife is roaming around. Rain typically falls 10-12 days per month in the lower elevations and 11-14 days per month in the higher elevations.
In the late summer, trees are in full bloom, everything is lush and green, and wildlife is frequently spotted. Rain typically falls 10-12 days per month in the lower elevations and 11-14 days per month in the higher elevations.
All roads and facilities, including visitor centers, campgrounds, and picnic areas, are open all summer!
To find the current trail, facility, and road conditions/closures (both seasonal and temporary), visit the NPS website here.
Smoky Mountains in the Summer: Crowds
Crowds in the Smokies are heaviest from April through November but the two busiest months are July and October.
Since the busiest month is July, summer is not a great time to escape the crowds in Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
Pack your patience because there will be traffic (specifically at the intersection by the Sugarlands Visitor Center and at the one-lane bridge by the Metcalf Bottoms picnic area), parking lots will be full, and trails will be packed.
Here’s a chart to help visualize Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s monthly visitation statistics.
Other Things to Know Before Visiting the Smoky Mountains in the Summer
- It’s almost always busy. It’s hard to find solitude in the Smokies in the summer months, so the best thing you can do is either arrive super early in the morning or late in the afternoon, or pack your patience. Avoid tourist hotspots and venture onto the longer trails to be around fewer people.
- Only park in designated spaces. Parking lots will be crowded. If you come across a full parking lot, come back another time. Do not park in the grass or on the side of the road. You will be ticketed or towed.
- Always display a parking pass. Parking passes are required year-round in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Read more about that here.
- Dogs are only allowed on two hiking trails. Dogs are only allowed to hike with you on two trails in the park – Gatlinburg Trail and Oconaluftee River Trail. Dogs are also allowed in picnic areas, campgrounds, and paved roadways. Read more about dogs in the Smokies here.
Things to Do in the Smoky Mountains in June, July, and August
These are the six best things to do in the Smoky Mountains in the summer!
1. Go River Tubing
Great Smoky Mountains is widely known and beloved for its epic whitewater and thrilling river recreation. Everything from relaxing float trips to nail-biting floats with class 3 and 4 rapids is available on these rivers in the Smoky Mountains.
Due to the high-elevation mountain springs running down the slopes and merging into streams and creeks, the opportunity for water recreation on the Smoky Mountains rivers is endless.
When it comes to tubing in the Smokies, it’s kind of a “pick your own adventure” type of deal. There are nature’s “lazy rivers” and then there are whitewater rapids. Most rivers have a good mixture of both! I spill the tea on everything Smoky Mountains tubing in the guide below.
2. Chase Swimming Holes
What better way to cool off on a hot summer day in the Smokies than by swimming?!
These are the best swimming holes in the Smokies:
- The Sinks. This swimming hole features a roaring waterfall and a rock that’s perfect for cliff diving. You can find The Sinks on Little River Road near Townsend. Get directions here. The parking area only holds about 20 vehicles.
- Townsend Wye. Locally known as the Y, this swimming hole boasts rapids for tubing, a rock for cliff jumping, and several large pools. You can find the Y right past the Townsend entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Get directions here. This parking lot is much bigger than The Sinks but still fills up quickly in the summer.
- Midnight Hole. This scenic swimming hole is known for its large boulders and small waterfall. You can find the Midnight Hole by hiking about 1.5 miles down the Deep Creek Trail. Get directions to the trailhead here.
3. Bike Cades Cove
Cades Cove is one of the best sections of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but it can get highly congested with traffic, especially in the summer.
To avoid the vehicle traffic, consider biking Cades Cove on a vehicle-free Wednesday. On Wednesdays from May through September, vehicles are prohibited from driving the scenic loop. Only bikes and pedestrians are allowed on the road for the entire day!
Bike rentals are available onsite at two locations if you don’t want to bring your own. You can read more about biking in Cades Cove in my blog post.
🚲 2024 Vehicle-Free Wednesdays in Cades Cove: May 1 – September 25, 2024
→ READ NEXT: Things You Need to Know Before Biking Cades Cove 🚲
4. See The Synchronous Fireflies
Every year around late May to early June, the synchronous fireflies put on a spectacular show in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is a major bucket list item that you absolutely must check off!
The synchronous fireflies display in the Smokies is a weeklong event. To get into this exclusive event, you’ll need to win the lottery on recreation.gov. I have an entire guide on everything you need to know about the synchronous fireflies event in the Smokies. In the guide, I discuss the lottery application process from start to finish and what to expect at the entire event, and even share insider visitor tips.
As a park volunteer for this event, I provide some valuable information about this spectacular event! Read my extensive Smoky Mountains synchronous fireflies guide here.
✨ If you’re interested in ways to see the synchronous fireflies WITHOUT a permit, read my guide to find out just how!
5. Go Hiking in the Mountains
Hiking is hands down the best way to experience the Smokies. Some of the best views in the park are only accessible by foot, and wildlife sightings become increasingly more likely on the trails.
Below are some of my favorite hiking trails in the Smokies.
- Mount LeConte
- Meigs Creek
- Rainbow Falls
- Chimney Tops
- Abrams Falls
- Charlies Bunion
6. Go Camping
Every campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open in the summer. You can also snag a backpacking permit and camp in the backcountry!
Campgrounds in the Smokies offer a unique blend of experiences. From relaxing creekside sites to bustling campgrounds, and remote tent sites to community-centered RV lots, there’s something for every type of camper!
The Elkmont Campground is the most sought-after campground in the park in the summertime, specifically in May and June. This is because blue ghost fireflies and synchronous fireflies come alive in this area of the park during this time of year. If you want to book your stay at Elkmont Campground in the spring or summer, you need to hop on recreation.gov and book it well in advance! Reservations open up 6 months before your start date.
I have an entire guide that dives deep into all ten of the frontcountry campgrounds in the Smokies! Check it out below. ⤵️
Summer in the Smoky Mountains FAQs
How Early Should I Get to the Trailheads to Get a Parking Spot?
To snag a coveted parking spot at one of the many popular trailheads (Alum Cave, Laurel Falls, Rainbow Falls, etc.), you’ll need to arrive before sunrise.
Parking lots also tend to clear up past 4 PM so arriving later in the afternoon/evening is another good option.
Are Bears Active in the Summer?
Bears are most active in the early morning and late afternoon hours (specifically, from 6 AM to 10 AM and 3 PM to 7 PM) in the spring and summer months. So if you are visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park between those hours and during those seasons, you are more likely to see a bear.
Read everything you need to know about bears in the Smokies in this guide. 🐻
How Can I Avoid the Crowds?
Here are the best ways to avoid crowds in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Avoid the “tourist hotspots,” like the Laurel Falls, Rainbow Falls, and Alum Cave trailheads and the Cades Cove, Newfound Gap, and Clingmans Dome areas. Swimming holes that are accessible by vehicle (i.e. the Townsend Wye and The Sinks) will also be crowded during the summer.
Arrive at the park before sunrise, or come later in the evening and stay until after sunset. Crowds are thinnest early in the morning and later in the evening. The busiest time of day is typically from about 9 AM – 3 PM in the summer.
Visit the North Carolina side. This side of the Smokies is much quieter and less trafficked than the Tennesee side. You can read my comparison guide between the two sides of the park here.
→ READ NEXT: TN Vs. NC: Which Side of the Smokies Is Better?
Plan Your Trip to Great Smoky Mountains
Need help planning your trip to the Smokies? I’ve got many guides on the blog right now that will help you with that!
- Camping in the Great Smoky Mountains: Which Campground Is Right For You?
- 3 Best Rivers to Go Tubing in the Smoky Mountain (+ Top Outfitters)
- Black Bears in the Smoky Mountains: Everything You Should Know
- Tennessee Vs. North Carolina: Which Side of the Smokies Is Better?
- Exactly How to See the Synchronous Fireflies in the Smokies
- 4 Ways to See the Synchronous Fireflies in the Smokies WITHOUT a Permit!
- 5 Dog-Friendly Things to Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Things You Need to Know Before Biking Cades Cove
- Great Smoky Mountains Parking Tag: Everything You Need to Know
- Ultimate Cades Cove Travel Guide
- How to Hike Mount LeConte
Want to Visit the Smokies in a Different Season?
I’ve got a separate guide for visiting Great Smoky Mountains in EACH SEASON!
- Smoky Mountains in the Spring: What to Expect 🌸
- Smoky Mountains in the Winter: What to Expect ❄️
- Smoky Mountains in the Fall: What to Expect 🍁
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