5 Towns In The Smoky Mountains That Should Be On Your List To Visit

The towns around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have a mix of outdoor adventure and small-town charm.

And, in some places, an overwhelming amount of tourist attractions!

Some people want the authentic Smoky Mountain experience, and others want plenty of things to do.

Pick the town that matches how you like to travel. We’ve got a list of five of the best: action-packed or quiet towns.

#1 Bryson City, North Carolina: Outdoor Adventurer’s Haven

downtown Bryson City, North Carolina on Cloudy Day
Bryson City, North Carolina on a Cloudy Day

  • Why Visit: A beautiful small town near the Nantahala National Forest for rafting, mountain biking, and more. The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is the best scenic train ride in the area.
  • Don’t Miss: A scenic train ride, whitewater rafting the Nantahala, and Deep Creek’s waterfalls.
  • Best for: Adventurers of all ages! Great for outdoorsy families who don’t need a full theme park experience.
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City

#2 Townsend, Tennessee: The Peaceful Smokies

Townsend, TN highway


  • Why Visit: Get into the Smoky Mountains without the crowds. This is one of our favorite towns! Enjoy great river and mountain views, easy hikes, swimming holes, and tubing – it’s got that old-time charm. Read more on our guide to things to do in Townsend.
  • Don’t Miss Exploring Cades Cove (this is the closest town to it), swimming, or tubing in pristine spots on the Little River.
  • Best for Anyone wanting to enjoy the great outdoors at a slower pace. The town is pretty quiet, so if you’re looking for a lot of entertainment, you’ll probably find it too slow. There’s not a huge selection of hotels here. But you’re not too far from Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

Maggie Valley, North Carolina: Mountain Charm & Relaxation

Maggie Valley, North Carolina
Maggie Valley, North Carolina
  • Why Visit: This relaxed town has quaint shops, tasty food, beautiful views, and the Blue Ridge Parkway nearby. Motorcycle lovers should check out the Wheels Through Time museum!
  • Don’t Miss: Shopping, browsing, delicious home-cooked meals, and taking in those iconic mountain views.
  • Best for: A leisurely mountain getaway. Easy access to Asheville and the Smokies makes it a good home base for a quieter trip.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee: The Gateway To The Smokies

gatlinburg overhead view
Gatlinburg, TN
  • Why Visit: It’s a classic tourist town at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s our favorite place to visit for a weekend. It’s full of attractions, dining, and lodging options.
  • Don’t Miss: Exploring the Parkway, Anakeesta for fun activities and views, and a drive through Roaring Fork.
  • Best for: Families who want a lot of options in one area.
  • Heads Up: It’s crowded here in the summer. Some people who have spent a lot of time here will find it TOO touristy, but we still love it. Be prepared for traffic, it can be a mess getting in and out of town in the summer!

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee: Entertainment Central

The Island Pigeon Forge
The Island in Pigeon Forge
  • Why Visit: Gatlinburg’s sibling, but with even more attractions! Dollywood is the biggest attraction here, alongside countless go-kart tracks, dinner shows, mini-golf, and other fun things to do.
  • Don’t Miss: Dollywood for rides and an authentic old-time Appalachian feel, with thrill rides, and unique shows.
  • Best For: Anyone ready for nonstop action – especially families with energetic kids! Read more on our comparison of Gatlinburg vs Pigeon Forge.

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