Where to stay near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN/NC

  • Post last modified:January 26, 2023
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The Great Smoky Mountains are nestled on the Tennessee and North Carolina border. Its green forests, gurgling rivers and exciting wildlife are all great reasons to visit. But where to stay near Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the best experience?

Gatlinburg is the best place to stay near Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the whole package. Other options for where to stay when visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park are Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Wears Valley, Townsend and Cherokee.

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Best places to stay at Great Smoky Mountains

Brimming with breathtaking nature, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is year after year the most visited American national park. Such a verdant powerhouse, there’s a lot of Smokies lodging to choose from.

But which is the very best place to stay at the Smokies?

Most visitors say Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. These popular hubs offer not only convenient Great Smoky Mountains hotels but also all the attractions and distractions you need for rainy days.

Between the two towns, Gatlinburg boasts the best park access. From accommodations in the heart of Gatlinburg, it’s only 3 miles to Sugarlands Visitor Center inside the national park.

For luxury, check in at Margaritaville. If you prefer something low key, bed down at Marshall’s Creek Motel.

Although Pigeon Forge, positioned north of Gatlinburg, is 10 miles (16 km) from Sugarlands Visitor Center, it has another key advantage. Pigeon Forge is, of course, home of Dollywood — the iconic Appalachian theme park.

Visitors with the theme park bug and fans of Dolly Parton: Don’t miss Dollywood’s Resort.

If you look for where to stay in Great Smoky Mountains off the beaten path — there’s more.

Smokies hotels in Townsend give you the best access to Cades Cove, the park’s most famous valley. And south of the park border, Cherokee is for visitors who want a North Carolina perspective.

Mill stream in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, USA
Look for bears as you tour the historic Cades Cove.

Gatlinburg, TN – The best place to stay in Smoky Mountains for park access and attractions

Gatlinburg is a convenient option for where to stay near Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Tennessee town, also known as the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains, is beautifully located just outside the spectacular park.

If you stay in Downtown Gatlinburg, you only have 3 miles (5 km) from your Great Smoky Mountains accommodations to Sugarlands Visitor Center inside the park. So near the park, the Great Smoky Mountains hotels in Gatlinburg make it easy to enjoy the Smokies’ grand nature.

But Gatlinburg does not only cater to active nature lovers who spend most of their time inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You must be impressed by how vibrant the small mountain city is and how many off the park attractions it holds.

Ripley’s Aquarium, Gatlinburg Space Needle and Hollywood Star Cars are three popular Great Smoky Mountains attractions in Gatlinburg for rainy days. Also with a wide selection of restaurants, the town certainly knows the recipe for good times.

As an extra dimension, Gatlinburg is a choice for where to stay near Great Smoky Mountains National Park that offers a small-town feel. Nestled in the Tennessee mountains, most of the things to do here can rather easily be enjoyed by foot.

To sum up, Gatlinburg is the best place to stay near Great Smoky Mountains if you want both the ultimate park access and entertainment. In the cozy gateway town, you find hotels near Great Smoky Mountains National Park and side attractions for memorable moments off the park.

  • Pick Gatlinburg for: The best place to stay near Great Smoky Mountains for the whole package.

Favorite location. It’s easy to see why Gatlinburg is referred to as the Great Smoky Mountains’ gateway. The combo of superb park access and fun things to do off the park is hard not to like. It’s the option for where to stay near Great Smoky Mountains National Park that covers every base.

Margaritaville Resort – Enter a luxury Great Smoky Mountains resort

It has never been easier to combine luxury and nature than at Gatlinburg’s inviting Margaritaville Resort. The resort provides luxury Great Smoky Mountains lodging just steps from Gatlinburg attractions and a short drive from the park. In particular after a long day out exploring, the pools and hot tub at the Great Smoky Mountains resort are appreciated.

Marshall’s Creek Motel – Embrace low-key mountain vibes

In the heart of Gatlinburg, the rustic Marshall’s Creek Motel keeps you close to all the town’s attractions and restaurants. Location wise you can’t beet the highly rated place to stay near Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s a low-key yet appealing Great Smoky Mountains place to stay.

Holiday Inn Express – Modern Great Smoky Mountains lodging

Let’s not complicate this too much. For a modern you-know-what-you-get kind of place, you don’t need to look past Holiday Inn Express. Its access to both the park and Gatlinburg attractions makes it one of the best places to stay near Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Gatlinburg's quaint city centre in the evening — a superb place to stay at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN/NC
Cozy, walkable Downtown Gatlinburg.

Pigeon Forge, TN – Great Smoky Mountains lodging and attractions slightly further away

Pigeon Forge is another popular option for where to stay near Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As the town is positioned 7 miles (11 km) north of Downtown Gatlinburg, you’re slightly further away from the park if you pick Pigeon Forge.

Another difference between the two popular towns is that Pigeon Forge is less compact than Gatlinburg. That makes Pigeon Forge less walkable than its southern neighbor.

But Pigeon Forge certainly offers appreciated Great Smoky Mountains lodging and things to do off the park too. The town has become a family favorite with attractions such as the the theme park Dollywood and the Titanic Museum.

If you look for the where to stay near Dollywood, don’t miss out on the heartwarming Dollywood Resort.

Pigeon Forge also provides the places to eat and stores to browse that you need to have the best Great Smoky Mountains vacation. In Pigeon Forge you stay at Great Smoky Mountains hotels near the wilderness but still have access to all the comfort you crave for.

In conclusion, Pigeon Forge is a great choice for where to stay near Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The town offers good access to the Smokies and celebrated attractions for days off the national park.

  • Pick Pigeon Forge for: Prime Dollywood access.

Recommended Great Smoky Mountains hotels in Pigeon Forge

Dollywood’s Resort – Theme park Smokies accommodations

Dollywood is a huge Smokies attraction. If you want to make your theme park visit extra special, don’t look past Dollywood’s Resort. On Dolly’s front porch you stay right where the theme park adventure begins and enjoy the Dollywood ambience around the clock.

Marriott Pigeon Forge – Central Great Smoky Mountains lodging

Pigeon Forge’s Marriott is positioned near the town’s main strip, which makes it easy to go on excursions. But make sure that you allow some time at this Great Smoky Mountains hotel too. With facilities including pool and hot tub, it’s one of best places to stay in the Great Smoky Mountains for quality time off the park.

Blue Mountain Mist – A countryside retreat in the Smokies

The Blue Mountain Mist is for countryside lovers. Even though slightly away from attractions, its countryside spirit motivates every extra mile. From the wrap-around porch and rockers to the peaceful setting, this is a unique Great Smoky Mountains hotel.

Great wheel in Tennessee's Pigeon Forge, where you find loads of Great Smoky Mountains hotels
Pigeon Forge’s Great Smoky Mountain Wheel.

Sevierville, TN – Great Smoky Mountains hotels on a budget

Sevierville is nestled in beautiful lush surroundings with fairytale-like rolling hills. But for access to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it’s less attractive to stay in Sevierville than in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg.

The distance to get from Great Smoky Mountains hotels in Sevierville to Sugarlands Visitor Center inside the park is 17 miles (27 km). And the road goes through both Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, which means slow and heavy traffic.

Neither Sevierville can match Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge when it comes to things to do. But from Sevierville you have great access to all the attractions in Pigeon Forge, including Dollywood.

Further from the park also means that you find cheaper Great Smoky Mountains hotels in Sevierville than in the towns closer to the park. Therefore Sevierville is an option for where to stay near Great Smoky Mountains on a budget.

To sum up, Sevierville offers less good access to the Smokies than Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. However, Sevierville is a great option for where to stay when visiting Great Smoky Mountains if you don’t mind the extra miles and look for something budget friendly.

  • Pick Sevierville for: Great Smoky Mountains hotels on a budget.

Budget location. Sevierville is a great alternative for where to stay near Great Smoky Mountains National Park on a budget. The location is further from the park, but the lodging rates are also significantly cheaper.

Green and yellow mountains in Sevierville, TN — a place to stay in the Smokies on a budget
Sevierville, TN — the Smokies on a budget.

Wears Valley, TN – A peaceful Great Smoky Mountain stay with great access

Another option for where to stay near Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Wears Valley. The peaceful community is located 11 miles (18 km) and 20 minutes southwest of Pigeon Forge.

From Wears Valley you don’t need to go through Gatlinburg to access Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s just a few miles from Great Smoky Mountains lodging in Wears Valley to the grand national park.

The part of the Smokies that Wears Valley sits in is called the quiet, or peaceful, region. In this area you don’t find any loud attractions, so instead you can focus entirely on the Smokies’ natural beauty.

Cades Cove — boasting pioneer history and amazing wildlife — is a must on any Great Smoky Mountains itinerary. As it’s just 15 miles (24 km) from Wears Valley to Cades Cove, only Townsend offers better access to the exciting cove.

In short, Wears Valley is a great option for where to stay near Great Smoky Mountains National Park if you want a quiet time. Wears Valley provides lodging near Great Smoky Mountains in a very peaceful setting.

  • Pick Wears Valley for: Peaceful Great Smoky Mountains lodging.
Valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, dotted with deer
Quintessential Great Smoky Mountains.

Townsend, TN – Great Smoky Mountains hotels further west at Cades Cove

Townsend is another alternative for where to stay near Great Smoky Mountains in the so called peaceful region. The town, located even further west than Wears Valley, offers Great Smoky Mountains National Park lodging in the first row.

From Townsend the driving distance to the park border is just a few miles. So the Great Smoky Mountains hotels in Townsend certainly give you effortless access to the national park.

With the location further west, you at Great Smoky Mountains hotels in Townsend are positioned further from the action in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge — but closer to Cades Cove.

From Great Smoky Mountains hotels in Townsend, it’s only 11 miles (18 km) to Cades Cove. That makes Townsend the best option for where to stay when visiting Cades Cove.

To sum up, Townsend is a great choice for Great Smoky Mountains National Park lodging if you want to stay close to the park and look for a quiet time. In Townsend you find Great Smoky Mountains lodging in a very peaceful environment — and unbeatable access to Cades Cove.

  • Pick Townsend for: A Great Smoky Mountains stay at Cades Cove.

Favorite location. From Great Smoky Mountains hotels and cabins in Townsend it’s just minutes to the park, and its most famous valley. For western park access, the quiet town is the best place to stay in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Recommended Great Smoky Mountains hotels in Townsend

Highland Manor Inn – Idyllic Smokies lodging

Wonderful mountain views, peacefulness and Cades Cove more or less just down the road — Highland Manor Inn really embraces what you love about the Smokies. In such an idyllic setting, it’s certainly easy to see why guests return year after year. Highland Manor Inn is one of the best Great Smoky Mountains hotels in the so called peaceful region.

Dancing Bear Lodge – Enjoy top Great Smoky Mountains cabins

At Dancing Bear Lodge, surrounded by trees, it really feels like you step into the Smokies. Cozily hidden, these Great Smoky Mountains cabins are rustic but have all the amenities you could ask for, and a little more. This is the perfect place to stay in the Smokies if you look for well equipped Great Smoky Mountains cabins with easy access to Cades Cove.

Small log cabin at edge of the green Cades Cove valley, a beautiful reason to book a Great Smoky Mountains stay
Pioneer cabin in Cades Cove.

Cherokee, NC – A North Carolina town near Great Smoky Mountains National Park

For exploring the Smokies, the Tennessee side is much more popular than the North Carolina end. Accordingly all the options for where to stay near Great Smoky Mountains so far are located on the Tennessee side.

But a good southern alternative for where to stay when visiting the Great Smoky Mountains is Cherokee. From Great Smoky Mountains hotels in Cherokee, it’s only a few miles to the southern part of the park.

With such an access, Cherokee is the most convenient place to stay near Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the south.

Here Fontana Lake, which 440 feet (130 m) deep is the deepest lake in North Carolina, is a wet highlight. Another picturesque Smokies spot in the south is Tom Branch Falls.

Off the park, Oconaluftee Indian Village is a unique educational spot. This impressive indian village recreates life of an 18th century Cherokee village and makes it fun to learn more about the Cherokee culture.

Then there is Americas favorite drive: the stunning Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a bucket list road trip that winds for 469 miles (750 km), from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Cherokee and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

All in all, the southern side of the Great Smoky Mountains is not as busy as the northern end. Still Cherokee is a great off the beaten path option for where to stay near Great Smoky Mountains. From hotels near Great Smoky Mountains in Cherokee, you only have a few miles to the park.

  • Pick Cherokee for: Access to the southern side of the Smokies.

Recommended Great Smoky Mountains hotels in Cherokee

Great Smokies Inn – Stay where the park begins

Do you want to stay as near Great Smoky Mountains’ southern border as possible? If so, the Great Smokies Inn demands your attention. This is Great Smoky Mountains lodging with the ultimate access to both the national park and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Rivers Edge Motel – A riverside Great Smoky Mountains motel

Rivers Edge Motel is beautifully positioned next to Oconaluftee River. With the sound of the river always present, it’s a special Great Smoky Mountains place to stay. Why doesn’t every motel have river balconies?

American black bear exploring meadows in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN/NC
The Smokies is full of black bears, such as this shy one.

Tips for staying in Great Smoky Mountains

Now your Great Smoky Mountains stay is so very close. But to avoid those unfortunate beginner mistakes, have a look at these tips for staying in the Smokies.

  • Time Cades Cove – Cades Cove, boasting delightful trails, pioneer structures and a big population of black bears, is a highlight on every Great Smoky Mountains itinerary. However, have in mind that the loop road through the iconic Smokies valley is closed for motor vehicles on Wednesdays from early May to late September. So if you want to drive the scenic Cades Cove Loop Road, don’t try to do it on a Wednesday.
  • Find peak-time solitude – Great Smoky Mountains National Park is as busiest in summer. The visitor count skyrockets in June and remains high throughout July and August — with another peak for fall foliage in October. But thanks to the Tennessee and North Carolina park’s huge size — it’s 522,427 acres big — you can always, even at summer’s peak, find solitude. Just be prepared to venture a bit further from those famous overlooks and trailheads to find it.
  • Allow for time off the park – One of the things that makes Great Smoky Mountains the most popular national park in the USA is actually what you find off the park. In Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge you find not only convenient Great Smoky Mountains hotels but also an abundance of thrilling attractions, tasty restaurants and quirky shops to explore — visitors of all ages have a good time here. Therefore, for the full Smokies experience, allow time for the gateway towns.
  • Make off season adjustments – Great Smoky Mountains National Park is always open. So are the park’s main roads, including Newfound Gap Road, Little River Road and Cades Cove Loop Road — weather permitting. Yet secondary roads, such as Clingmans Dome Road and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, are subject to seasonal closures. Although variations occur, these roads generally are closed from late November to early April. If you plan a Great Smoky Mountains stay in the off season, get to know the Smokies seasonal road schedule.
Road leading into the Smokies, TN, framed by orange trees
Enter Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Final words about where to stay at Great Smoky Mountains

The Smokies is America’s most visited park, and some of its popularity is due to those cozy gateway towns. Yes, part of the Great Smoky Mountains experience are the attractions off the park.

Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge — loaded with fun — are the most popular options for where to stay at Great Smoky Mountains National Park for good reason. No matter when you visit, these towns are fun-filled picks.

But if you prefer it quieter, look towards Great Smoky Mountains accommodations in smaller communities, such as Townsend — the gateway to Cades Cove. After all, even though the area offers celebrated distractions, the Smokies’ number one attraction is its wild nature.

Where to stay near Great Smoky Mountains National Park FAQ

Here you find the answers to some frequently asked questions about where to stay near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina.

Where should I stay when visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, offering both easy park access and lots of activities for days off the park, are the most popular options for where to stay when visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Other options for where to stay near Great Smoky Mountains National Park are Sevierville, Wears Valley, Townsend and Cherokee.

Is it better to stay in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg?

Gatlinburg is located closer to Great Smoky Mountains National Park than Pigeon Forge. So if you want to stay as close to the park as possible, Gatlinburg is the better option for where to stay. But Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are just a few miles from each other, and both cities offer fun attractions for the time not spent in the park.

Is it cheaper to stay in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg?

In general, the closer to Great Smoky Mountains National Park you stay, the higher the hotel rates get. As a result, the hotels in Pigeon Forge tend to be cheaper than in Gatlinburg. Even further from the park, Sevierville is another option for where to stay near Great Smoky Mountains National Park on a budget.

What city is closest to Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

Because the Great Smoky Mountains covers a large area, various cities are close to different parts of the park. Gatlinburg, Wears Valley, Townsend and Cherokee all offer direct park access. Also with many attractions off the park, Gatlinburg is often called the gateway to the Smokies.

How many days do you need for Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

The Great Smoky Mountains is a vast park with a lot to explore. It’s therefore recommended to allow at least 3 full days for the park . Add more time for any side attractions such as Dollywood in Pigeon Forge.

More Smokies: Now you know all about where to stay when visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For more inspiration also check out our guide with the best things to do in the Smokies.

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