This might come to a surprise to you but the most visited national park in the United States isn't the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, or even Yellowstone. The most visited is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This massive mountain range with its diversity in ecosystems, wildlife, and heritage is uniquely positioned with half being in North Carolina and the other half in Tennessee.
For those starting to plan your trip to the Smokies, you'll want to work out how you'll be exploring the national park and where you want to base yourself or jump between. With this guide on the best place to stay in the Smoky Mountains, you'll learn about the differences between all the areas and inspiration for where to stay.
The mountains are calling!
Read more about trips in the US
- Utah and Arizona 10 day itinerary
- Epic 9 day Northern California road trip itinerary
- Best island to visit in Hawaii for first time visitors
- Best snorkeling on Big island
- Best place to stay in Zion National Park
Looking for deals on car rentals?
- The Smoky Mountains is definitely a road trip kind of destination and so you'll definitely need to rent your own car when you're here. To make sure you save money for all of the awesome activities in the region, make sure you apply these car rental coupon codes.
Here's what we're covering:
- Best Place to Stay in the Smoky Mountains
- Best Areas of the Smoky Mountains
- Where To Stay Near The Great Smoky Mountains
- 1. Gatlinburg – Overall the best place to stay in the Smoky Mountains
- 2. Bryson City – Center of adventure near the Smoky Mountains
- 3. Pigeon Forge – Larger than life in the Smokies
- 4. Waynesville – Go off the beaten path near Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- 5. Sevierville – Where to stay near the Smoky Mountains on a Budget
- Frequently asked questions
- Make sure to have travel insurance for the Smoky Mountains
- Final Thoughts on Places to Stay in the Smoky Mountains
Best Place to Stay in the Smoky Mountains
Not only is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park massive but because it straddles North Carolina and Tennessee, it really opens up your choices for where to stay.
Something unique you'll quickly learn about the Smoky Mountains region is that there are some of the most unique properties anywhere we've been. There are so many charming and getaway-worthy stays, it almost doesn't make sense to look at traditional hotels and motels.
Whether you're looking to pick one spot for your trip or thinking about stringing a couple of places together like we did on our 6 day Smoky Mountains itinerary, here are a few of our favorite place to stay in the Smoky Mountains if you're in a hurry and just want the best of the best.
Log Cabin In Christmas Tree Farm – Boyd Mountain Log Cabins
The Meadow Fork Cabin is one of the many cabins on the Boyd Mountain Log Cabins property and is a quintessential and historic log cabin. Located in Waynesville, North Carolina, the cabin is surrounded by a family-owned Christmas tree farm, fishing ponds, and hiking trails. When you walk in from the idyllic porch with rocking chairs, you'll see how they've modernized and transformed the cabin into a cozy and spacious place to stay with full dining room, air conditioning, fire pit and dining space outdoors, and three bedrooms good for 8 people.
Tiny Home – Gina's Great Getaways
There's certainly an allure to tiny homes but if you're like us, you're not quite sure you'd want to own one but would love to see what it's like. Gina's Great Getaways has a marvellous collection of vacation rentals near Bryson City, North Carolina. One of them is called Sweet Pea Tiny Home. Located along the creekside, you'll be surprised with how much space you actually have inside despite its small footprint. This is an adorable place to stay perfect for couples.
Luxury Lodge – RT Lodge
While traditionally this wouldn't be a location of choice for those exploring the Smoky Mountains, this may be worth the detour if you're looking for a special place to stay, RT Lodge oozes southern charm that is perfect for those that want a place where there are plenty of places to lounge and relax. All stays include breakfast and all-you-can-eat s'mores at their firepit. The Restaurant at RT Lodge is a delight as well.
Legendary Treehouse – Treehouse Grove
These are treehouses built by the Treehouse Master himself, Pete Nelson. Treehouse Grove has a unique collection of treehouses built near the Smoky Mountains and the town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The specific one you should look at is the Maple which they designed a s a retreat where you can enjoy your forest surroundings in comfort. Dubbed the “Honeymoon Treehouse”, you'll have a large viewing deck, screened porch, kitchenette, couch with TV, second floor bunk, modern rainfall shower bathroom, and one master bedroom.
BEFORE YOU CONTINUE
Not sure how to plan your trip to the Great Smoky Mountains and looking for inspiration? Here is an adventure-filled itinerary that will certainly get you started with a ton of our personal experiences and insider tips.
Best Areas of the Smoky Mountains
There are quite a number of towns and areas on both sides of the Smoky Mountains that you should definitely look at when planning your road trip.
While most guides will point you to some of the larger and tourist towns, it's worth getting to know some of the ones that might've slipped your radar. Each city/town/region offers something a little different and one may suit your travel style more than others.
Officially falling under as Haywood County, both Waynesville is a quaint town with a great urban charm about them.
At the footsteps of the Smoky Mountains, the downtown of Waynesville feel like you're taking a step back in time with main streets flanked with classic general stores, movie theatres, boutiques, and eateries. Look closer and you'll notice that while they've preserved the outside, you'll find modern shops, artisanal goods, and fun places to hangout such as the Boojum Brewery Taproom.
This is more off-the-beaten-path for those coming to explore the Smoky Mountains but that's only because the secret isn't out yet!
Why stay here:
- Close proximity to Cataloochee Valley in the national park.
- Short drive from Asheville, NC (36 minutes).
- A wide variety of cabins, cottages, B&Bs, and unique stays that are often cheaper than the other areas.
If you're looking for a low-key amazing place to stage yourself near the Smoky Mountains, Bryson City is a perfect choice, especially if you love adventurous activities and having convenient access to the national park.
In addition to the national park, there's also the Nantahala National Forest, Cherokee, and also the aforementioned Waynesville and Maggie Valley that's a short drive away.
From Bryson City, the potential for outdoor activities including rafting, climbing, hiking, and camping are endless.
Why stay here:
- Easy access to rafting the Nantahala River with companies such as Wildwater.
- The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad depot is in Bryson City.
- Short distance to Cherokee.
- Easy to access to Highway 441 to cross the national park.
- Close proximity to Deep Creek in the national park.
- Plenty of unique stays and cabins in and around Bryson City.
Sevierville is the lesser-known part of the Tennessee side of the Smoky Mountains but that doesn't mean it's not worth considering. As the most northern city in the trio of towns next to the national park, you'll love the fact that it is less busy than the other two, has cheaper accommodations, and has more local and authentic restaurants.
Sevierville is certainly more off-the-beaten-path but of you're merely 30 minutes away from entering into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Why stay here:
- Short distance from Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg in Tennessee.
- Less congested compared to the other towns.
- Cheaper prices for accommodation.
- Local atmosphere in restaurants.
- If you love shopping, the Tanger Outlets is in town.
- Fabulous and more affordable vacation homes and rentals in this area.
This is a major tourist town in Tennessee and is home to Dollywood and what seems like an endless row of rides, restaurants, and shows along the main parkway that runs through.
As you drive through Pigeon Forge, it'll be reminiscent of Orlando or a family-friendly Las Vegas with giant pirate ships, King Kong, a huge replica of the Titanic, mini golf courses, and many more themed larger-than-life activities.
By staying here, you'll be in the middle of action with everything in Pigeon Forge but also conveniently sandwiched between Sevierville and Gatlinburg.
Why stay here:
- Close proximity to many fun activities such as Outdoor Gravity Park, Titanic Museum, and Paula Deen's Lumberjack Feud Show.
- Dollywood is located in Pigeon Forge.
- There are plenty of resorts and unique properties to choose from.
- Overall great location for families.
- Dollywood – need I say more?
Out of all of the cities mentioned, this will probably be the most familiar in name. Gatlinburg is located in Tennessee and the closest to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on this side.
Seemingly surrounded by mountains, Gatlinburg has a more intimate feel while also having quite the range of entertainment all around. Within a small area, it is packed with fun activities, attraction, viewpoints, shops, bars, and restaurants.
This is another family-friendly location with direct access to the Smokies which is why for many this is great for first-time visitors.
Why stay here:
- Right next to the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
- Direct access to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
- Two marquee attractions with amazing views are Anakeesta and the Gatlinburg SkyLift Park.
- In the city, you'll find many resorts and lodges for families but there are also many unique cabins and even treehouses nearby that will blow you away.
Where To Stay Near The Great Smoky Mountains
Now that you know a bit more about the best areas to stay in the Smoky Mountains and why you might want to stay there, let us dive into each mountain town and specific recommendations for unique stays, hotels, and resorts you should consider on your trip.
The truth is, you can't go wrong with any of these places to stay in because at the end of the day, you'll have a car and getting around isn't that hard.
The key decision you do want to make though is whether you want to be in North Carolina or Tennessee or if you can't decide, you do both like we did in our Smoky Mountains itinerary. Each side of the Smokies is surprisingly different.
1. Gatlinburg – Overall the best place to stay in the Smoky Mountains
Gatlinburg is a favourite for many people because of not only how close it is to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park but also being a hub of entertainment and fun activities.
I will admit that it's a bit kitschy with its themed restaurants and wax museums. As someone from Canada, it reminds me a lot of Clifton Hills in Niagara Falls. That said, it has it's own mountain frontier vibe that makes it charming and retro at the same time.
It's undeniable that there are a lot to see and do in Gatlinburg itself. It has a family-friendly entertainment focus. In this, it's very similar to its sister town, Pigeon Forge, but it does so nestled in the mountains.
From a national park perspective, it almost feels like Gatlinburg is part of it as many of its key roads all lead straight into the Great Smoky Mountains and that's a huge plus. It's also a short drive to Pigeon Forge and Sevierville which opens up even more things to do.
Accommodation wise, you have a wide selection of family resorts and hotels but on the other end of the spectrum, you also have a grove of treehouses that can't be missed.
Legendary Treehouse – Treehouse Grove
Pete Nelson and his team featured in the Animal Planet show, Treehouse Masters, built these collection of treehouses in the forest on the outskirts of Gatlinburg. We personally stayed in Maple and I have to say that out of all of the cool properties we stayed in as part of our 6 days in the Smoky Mountains, this takes the cake. Live out your treehouse dreams while in the serenity of the forest.
Next Level Log Cabin – Bear Necessities
Can you believe that in one log cabin you can get a hot tub, pool table, arcade, indoor hot tub, and be mere 5 minutes away from downtown Gatlinburg?
This is a perfect example of the hidden gems you can find in the Smokies, where you can cozy cabin that sleeps 8 away from the crowded city while being just a stone's throw away from the action.
Bear puns aside, you can't go wrong with this cabin.
Prime Family Lodge – Greystone Lodge on the River
If you'd prefer something walking distance to all of the main attractions in Gatlinburg, it doesn't get any more convenient than Greystone Lodge on the River.
While this is certainly more of your standard hotel, what you'll love about this property is that it has a large swimming pool complete with slide, breakfast is included to save you the hassle each morning, and there's free private parking which means further savings.
Things to do in Gatlinburg
- For the best views of the Smoky Mountains, consider Anakeesta, the Gatlinburg SkyLift Park, and the Gatlinburg Space Needle.
- If you're looking for adventure, Anakeesta's Rail Runner and Dueling Zipline Adventure activities (extra cost) are worth doing.
- Grab the Smoky Mountains Sightseeing Flex Pass to get instant access to a wide range of activities not only in Gatlinburg but also Pigeon Forge.
- For foodies, Buckhorn Inn is a rustic fine-dining restaurant with an exceptional view of the Smokies.
- Discover the world of moonshine with Gatlinburg's distilleries with the Wine and Shine tour.
- A popular breakfast spot is Crockett's 1875 Breakfast Camp where you'll always find a large lineup outside.
- There's a spooky side to Gatlinburg and with this Ghost and Haunt Tour, you'll learn all about its ghosts and ghouls.
2. Bryson City – Center of adventure near the Smoky Mountains
North Carolina provides a different look to the Smoky Mountains than its counterparts in Tennessee and Bryson City is a more natural and laid-back town that will appeal to many.
This gateway to the mountains is not only close to the entry to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park but is also next to the Nantahala River Gorge and Fontana Lake.
Adventure is one of Bryson's calling cards because of highlights such as the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, wildwater rafting on the Nantahala River, chasing waterfalls at Deep Creek within the national park, Road to Nowhere, and plenty of opportunities to go tubing, horse riding, fishing, kayaking, SUP, and more.
Tiny Home – Gina's Great Getaways
You might not've heard of Gina's Great Getaways but they have an amazing collection of unique stays in and around the Bryson City area that will blow you away.
The one we stayed at is called the Sweet Pea Tiny Home. It's truly an adorable small space that backs into a tumbling creek. While small, it isn't lacking in features with tons of privacy, firepit, charcoal grill, full kitchen, queen bed, air conditioning, and full size bathroom. No shortcuts were made with this home.
1800s Homestead – Smokey Mountain Overlook
If you're looking for a spacious cottage with views of the Smoky Mountains, this is a quiet part of Bryson City to stay in.
This is a house trailer converted into a homely vacation home that has 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, kitchen, and living room. The consensus of the reviews say that this is immaculate, cozy, fully stocked, and a true home-away-from-home.
Being on the Booking platform, if you have Genius status, you'll be able to apply a 17% discount too which makes this a great stay for those on a budget.
Postcard views of the mountains – Picturesque Mountain Cabin
Nestled in the mountains with a 5 acre property, this a classic Bryson City holiday cabin that you'll absolutely love and will turn into your home away from home with ease.
With its large glass windows and spacious deck, you'll be able to see a panoramic view of the Great Smoky Mountains. Even better, there's a hot tub outdoors, a highlight for most guests here for sure.
Things to do in Bryson City
- The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is right in the heart of downtown and is one of the must-do's in Bryson City.
- Consider the Raft & Rail package which combines the train experience and rafting with Wildwater.
- There's a fun full-day waterfalls and breweries tour that leaves from Bryson City you should check out.
- If you'd like to see more of the Blue Ridge Parkway, there's a full-day private tour that includes a summit at Craggy Gardens, Linville Falls and Roaring Fork Falls.
3. Pigeon Forge – Larger than life in the Smokies
Driving along the main parkway of Pigeon Forge, you'll know what I mean by “larger than life” when you pass by replicas of Alcatraz, the Titanic, King Kong atop of the Empire State Building, dinosaurs, and castles to name a few.
This mountain town is all about fun for the whole family, making it a perfect companion to the Smoky Mountains. While offering some of the things Gatlinburg has to offer, you could say that things are at a bigger scale here.
Well-known celebrities also have a huge footprint in town. Country star, Dolly Parton, has her Appalachian-themed Dollywood theme park and her Dixie Stampede show. There's also American chef and culinary personality, Paula Deen, who has her own experiences including the Lumberjack Feud show, store, and family kitchen.
Mountain Sunset View – Destiny Den
This is the near perfect luxury cabin in the Smoky Mountains. Fitted with 1 bedroom and 1.5 baths and hot tub on deck, this is in the Hidden Spring Resort area of Pigeon Forge with ridiculously good views of the mountains while also being close to Dollywood and 20 minutes from the national park.
Another bonus is that it has the perfect angle to view the nightly fireworks at Dollywood which runs from June to August.
This is easily one of the most-reviewed property on VRBO in Pigeon Forge that somehow manages to hold 5 stars. Everyone that has left feedback has exceptional things to say about Destiny Den.
License to Chill – Camp Margaritaville
*cues* Escape (The Piña Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes.
Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville is synonymous for carefree vibes, Hawaiian shirts, live music, and good food and drinks. Of course, all of this transitions seamlessly to their RV Resort & Lodge in Pigeon Forge.
There are two ways to stay here. If you have your own RV, there are designated spots or you can stay at The Lodge which is your traditional hotel. Within the grounds, you'll find many incredible amenities such as extensive pool with water slide, lots of seating, playground, pet park, lazy river, bowling, arcade, and games room.
Even better is the fact that this is walking distance to the main parkway so you're also not far from all the fun and action in town.
It's worth noting that there's also the Margaritaville Island Inn which is right along the Parkway in Pigeon Forge.
Modern Cabin in Resort – Rustic Mountain Retreat
This a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom, and 2 story vacation rental that features a full kitchen and hot tub that's newly built in the community. Like the other cabins, this will give you plenty of space for families and the kitchen will allow you to cook food to save on expenses.
Being within the grounds of a Bear Cove Falls resort means that you also have access to their pool.
Location-wise, it's very close to all of the major attractions in Pigeon Forge, making it a great place to stay in the Smoky Mountains.
Things to do in Pigeon Forge
- Dollywood is of course the most famous attraction here and worth considering if you have many days in the Smoky Mountains.
- Pink Jeep Tours has several off-roading adventure tours including the Roaring Fork Smoky Mountains Tour.
- The most unexpected and wildly fun activity to try is zorbing at Outdoor Gravity Park.
4. Waynesville – Go off the beaten path near Great Smoky Mountains National Park
A hidden gem on the North Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains is Waynesville.
Log Cabin In Christmas Tree Farm – Boyd Mountain Log Cabins
I'm sure you've never thought about looking for a cabin in the middle of a Christmas tree forest but this tranquil paradise is one of those hidden gems that you'd know about only if someone told you.
Boyd Mountain Log Cabins has an impressive collection of historic log cabins relocated from all around North Carolina and rebuilt to modern standards while retaining their rustic charm.
We stayed at the Meadow Fork Cabin and were very impressed with all of the amenities it comes with as a cabin, private surroundings, and convenient distances to the attractions near Waynesville.
Authentic 1926 Red Caboose – Train Caboose Tiny House
If you look deep into the vacation rentals in the area, you'll find that there are actually quite a number of these caboose trains for rent but I have to say that this one is the most luxurious.
Taking an old Chesapeake and Ohio Railway caboose, it's set up on an authentic 1920's railroad track and further joins to a bath house which looks like a matching train depot. This has to be one of the coolest places to stay in Waynesville, if not all of the Smokies.
B&B with Amazing Breakfasts – Oak Hill on Love Lane
There are many superlatives that could be used to describe this cute bed & breakfast but we'll let the reviews speak for themselves.
Located right in downtown Waynesville, Oak Hill is best known for their awesome breakfasts on the porch. While it might be listed as a continental breakfast, it's anything but. Previous guests rave about with huge portions and freshly made dishes that will have you skipping lunch.
The 120 year old mansion is in remarkably good shape, has great views of the city and mountains, has a firepit with s'mores, and is dog friendly as well! This is everything a B&B should be.
Things to do in Waynesville
- The star attraction is Cataloochee Valley within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Make sure to visit early in the morning or late afternoon to do a bit of elk wildlife watching.
- If you're a motorcycle buff, make sure not to miss Dale's Wheels Through Time which is an impressive collection of American motorcycles.
- If you're looking for a place to eat, don't miss the Boojum Brewing Company Taproom.
- Lake Junaluska is a manmade lake nearby is is great for scenic walks and water sports.
- There is a guided Clear Creek Falls Hike excursion where a naturalist will take you into a lesser-known part of the Great Smoky Mountains.
- The Swag is the premiere luxury mountain resort in the area where their rooms sell out more than a year in advance. If they're out of your budget, you can call to make a reservation for a picnic lunch which will give you a glimpse of what the property is like and easy access to Gooseberry Knob.
5. Sevierville – Where to stay near the Smoky Mountains on a Budget
The final city in our list of areas to stay in the Smoky Mountains is Sevierville, Tennessee. Their claim to fame is being Dolly Parton's birthplace but it's so much more.
As your base for your Smoky Mountains adventure, you'll be able to dine on southern classic dishes at restaurants like the iconic Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant, check out the underground cavern network used by moonshiners, go shopping at Tanger Outlets, or bring the family out to a local petting zoo.
Being away from Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge means that it's normally a bit quieter and you'll be able to see a more authentic side to the region.
Nature Cabin Retreat – Mooseberry Ridge
Close but just far away enough from the main drag along Sevierville is this lovely cabin in Mooseberry Ridge. Surrounded by the forest, you'll be sure to find peace and relaxation here.
This hand-hewn log cabin features steep vaulted ceilings, rustic decor, gas fireplace, screened porch hot tub area, plush living room furniture, a full kitchen, porch swing, board games, and more.
This is the perfect getaway for two.
Cozy B&B – Blue Mountain Mist Country Inn
Also featured in our 6 day Smoky Mountains itinerary is this lovely country inn that is in a quieter and more peaceful part of Sevierville. Set in a Victorian-style farm at the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, this property is a favourite for many and is always highly regarded.
With 12 guest rooms and 5 romantic cottages, this is your classic family owned and operated B&B where their staff will make sure your stay as comfortable as possible. Breakfast is included as well as homemade signature desserts in the evening and refreshments.
Water Park Fun – Club Wyndham Great Smokies Lodge
We haven't featured too many traditional hotel properties but this is a great place to stay in the Smokies if you're looking for somewhere that has a full indoor and outdoor waterpark.
As a Wyndham, you'll love that you also get a kitchen as well so these are full-fledged apartment units.
If you read the reviews, you'll see why visitors swear by this property especially when travelling with kids.
Things to do in Sevierville
- Get your retail therapy with great deals at Tanger Outlets.
- If you have a need for speed, there are several zipline parks in Sevierville. One is the don't miss the 7-Line zipline experience at Legacy Mountain Ziplines and the other is Adventure Park at Five Oaks.
- Helicopter tours are also very popular here with this one over French Broad River and Douglas Lake being the most affordable.
- A visit to the Smokies isn't complete until you've eaten at Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant. Their apple fritters are to die for!
Frequently asked questions
Overall, Gatlinburg is a great place to stay that's close to the national park and has many attractions and sights nearby.
While they share the mountains, both sides are quite different. In Tennessee, you'll find the larger hotels/lodges and is in general more developed in terms of having a lot of activities sand attractions. North Carolina on the other hand is much more about connecting with nature and adventure activities from its surroundings. The Tennessee side has more to offer for families but North Carolina is more of a true mountain getaway.
The treehouses of Treehouse Grove are the most unique properties.
Make sure to have travel insurance for the Smoky Mountains
As you continue planning your trip, remember to pick up travel insurance because you never know what might happen especially if you're doing all of the adventurous activities in the Smoky Mountains.
We have a full breakdown of where and how to buy travel insurance but one company that we recommend is World Nomads. Make sure to get a quote with them and compare with others out there to make sure you get the right coverage at the right price.
Final Thoughts on Places to Stay in the Smoky Mountains
When we first started planning on Smoky Mountains itinerary, we thought it'd be pretty straightforward and expected to book the standard hotels and motels along the way.
After researching the region, we realized that not only do things get complicated by the fact that you have two very distinct sides of the Great Smoky Mountains, but there are so many more cool unique stays than you can count.
The challenge is 1) figuring out which city/town to be in and 2) finding all of your options. If you simply look at TripAdvisor, you'd never find most of these incredible properties.
Hopefully with our curated list of properties in Waynesville, Bryson City, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville, you'll get a head start in finding that perfect place to stay in the Smoky Mountains.
What you should read next