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One of the most popular questions I get asked or see asked on popular boards and groups is… which is the best of the seasons in the Smokies? Great question but also loaded. Most people just start throwing out answers Spring! Summer! Fall! Winter stinks! It’s like asking the Facebook groups who has the best BBQ in the Smokies and sure enough out come 200 people giving only five answers..Delauders, Bennets, Hungry Bear, Calhouns, Corky’s ! Blah, blah, blah. No one ever asks….What kind of BBQ do you like? Beef? Pork? Sausage? Briscuit, Ribbs, Pulled pork sandwich? Wet or Dry? Kansas City Style? St Louis? Memphis? So when I’m asked when is the best time to visit the Smokies I’ll always ask that it depends on what you want to do and what you want to see. There are pros and cons to every season.
If you want a run down of how many visitors come to the area the busiest months are in this order: July, June, August, October, September, May, April, November, March, December, January and February. Summer Months of June, July and August will see 4.5M people. The Fall: Sept, Oct, Nov will see 3.5M, The Spring: March, April and May will have 2.9M and Winter: Dec, Jan and February will see 1.6M visitors. If you’re down there now on July 4th Weekend, Congrats you are there on the busiest week of the year and typically the hottest time of the year!
Although March weather can still be chilly and unpredictable, April and May bring warmer temperatures and an explosion of wildflowers in the meadows and redbud and dogwood trees in the mountain forests. At lower elevations, temperatures hover in the 60s by day, dropping the 40s at night, but the weather can change rapidly from sunny skies to snow flurries early in the season. In this shoulder season, travelers can score lower rates on accommodations on weekdays, but rates are higher for spring weekends, which attract quite a few in-state visitors. Having said that, the spring is seeing an uptick in visitors as the Smokies are becoming a popular destination for spring breakers.
April is characterized by frequent afternoon showers, while May temperatures soar into the 70s and 80s during the day. However, May also sees more than 4 inches of rain, similar to April precipitation totals.
Spring weather can be quite unpredictable with large variances temperatures. Occasionally, the mountains can receive large snowfalls in early March. There are some cool, sunny days that are ideal for going on wildflower hikes.
Spring is a lesser crowded time to explore the Smoky Mountains, so if you’d like to enjoy some privacy during your trip simply plan a visit in March or April. It’s an ideal time to enjoy destinations like Cades Cove, Alum Cave Trail, and Clingman’s Dome without the crowds.
Additionally, spring in the Smoky Mountains is an excellent time to see waterfalls due to elevated flow volume. Abrams Falls, Ramsey Cascades, The Place of 1000 Drips, and Rainbow Falls are especially impressive this time of year.
To fully enjoy the beauty of spring in the Smokies, go for hikes in low elevation regions of the park like Greenbrier and Cades Cove. After all, the Smoky Mountains national park is famous for its biological diversity and a stunning number of wildflowers. Some popular trails to see wildflowers are the Porter’s Creek Trail, The Little River Trail, and the Schoolhouse Gap Trail.
March: Mid priced except for Second Half – Spring Break
April: High Priced First Half- Spring Break, second half mid priced
May: Mid Priced month except for Memorial Day Weekend
Summer in the Smoky Mountains
I hope you love being around other people because this is for many people their favorite seasons in the Smokies. Expect peak lodging rates and heavy traffic on popular routes like the Cades Cove Loop, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and Newfound Gap Road in the summer. Temperatures soar into the high 80s and low 90s in lower elevations, although evenings stay comfortably cool in the 60s and 70s. Although the humidity is not as severe as in other parts of the two states, visitors will see some haze and afternoon thunderstorms are fairly common. Reserve hotels and cabins up to a year in advance during this peak season especially large cabins for large groups.
Summer is the perfect time of year to enjoy outdoor activities like whitewater rafting, zip lining, or horseback riding. Wildlife like deer, bear, and turkey are very active during the summer season, so it’s a prime time to see wildlife.
On warm sunny days, many visitors cool off by going to swimming holes in the national park, exploring waterfalls, or by visiting high elevation parts of the Smokies like Newfound Gap, The Chimney Tops Trail, and Clingman’s Dome.
June: High Priced…All of It, Summer Season
July: High Priced…All of it plus 4th of July Premium priced
August: Mid-Priced as summer winds down
Fall in the Smoky Mountains
Fall is one of the most popular seasons in the Smokies. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy warm days in the 70s and 80s in September and cool nights dipping into the 50s, perfect for hiking and biking. Other visitors enjoy taking scenic drives through the park to enjoy the fall colors, which begins in mid-September when lodging rates are at offseason lows. In October, however, as the days get cooler and the leaves reaches peak color, throngs of visitors flock to the park on weekends, meaning crowds and peak pricing return. By November, temperatures drop to near freezing and snow is a possibility in the higher elevations, which may result in some road closures.
With dry, cool weather and stunning autumn colors, the fall season is one of the best times to go hiking in the national park. Some popular fall hikes to explore are the Alum Cave Trail to Mt. LeConte and The Middle Prong Trail in Tremont.
September: is High priced for Labor Day Weekend but is mid-priced for the remainder
October: all month is High Priced for fall colors
November: The weekends are High but weekdays are mid-priced, Thanksgiving is a premium
Winter in the Smoky Mountains
Winter is certainly not on of the popular seasons in the Smokies. Although winter is fairly moderate in terms of temperature, it’s not unusual to experience extreme weather in the higher elevations. Daytime temperatures generally hover in the 50s, with lows at or below freezing and January and February are the months with the most snowfall. Lodging rates are the lowest during this season, except for holidays, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. Keep in mind, some attractions, visitor centers and campgrounds close during the winter.
Once winter arrives in the Smokies, high elevation areas of the national park routinely see temperatures below freezing. Lower elevation areas like Gatlinburg and Cades Cove usually have mild temperatures and don’t receive much snowfall. January and February are the biggest months to see snow, especially in the higher elevation areas like Mt. Leconte, Newfound Gap, and Clingman’s Dome.
Experience the Winterfest Lights
Every winter, the Sevier County becomes a winter wonderland with more than 5 million lights brightening the night. Now in its 27th year, Winterfest has become one of the most anticipated celebrations in the Smokies. Wherever you drive in the county, you’re sure to see lots of awesome light arrangements. Businesses get in on the fun, too. You can see amazing arrangements at The Old Mill, The Island, Dixie Stampede, and Smoky Mountains Christmas at Dollywood.
December: up until a few days before Christmas, December is mid-priced due to Winterfest. Christmas – New Years is Premium priced.
January: Low priced except for New Years Day- Premium, MLK Weekend
February: Low priced except for Valentine’s Day, Presidents day weekend
Well there you have it the pro and con for all four seasons. You just need to decide which is the best fit for you. Hot or cold, crowded or less-crowded, wildflowers or fall colors. It’s all your personal preference. It’s always a good season to visit the Smokies.
Are you planning a visit to the Smokies and are wondering how to fit it all in? Check out our sample itineraries: https://dancingbearfoot.blog/2018/08/30/smoky-mountains-vacation-itinerary-day-1/
If this is your fist time coming to the Smokies and renting a cabin check out out blog post in what to look for when renting a log cabin.
Thank you for reading. If you’d like to learn more about our cabin or other great things to see while visiting the Smoky Mountains please visit us at Dancing Bearfoot.com.
Like our Pizza Bear? Check out the other great artwork from Kenton Visser https://www.kentonvisser.com/