Discover the Great Smoky Mountains: Nature’s Playground

Welcome to the Great Smoky Mountains, a place of unparalleled natural beauty, family fun and investment opportunity. Located in the heart of the southeastern United States, the Smokies offer a blend of historic mountains, diverse wildlife, outdoor adventures, and the perfect opportunity to scale your wealth. So hey there, I’m Gracie Mayfield, a Realtor here at Local Realty Group and as a local who was born and raised here, I have narrowed down the top 10 things you need to know about the Smoky Mountains. From the short-term rental opportunities to the unique features of the place I call home, let’s dive into it!

1. Embrace the 12 Seasons

A Local’s Guide to the Smoky Mountain Seasons

One of the biggest reasons our STR market is so strong here is because we are a year-round market, but did you know we have 12 seasons? All of which could occur in one day. Living or vacationing in the Smokies is an experience like no other. As a local, I quickly realized that we have a unique rhythm to our weather and I listed that out for you:

Top 10 things to know about the smoky mountains
  • Winter: The perfect time to witness snowfall from your newly purchased STR property or vacation cabin!

  • Fool’s Spring: This occurs just when you think Spring has arrived, but Winter sneaks back in for a surprise visit, making you question your choice of wardrobe.

  • Second Winter: Just when you have had enough with the cold, it returns for a second round, often bringing more snow than the first.

  • Spring of Deception: Finally, Spring has sprung, but don’t get too excited. Don’t be fooled by a warm day; frosty nights are still common.

  • Third Winter: Yes, Winter makes another appearance, reminding us of its stubbornness to move on.

  • The Pollening: Spring in the Smokies means pollen – and lots of it. Get ready and grab your tissues for the famous yellow haze. If you drive a darker colored car, go ahead and add a detour to the car wash on your GPS.

  • Actual Spring: It’s the real deal this time. Sunny and 75 degrees is the new normal. The wildflowers are blooming and everyone is happy with the windows down.

  • Summer: This is your chance to float down the river, tube on the lake, or take a shaded hike. Go to the higher elevations to feel Spring again.

  • Summer x100: Just when you thought Summer couldn’t turn it up a notch – it did. Expect hot and humid days, but don’t worry; there are plenty of ways to beat the heat.

  • False Fall: A few leaves are falling and you wake up to crisp air. Football season has kicked off and days are spent drinking pumpkin spice while cheering on the Vols – at least you should be.

  • Second Summer: Summer returns for an encore, reminding us that it’s quite not ready to say goodbye.

  • Actual Fall: Finally, the Smokies put on its famous fall foliage show, which attracts visitors from around the world. Expect to see a spike in your occupancy during this season!

You may wonder why we have “12 Seasons.” That is a question we all keep asking. All in all, living or owning a cabin here means embracing the unpredictable nature of our weather.

2. Embrace the Early Start

How to Make the Most of Your Smoky Mountain Visit

Sure, vacations are meant for relaxation, but picture this: you’re on vacation, and you find yourself standing in a long line, wondering if you could have spent your time more wisely. According to the National Park Service, nearly 13 million people visited the GSMNP in 2022 making this the fourth time we have exceeded 12 million visitors in a year. That is more than Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon combined! The best way to take control of your vacation here in the Smokies is to beat the crowds. There are many positives to waking up early. Some of these include: higher chance of seeing wildlife, beating the heat, quicker wait times, and lastly, you can enjoy the slow evenings to rest up at your cabins! Budget in those line-hopper passes at the theme parks and wake up early with birds to start your day!

3. Nature’s Finest: The Mountains Themselves

Beyond Attractions – It’s All About the Mountains

Being a family-friendly community packed with fun attractions is a big factor into why this area is such a great place to vacation and own a short-term rental in but personally, it is not the sole reason people travel from across the world to visit here. It’s the mountains. As of December 2022, the Smokies is the most biodiverse park in the entire national park system. Don’t let the mountains intimidate you, venture out and experience them for yourself. I’m telling you now, there is nothing better than hearing a river flow or a waterfall rush, seeing a cub climb a tree, or simply looking down across the ridges after a hike. You’ll have a new found appreciation for nature – just give it approximately 3 miles and a few drops of sweat to see what I’m talking about. I believe to experience moments of unfiltered nature is how you can make your trip to the Smokies an unforgettable one. So, while the attractions and community of the Smoky Mountains are undeniably appealing, remember that the heart of this place lies in its mountains. They are the embodiment of the beauty and diversity of nature.

4. Douglas Lake: A Hidden Gem

A Local’s Hot Spot

In the heart of the Smoky Mountains’ foothills lies a local hot spot that often goes unnoticed by tourists: Douglas Lake. Nestled just outside Sevierville, it’s a short drive away from all the main short-term rental locations. What makes this lake so extraordinary? Let me share the secrets that make it a beloved destination for those of us who call the Smokies home. Douglas Lake isn’t your average lake experience. It’s one of those rare places where you can float, tube, or water ski the waters and be treated to breathtaking vistas of the surrounding mountain ranges. It’s a place where families gather for picnics, friends challenge each other in water sports, and anglers try their luck. As you explore the Smoky Mountains and its bustling attractions, don’t forget to take a detour to Douglas Lake. With all of this being said, this area is a growing short-term rental destination! Douglas Lake boasts a way to beat the heat all within a short drive from tourism. 

5. Save a Bear

The Importance of Responsible Wildlife Interactions

According to the National Park Service, when visiting the Smoky Mountains, the way we interact with the bears can literally dictate their future! Bears are omnivores by nature, meaning their diet consists of both plants and animals. In their natural state, they are wary of humans, keeping a respectful distance. This instinctual fear of humans is essential for their well-being and our safety. It ensures that bears maintain their wild behavior and do not become overly accustomed to our presence. When bears lose their natural fear of humans and associate us with food, they can become more aggressive and persistent for handouts. Please refrain from feeding the bears or leaving food sources accessible to them. Properly dispose of your trash in designated bins to prevent enticing these creatures with human food. Overall, let’s be more mindful of where we leave trash and how we interact with them so we can literally save a bear’s life!

6. Free Access to the Smokies

A Unique Privilege in the Great Smoky Mountains

As you plan your journey into the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), it’s worth knowing that this park offers a unique and wonderful privilege: free access. In 1994, a federal law was passed that prohibits entrance fees on roads where tolls are prohibited. Today, we proudly stand as one of the few national parks where you can explore its breathtaking beauty without an entrance fee. While there is no entrance fee to the park itself, the GSMNP does require a daily, weekly, or annual parking pass. This fee helps manage the flow of visitors, especially at the park’s most popular destinations. As you plan your adventure in the Smoky Mountains, make sure to schedule time for two unforgettable drives: Foothills Parkway and Newfound Gap Road. One of the best privileges us locals have is being able to drive these when we want! By purchasing a parking pass, you not only support the park’s conservation efforts but also ensure that these mountains remain accessible and preserved for all of us. Buying a parking pass is easy, you can grab them online or at any visitor center! Check out the link I have provided to show you how to tackle this!

7. Synchronous Fireflies

Nature’s Spectacular Light Show

Synchronous fireflies (AKA lightning bugs to us locals) are a mesmerizing species of fireflies that coordinate their flashing patterns, creating a synchronized light show that’s nothing short of amazing and a must see. According to National Geographic, from roughly the beginning of May to the end of June a special species of fireflies are in the peak of their mating season and put on a show at Elkmont that is located in the GSMNP! There are only 3 places in North America that these can be seen at. Elkmont, located within the GSMNP, is a precious gem for those seeking to witness this breathtaking event. If you plan to witness this dazzling display, keep in mind that it’s a popular event, and access to Elkmont during peak firefly season is regulated to protect both the fireflies and the park’s delicate ecosystem. The GSMNP typically operates a lottery system for parking passes, ensuring that visitors have a chance to enjoy this natural wonder while minimizing its impact on the environment. Having this practically in our backyard is a top reason why the uniqueness of the Smoky Mountains attracts so many visitors each year. It’s a reminder of the incredible biodiversity and the extraordinary events that unfold in this region. Whether you live here, own a property, or are visiting, experiencing the synchronous fireflies is a bucket list item you definitely should cross off. Check out the National Park’s website on how to secure a spot for this!

8. Over 800 Miles of Trails Await

Exploring the Smokies on Foot

If you’re a hiking enthusiast or simply looking to take a stroll, the Great Smoky Mountains offers an abundance of trails that span over 800 miles. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or an avid explorer, there’s a trail that suits your preferences and physical capabilities. The National Park Service rates each trail’s difficulty level on their website, ensuring you can choose a hike that aligns with your comfort and skill level. As a pro tip, it’s always a good idea to downplay and select a trail that matches your fitness and experience, especially if you’re not a regular hiker. To help you get started on your Smoky Mountains hiking adventure, here are some of the locals’ favorite trails:

  • Mt. LeConte via Alum Cave Bluffs: This trail leads to one of the park’s highest peaks and offers breathtaking views and a unique experience.
  • Andrews Bald: An excellent choice for those seeking a high-altitude, moderate hike with stunning panoramic views.
  • Abram’s Falls: A classic hike that leads to a picturesque waterfall. You hike along a river and get to enjoy a nice drive through the Cades Cove Loop. 
  • Chimney Tops: A challenging ascent that rewards hikers with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
  • Grotto Falls: A family-friendly hike that leads to a beautiful waterfall with a unique feature—you can walk behind it!
  • Rainbow Falls: Named for the rainbows that often appear in its mist, this trail takes you to a magnificent waterfall that’s especially intriguing after a rainfall.

9. A Vacation for Everyone

Exploring the Smoky Mountains for Each Taste

One of the exceptional features of the Smoky Mountains is that there’s something here to entertain every member of your family. While most cabins in this area are equipped to make your stay so comfortable you might never want to leave, there are some key places to always put on your itinerary. So, let me be your local guide around town! Are you adventurous? Go white water rafting or zip-lining. Do you enjoy the AC? Go to a dinner show. Do you have a sweet tooth? Go to Dollywood just for the cinnamon bread. Whether you choose to stay in Sevierville, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, or the peaceful side in Wears Valley, rest assured you’ll find something enjoyable to do around every corner. As you explore the area, you might be tempted by the offer of a family photo for $25. But here’s a secret tip – you don’t have to pay for that memory. Use your social skills (yes, this is hard for me too), strike up a conversation, and kindly ask a fellow tourist to snap a photo for you. You’ll be amazed at the kindness of strangers and the new friends you’ll make. The hospitality here is endless!

10. Explore One of the World’s Oldest Mountain Ranges

A Natural Wonder in my Backyard

Picture this: you don’t need a passport or a long flight to experience one of the oldest mountain ranges on Earth. Right here in the southeastern United States, you can journey to the Great Smoky Mountains, that are a part of the Appalachian Mountains. These are a geological wonder that has stood the test of time for approximately 200-300 million years (as per the National Park Service). With that being said, we are recognized as a National Park, a Biosphere Reserve, and a World Heritage Site. These designations highlight the exceptional value and significance of the Smoky Mountains, all in terms of natural beauty, heritage and biodiversity. There are so many ways to navigate what the Smokies have to offer. These include: hiking trails, horseback, helicopter tours, auto tours, ATV tours, waterways, and wildlife excursions. Pick your preference and go discover what is out there!

Bottom Line:

On your next family vacation or when your next guests book your rental property, keep these 10 things in mind. Whether you’re chasing the lightning bugs, hiking to a stunning summit, or simply relaxing at your cabin, this region has something extraordinary to offer every traveler. I would love to help you on your vacation and/or your questions about buying here in the Smokies! Make sure to contact me so we can hit the ground running. I look forward to hearing from you!

Rachel beasley, smoky mountain tn realtor

Meet Gracie Mayfield

I am a born and raised East Tennesseean who loves a good Vols game and a sunset. Being raised in the foothills of the Smokies, I have always loved being in nature. From hiking to picnicking alongside the lake, you name it and I’m there!