Roads within the park and nearby cities become very crowded in July. It is the most popular time to experience the Great Smoky Mountains and the park’s busiest period.
License plates from Florida become more common as many residents of that state escape to their summer retreat.
Those from nearby Midwestern states such as Ohio arrive as school ends so the family can visit attractions such as Dollywood and make occasional escapes to a mountain trail.
Visitors unfamiliar with basic mountain-driving practices crowd into Newfound Gap Road. The weekend warriors try to see everything from Mingus Mill to Chimney Tops in a single day.
The smell of overheated brake pads becomes noticeable to those with open windows as inexperienced drivers sometimes ride their brakes all the way down from Newfound Gap.
More often than not, visitors will see cars pulled over along the roadway with people looking under the hood of overheated engines.
Total visits in July exceed two million, often reaching more than 2.5 million as crowds flock to all park entrances.
The number of vehicles that drive near the Gatlinburg Bypass is at or above 300,000 during the month. More than 50,000 people camp or spend the evening in RVs in the park.
Pros of Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains in July
- All recreation areas, trails, overlooks, campgrounds, and other public sites are open.
- Attractions, shops, facilities, and businesses in nearby areas are open.
- Wildflowers and wildlife are enjoyable to see during visits.
- A trip to the higher elevations in the park offers a cool escape from hotter areas at lower elevations.
Cons of Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains in July
- Crowded roads do become the norm.
- Opportunities to experience all park areas may be limited due to crowds, lack of parking, or others with prior reservations.
- Those who arrive without advance reservations may not be able to secure rooms, campgrounds, or other amenities at the park and in the area.
- Drivers unfamiliar with mountain driving often slow traffic for others.
Weather in July
Lower Elevation (Park Headquarters, near Gatlinburg area)
- Average High: 88°F
- Average Low: 59°F
- Monthly Precipitation: 5.7 inches
- Monthly Snowfall: None
- Days of Precipitation: 10
Highest Elevation (Clingmans Dome)
- Average High: 65°F
- Average Low: 53°F
- Monthly Precipitation: 8.3 inches
- Monthly Snowfall: None
- Days of Precipitation: 13 days
During this prime month for visitation, many people who visit nearby communities such as Gatlinburg, Sevierville, and Pigeon Forge experience hot weather, with temperatures soaring into the 90s.
Cherokee, Bryson City, and Maggie Valley on the North Carolina side tend to be a bit cooler.
An afternoon drive into the Smokies from tourist destinations on the periphery offers opportunities to cool off, enjoy nature, and dip one’s feet in a stream.
Rainfall is a part of life throughout the year in the park. While traveling on a curvy mountain road, sunny skies can turn into a humid haze, foggy clouds, drizzling rain, or a thundershower.
Higher elevations maintain cooler temperatures, with places such as Mount LeConte rarely surpassing 80°F.
Even in July, packing a light jacket is a sensible decision for those visiting locations such as Clingmans Dome or Andrews Bald, places where there are no obstructions to stop the occasional brisk breezes.
Things to Do in the Great Smoky Mountains in July
Drivers who have visited in the past know to expect delays along Clingmans Dome Road, Newfound Gap Road, and Cades Cove Loop Road.
Access to the one-lane, one-way loop road is restricted to bikes, pedestrians, and non-motorized vehicles on Wednesdays in July, so hikers and bikers do not have to navigate around miles of slow-moving vehicles.
Here and throughout the park, bicycles are permitted on any road where vehicles are usually allowed, but not on hiking or horse trails.
Those hoping to visit Cades Cove from Sevierville and Pigeon Forge often find it easier to get there by driving through Weirs Valley to the entrance near Townsend instead of heading west from the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
Download this National Park Map from nps.gov (pdf)
Parking spaces throughout the park are at a premium during afternoons and weekends, especially around July 4.
Guests should expect to circle around the lot at the visitor centers at Oconaluftee and Cades Cove, and use the overflow lot at Sugarlands, where first-time visitors stop to enjoy the Cataract Falls.
All visitor centers have expanded hours to handle the rush of visitors, including the large number who experience the Smokies only through their car windows.
Other roadways and sites that had fewer springtime visitors tend to get crowded early and often.
Parking lots at trailheads such as Chimney Tops, Laurel Falls, and Alum Cave Bluffs frequently fill by mid-morning.
A once-casual drive along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail can become an hours-long endeavor as cars clog the one-lane road that spills out into Gatlinburg.
Equally crowded are sections of Glades Road as visitors outside of the park stop at various pottery and craft stores in the Great Smoky Mountain Arts and Crafts Community.
Those who have visited the Smokies before know a few of the less-traveled areas.
The Foothills Parkway, at the western end of the park, trails in the Deep Creek area near Bryson City.
A visit to the Fontana Dam area or a drive to “The Road to Nowhere,” offer an escape from the crowds at other locations.
Seeing Mingo Falls on the Cherokee Reservation or taking an extended drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway are other options to consider.
Some picnic areas fill quickly. This is especially true for sites along Newfound Gap Road, such as Chimneys and Collins Creek.
Sites such as Metcalf Bottoms may also fill quickly, though tables are frequently available without delay at more remote sites, such as Look Rock, and the day-use area at Deep Creek.
Frontcountry (developed) campgrounds at places such as Smokemont and Elkmont fill quickly during the summer months.
Advance reservations are strongly recommended because hotels also fill quickly throughout the region.
Those who take a chance at getting a last-minute camping space may find themselves checking into a hotel near Knoxville or Asheville instead.
Permits for remote backcountry sites are also competitive for those who plan to turn a daytime hike into an overnight adventure.
Tent campers who hike into the backcountry should set realistic expectations if they plan to visit multiple sites over a period of a few days, and make sure they can handle the substantial elevation gain between certain areas.
Reservations for overnight stays at the hike-in LeConte Lodge on Mount LeConte also fill quickly.
Guests in July will share trails and pathways with a large number of guests. Certain spots, such as ranger-led talks at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, strolling to Mingus Mill, or climbing to Clingmans Dome are very popular.
Other areas offer quiet reflection, such as small pioneer cemeteries near Sugarlands, at Cades Cove, and near Elkmont.
Although the number of hikers along the Appalachian Trail also grows in number, short hikes along it or some of the park’s scenic byways offer a relaxing experience.
Anglers will enjoy casting a line in some of the streams with trout populations.
Those unfamiliar with the best spots should ask in surrounding towns, where they can also get the required Tennessee or North Carolina fishing license that covers the entire park.
During the longer days of summer, as stream levels get to their natural levels after the spring thaw, fishing is permitted from 30 minutes before sunrise until 30 minutes after sunset.
Wildlife and Wildflowers
Birds and bears are top attractions. Casual visitors dream of seeing momma bears and their cubs from the comfort of their cars, while serious birdwatchers are on the lookout for the scarlet tanager, wood thrush, black-and-white warbler, and chirping sparrow, among other birds.
Deer are commonly found walking through the forests and across nature trails, and drivers should exercise caution when turning on mountain curves or driving at night.
Horseback riding opportunities are popular in the park during the summer. Those planning to visit during this busy season should confirm availability in advance at the concession sites operated at Cades Cove, Smokemount, and Sugarlands.
With nearly 550 miles of trails within the Smokies available to riders, visitors may also bring their own horses but should be ready to encounter downed trees, some trail erosion, and overflowing streams after heavy rains.
Although the last blooms of the rhododendrons have passed by early July, flame azaleas are still in bloom at higher elevations. Throughout the park, wildflowers are found at overviews, along trails, and near the roadway.
A variety of events celebrating Independence Day are scheduled throughout the region.
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