North Carolina Side Travel Guide
  • Photo: Geir Olav Lyngfjell / Shutterstock

North Carolina Side

The North Carolina side of the park has a variety of sights and experiences, from high peaks to historical houses. Right at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center at the entrance to the park is the Mountain Farm Museum, one of the best-preserved collections of historic log buildings in the region. Cataloochee Cove is a beautiful valley where you can spot deer, wild turkeys, and elk and wander through preserved 19th- and early-20th-century farmhouses and other buildings. Even if you never leave your car, Newfound Gap Road offers plenty of scenic views. If, however, you're ready to lace up your hiking boots, there are hundreds of miles of hiking trails to be explored, including the short trail to the top of Clingmans Dome, the highest mountain in the park at 6,643 feet. North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail starts at Clingmans Dome and ends at Jockey’s Ridge on the Outer Banks, and 72 miles of the Appalachian Trail follow the ridgelines of the Smokies, beginning at Lake Fontana on the North Carolina side.

There are five historic districts in the Smokies: Cataloochee, Mountain Farm Museum, Cades Cove, Roaring Fork, and Elkmont. Cataloochee and the Mountain Farm Museum are on the North Carolina side, and the other three are on the Tennessee side. All together, the park contains nearly 100 historical buildings that are being preserved, and about 200 old cemeteries. All the historic districts can be reached by car, though exploring them in depth requires a good bit of hiking.

There are no restaurants within the park (other than at the remote LeConte Lodge and a snack bar within the camp store at Cades Cove on the Tennessee side). Picnic areas, however, provide amenities such as restrooms—some with pit toilets and some with flush toilets, but not all have running water in the bathrooms (bring hand sanitizer) or potable drinking water. Most of the 11 developed picnic areas in the park have raised grills for cooking. Picnic grounds in the park are free, except for group pavilions at several grounds, which can be reserved in advance and charge from $12.50 to $80 per group. To avoid future problems with bears, clean your grill and picnic area thoroughly before leaving.

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