If you’re looking for places to stay in the Smoky Mountains for your next vacation but aren’t sure where to go, consider the best Smoky Mountain small towns in Tennessee and North Carolina for your next Smoky Mountain getaway.
Most people know all about Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville in Tennessee, as well as Asheville in North Carolina. All of these Smoky Mountain towns are great to visit, but each of them can be quite crowded any time of the year.
What you may not know about are the many smaller towns in the vicinity that are definitely worthy of your consideration. We’ll highlight the larger Smoky Mountain towns and showcase some of the smaller towns outside the tourist traps to help you find the right destination for your next family vacation or weekend getaway in the Smokies!
For travelers making their way to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg is one of the best small towns in the Tennessee Smoky Mountains. Its thriving arts and crafts community has been part of Tennessee’s culture from the days of the first settlers.
Plus, there are plenty of additional things to keep you busy. Just a few include Ober Gatlinburg, the Gatlinburg SkyLift Park, Hollywood Star Cars Museum, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, and the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum.
There are a variety of shopping venues, and to enjoy a taste of Tennessee cuisine, choose one of many tasty restaurants and cafes. For a little extra flavor, book a tour of Ole Smoky Moonshine’s rustic distilleries.
Pigeon Forge TN
Distance: 8.2 miles from Gatlinburg TN (15-minute drive)
Pigeon Forge is just a few minutes from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, making it one of the best mountain towns in Tennessee for visitors who want to explore.
As one of the main points of interest in Tennessee, the park offers a place to enjoy nature whether you choose to hike, bike, fish, canoe, observe wildlife, camp, or have a picnic. After a day at the park, plan your next adventure while visiting Pigeon Forge.
For unlimited family fun, plan to spend time at the Dollywood Theme Park for rides, music, live performances, and lots of good food. You’ll also want to put on your bathing suit and head to Dollywood’s Splash Country, the park’s cool waterslides.
Other not-to-be-missed attractions are the ship-shaped Titanic Museum and the creative Hollywood Wax Museum.
Distance: 9.6 miles from Gatlinburg (30-minute drive)
Elkmont is yet another of the Smoky Mountain small towns near Gatlinburg TN that has an interesting history dating back to before Great Smoky Mountains National Park came into being.
It was an Appalachian community in the early part of the 19th century and home to pioneers who made their way to Tennessee. The pioneers named the town Elkmont because of the elk that inhabited the area.
Today, the town is part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is known for its campgrounds and its abandoned ghost town.
Distance: 14.8 miles from Gatlinburg TN (30-minute drive)
As one of the Smoky Mountain small towns near Gatlinburg Tennessee, Sevierville has a big surprise for visitors who want to experience an adventure underground. Plan a visit to the Forbidden Caverns with a guided tour through the scenic underground landscape where so many people from the past have passed before.
For visitors looking for bargains, Sevierville offers an array of shops and boutiques too, and it’s home to TangerOutlets, featuring over 100 designer brands. When you want to put the pedal to the metal, head to NASCAR Speedpark where eight tracks cover 26 acres and you can satisfy your need for speed.
Wears Valley TN
Distance: 16.5 miles from Gatlinburg, TN (30-minute drive)
Another one of the best cities near Pigeon Forge TN, Wears Valley is a short drive down US-231. The farming community serves as another entry point to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s surrounded by mountains on all sides, giving it a dramatic backdrop any time of year.
Wears Valley is one of the best Smoky Mountain towns because it takes you on a visual adventure. The small community was established in the late 1700s and named after Samuel Wears, a veteran of the Revolutionary War.
You can take advantage of this amazing scenery with a leisurely drive on rural roads in the vicinity. These include Wears Valley Road, Lyon Springs Road, Foothills Parkway West, and several others.
Referred to as “The Peaceful Side of the Smokies,” the town features panoramic views of Cove Mountain. You can take a scenic drive through the valley and stop at Headrick’s Chapel, constructed in 1901 and added to the National Register of Historic Places.
And, head to the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area and hike along the Little River, hunt for treasure at the gem mines, and hop aboard one of the mountain coasters for a thrilling ride.
Festivals & Events
Festivals and celebrations are another reason to visit Wears Valley. During the holidays, you can delight in traditional Christmas decorations and participate in other events that signal the coming season.
Some events expected to take place include tree tours, storytelling, and horse-drawn wagon rides. Look for unique only-in-the-Smokies gifts in the local shops and stores too.
Distance: 19.2 miles from Gatlinburg TN (30-minute drive)
Take a step back and relax in a small-town community where living is easy and away from the hustle and bustle of big-city crowds. Just a short drive from Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg, you can enjoy all that the area has to offer.
After enjoying sightseeing, hiking, canoeing, or other outdoor activities, a good way to unwind is to have a picnic and hike at Hen Wallow Falls or the Cosby Picnic Area, not far from the Gabes Mountain Trailhead.
Another nice way to spend the afternoon in Cosby Tennessee is with a visit to Carver’s Orchard and Applehouse Restaurant.
Distance: 23.6 miles from Gatlinburg TN (45-minute drive)
Townsend Tennessee and the surrounding Blount County area are a great quiet alternative to the busier Great Smoky Mountains National Park entry points. And, it’s a convenient side trip from Cades Cove if you’re visiting there already.
Another defining feature of this town is the frequent arts and crafts demonstrations at its Visitor Center. At the Wood-N-Strings Dulcimer Shop, bluegrass and country musicians perform in small concerts.
Plus, cities in the Smoky Mountains like Townsend have unlimited access to a vast underground network of ancient caverns.
Like Sevierville and the Forbidden Caverns, Townsend offers more underground history and the spectacular formations of the Tuckaleechee Caverns. These caverns are estimated to be between 20 to 30 million years old. They’re expansive with giant rock formations and stunning SilverFalls.
You’ll find that the former Cherokee settlement called Tuckaleechee offers plenty of scenic wonders as well, especially during the fall with vibrant colors from the surrounding forests and groves. Fly fishing is also a popular activity in the area.
Museums to Wine
This gem of a city has a lot of history to discover and beautiful locations to explore. A good place to start is at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center, which features numerous indoor and outdoor exhibits.
Also, there’s the Little River Railroad Museum, the Townsend River Walk and Arboretum, the Dark Island Swinging Bridge, and Cades Cove Cellars.
Distance: 35.7 miles from Gatlinburg TN (1-hour drive)
Cherokee is home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and offers a look at the history of the tribal community at the Oconaluftee Indian Village.
Other Native American points of interest here include the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and the 56,000-acre Cherokee Reservation where annual festivals and special events take place.
Step back in time with a visit to the Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill, where vintage farm buildings show how life was a century ago. Bring your camera to take pictures of Mingo Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls situated in the Southern Appalachians.
For adults who want some extra excitement, stop at Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel & Casino Resort to try your luck at blackjack, roulette, poker, and more.
Distance: 38 miles from Gatlinburg TN (1.25-hour drive)
Tennessee’s rich history continues to be on display in Maryville, which is one of the Smoky Mountain small towns near Pigeon Forge.
You can learn about the Sam Houston Historic Schoolhouse, Cades Cove Preservation Association, and Cades Cove Museum, which is situated inside a log cabin with artifacts from the past on display. Also, the Blount County Memorial Museum features additional historical artifacts.
For beautiful walks through colorful landscapes and peacefully meandering waterways, Maryville-Alcoa Greenway connects Alcoa’s Claytons Disc Golf Course and Springbrook Park with Maryville’s Bicentennial Greenbelt Park and Pearson Springs Park. You can even explore the Pistol Creek Wetland Center.
Bryson City NC
Distance: 46 miles from Sevierville TN (1.25-hour drive)
Driving through the park from Gatlinburg and to North Carolina on US-441 and US-19, you’ll end up in the charming town of Bryson City. It has a little bit of everything to entice visitors to North Carolina. This small town is considered the gateway for travelers heading to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Downtown & Outdoor Activities
In its downtown area, you’ll discover shops offering unique handmade arts, musical instruments, foods, and home décor, not to mention incredibly creative cuisine in its restaurants.
During warm months, the most popular activity is river rafting on the Nantahala River. In fact, Bryson City is called the state’s rafting capital. It also features superb hiking and biking trails in and around town. Outside of town, you can take a hike along Deep Creek Trail.
A favorite attraction is the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. The steam-driven train transports passengers from the historic depot throughout the scenic Western North Carolina countryside along the Nantahala and Tuckasegee Rivers. Ride and dine along the way as you take in the beautiful sights.
Other activities to fill your itinerary include the Smoky Mountain Trains Museum, the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians, and the Swain County Heritage Museum. Additionally, you can visit Bryson City Island Park and Darnell Farms.
Maggie Valley NC
Distance: 50.7 miles from Gatlinburg TN (1.5-hour drive)
When you hear about Maggie Valley, you might only associate it with winter skiing at Cataloochee Ski Resort, but the town has a lot to offer year-round.
Located near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you have access to the many activities of the park any time of year, while the nearby cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge offer numerous attractions and things to do for all ages.
The town isn’t far from Asheville North Carolina, either, where you can tour the Biltmore House. It’s an old-fashioned setting where you can relax in a vintage motel, visit craft shops, go tubing, and see vintage motorcycles at the Wheels Through Time motorcycle museum.
Distance: 52 miles from Gatlinburg TN (1.5-hour drive)
Sylva is a refreshing, picturesque, and quaint destination that aims to please indoor and outdoor enthusiasts. You can take a 7-mile hike in Pinnacle Park, listen to concerts at Bridge Park, and let the children play at Poteet Park.
If you just want to stretch your legs, historic downtown Sylva is easily walkable for exploring the shops and restaurants, satisfying a sweet tooth at Baxley’s Chocolates, getting a picture of the License Plate Building, or visiting the historic courthouse.
Indoors, there’s the Appalachian Women’s Museum in nearby Dillsboro, and you won’t want to miss The American Museum of the House Cat. For a flavorful afternoon, pick up a map of the Jackson County Ale Trail.
Hot Springs NC
Distance: 56.9 miles from Gatlinburg TN (1.25-hour drive)
You won’t be bored with a visit to Hot Springs North Carolina. You have access to plenty of outdoor activities, including hiking a portion of the Appalachian Trail, enjoying the mountain vistas on the Lover’s Leap Hiking Trail, walking over the French Broad River via the Bridge St Bridge, or being surrounded by the old-growth trees in Pisgah National Forest.
There are plenty of opportunities to go fishing, horseback riding, and river rafting. Or you could take an eco-tour or visit local art galleries. At the end of the day, save time to enjoy the hot mineral springs that Hot Springs is known for.
Distance: 63.7 miles from Gatlinburg TN (1.5-hour drive)
Savor North Carolina’s culture and outdoor activities with a visit to Waynesville. This quaint town offers a place to shop at local boutiques and antique shops, dine at local restaurants, and visit art galleries without traffic jams.
Some of the top attractions include the Shelton House — a museum of North Carolina Handicrafts — the Haywood Arts Regional Theater, the Little Cataloochee Trail, and the Dillsboro Chocolate Factory.
For outdoor enthusiasts, the 60-foot Looking Glass Falls is eye-catching from above or below. Last, but not least, save plenty of time to explore, fish, go boating, or enjoy white-water sports when visiting the Pisgah National Forest.
Distance: 66.9 miles from Gatlinburg TN (1.75-hour drive)
When small-town America is calling, it includes North Carolina since the state has some of the best mountain towns around. Franklin is one mountain community that you don’t want to pass by.
The town is located in the Nantahala National Forest, which has plenty of things to do, including rafting the Nantahala River, zip lining through the treetops, kayaking, hiking, and biking.
In town, there are plenty of cafes and restaurants to sample while sightseeing and visiting local attractions. For those with Scottish ancestry, visit the Scottish Tartans Museum and Heritage Center.
You could even visit the Old Macon County Jail — which is now the Gem & Mineral Museum — the Macon County Historical Museum, and the historic Nikwasi Mound.
Distance: 74.3 miles from Gatlinburg TN (2-hour drive)
Robbinsville is a rural mountain town in the Smoky Mountain foothills that takes you back to a time of solitude and natural beauty. There’s a lot to do here, such as hiking the famous Appalachian Trail and rafting down the Cheoah River.
Also, you can explore the stunning beauty of the ancient trees and delicate wildflowers that inhabit Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. A short figure-eight hiking trail takes you through a magical landscape of tall trees and babbling brooks and is suitable for all skill levels.
For indoor fun, stop by the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center. If you’re traveling by motorcycle, don’t miss the opportunity to ride the twists and curves of the infamous Tail of the Dragon (Hwy 129).
Visiting the Best Smoky Mountain Small Towns in Tennessee and North Carolina
When planning a trip to Tennessee, allow plenty of time to enjoy the many things to do that the Smoky Mountains have to offer. The area is rich in culture, history, spectacular mountain views, an array of wildlife, outdoor adventures, interesting excursions, exciting theme parks, plus shopping, dining, and Smoky Mountain distilleries.
If you plan to stay in Gatlinburg, no matter what time of year you visit, there are things to do and see. Whether it’s riding the SkyLift or ice skating at Ober Gatlinburg, your calendar of things to do in Gatlinburg will be full.
Just up the road, Pigeon Forge has its own list of things to do to keep everyone entertained. Summer is ideal for cooling off at Dollywood’s Splash Country, riding coasters at Dollywood Theme Park, eating at the Dolly Parton’s Stampede Dinner Attraction, or reliving the elegance of the Titanic with a tour of its 20 galleries featuring hundreds of artifacts.
Spring blossoms, summer water activities, the fall landscape and the changing of the leaves, and winter festivals make visiting the Great Smoky Mountains a year-round travel destination where you’ll create memories of a lifetime.