There are three park visitors centers inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and four outside its boundaries. Each visitors center sells maps, guides, and books. There are volunteers at each center who can help you plan your visit to the park. Information about current weather conditions, road closures, and ranger-led events is also available. All visitors centers are open daily year-round, but close on Christmas Day.
Sugarlands Visitor Center (865/436-1291), located two miles south of Gatlinburg on Highway 441, is the busiest visitors center. In addition to the services described above, there is a museum about the flora and fauna of the park and a free 20-minute video about its history and natural features. Sugarlands is open every day except Christmas Day. The doors open daily at 8 a.m. The center closes at 4:30 p.m. in December, January, and February; at 5 p.m. in March and November; at 6 p.m. in April, May, September, and October; and at 7 p.m.in June, July, and August.
Cades Cove Visitor Center (no phone) is located at the midway point of the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road. It opens daily at 9 a.m. and closes at 4:30 p.m. in January and December; 5 p.m. in February and November; 6 p.m. in March, September, and October; and 7 p.m. from April to August. The Cades Cove Visitor Center is closed on Christmas Day.
On the North Carolina side of the park, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center (828/497-1904) is located two miles north of Cherokee, North Carolina. It is open 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. in January, February, March, April, November, and December; 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m. in May; 8 a.m.–6 p.m. June–August; and 8:30 a.m.–6 p.m. in September and October. It is closed on Christmas Day.
In addition to the visitors centers located inside the park, the park service operates centers in gateway communities surrounding the Smokies. All these visitors centers sell maps, guides, and books. They are staffed with people who can answer your questions, and have up-to-date information about weather and roads. They cannot help with reservations or backcountry permits, however.
The Downtown Gatlinburg Welcome Center (daily 10 a.m.–6 p.m.) is located at traffic light No. 3 on the Parkway in downtown Gatlinburg.
The Gatlinburg Welcome Center (May–Oct. Mon.–Thurs. 8 a.m.–7 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 8 a.m.–9 p.m., Nov.–Apr. daily 8 a.m.–5:30 p.m.) is located on the spur road between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.
The Sevierville Visitor Center (3099 Winfield Dunn Pkwy., 865/932-4458, daily 8:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.) is located on Highway 66 between I-40 and Sevierville.
The Townsend Visitor Center is located on Highway 321 in Townsend. It opens daily at 9 a.m. closes at 5 p.m. from November to May. From June–October the center stays open until 6 p.m. The Townsend Visitor Center is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Days.
© Susanna Henighan Potter from Moon Tennessee, 5th Edition