Sugarlands Visitor Center is the busiest visitor center in the park, receiving nearly one-million visitors each year. It is located conveniently just 2 miles from gatlinburg at the intersection of Newfound Gap Road and Little River Road. Whether you plan on hiking or not, this is a great stop for anyone visiting the Smokies. There is a ton to see and do here.
When you arrive, you will notice a lot of parking…and they need it. This place can get packed at any time of the day. There are three lots here, one of which is for buses and large vehicles and is also used for overflow parking. Despite this, it can still be hard to find a spot during busier times.
There are restrooms, vending machines, and nature trails out back. There is also an events board with what is going on and coming up. The hours of operation are from 8am to between 4:30pm-7:00pm depending on the season.
As you walk inside you will see a huge scale model of the national park that gives you some idea of the scale of the peaks as well as allows you to orient yourself with your travel paths. Rangers are on hand at the desk to help you with everything from the weather, trail and road conditions, closures, back country permits, and a whole lot more. These ladies and gentlemen are a great resource for everything in the national park. Use them. My favorite question overheard here? “Where is the mountain trail?”
There is a FREE movie that lasts about 20 minutes you can watch in the theatre. It is not non-stop excitement by any means, but it has some beautiful images of the park, the and the history of the smokies including its people, trees, flowers, and wildlife. If you aren’t very familiar with the park, it is a good place to start. There is also a free quarterly paper, The Smokies Guide, that is available inside the building and outside for free.
There is also a small museum in the building that is FREE and includes lots of examples of wildlife and life in the mountains. It is easy to fly through this little area on the way to something else, but slow down and take the time to see all they have to offer.
And of course, there is a gift shop. Other than the bathrooms, this is the busiest place here. It is not a large space, but they have quite a bit of stuff crammed in. Probably the best things offered are hiking guidebooks and booklets for hikes, nature walks, auto touring, and much more. The booklets are cheap, $1 or less, and the full books are less than $20. They also have the usual t-shirts, hats, keychains, postcards, and calendars you would expect. But they also have books about the history of the park and its people, topographical maps of the area, authentic music from the region, locally made jam, sew-on patches to commemorate your hiking accomplishments, and a lot of other odds and ends.
The nature trails behind the center are often guided by rangers at various times of the day. They offer great detail about what you are seeing and give you insights that few others can. They have many, many more ranger activities in this area including children’s activities, information sessions about bears, hiking, and much more. Check out the events board or the official national park website for more information.
You can find more information about Sugarlands Visitor Center and upcoming events below: