When you’re staying in downtown Gatlinburg, Tennessee, you’re already in the heart of one of the most beautiful regions in the United States. Known as the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg is bustling with tourists heading to the main entrance of the Park. But if you’re looking for a more relaxed, off-the-beaten-path experience, let us introduce you to the Cosby entrance. This lesser-known spot offers a serene escape and a fantastic way to enjoy the Park without the hustle and bustle.

The Drive to Cosby

To get to the Cosby entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains, you’re going to go in the complete opposite direction from 99% of most Gatlinburg tourists. Everybody knows the main entrance to the Park. But FAR fewer people know of the Cosby entrance. To get there, you’re going to head east on Highway 321 (Parkway), go past the Arts & Crafts Community, drive until 321 ends, then turn right. From there, it’s not far until you will see a small sign for the entrance. It’s not a big sign, so watch for it!

Discover Cosby Creek

One of the highlights of this route is the stunning Cosby Creek. This beautiful stream meanders through the Park, providing several spots where you can pull over and enjoy the view. The scenery is nothing short of spectacular. These stops are ideal for a quick photo op, a peaceful moment of reflection, or even a picnic. Trust me, you’ll want to spend a little time here just appreciating the tranquility. And you will definitely want some photos!

The Cosby Nature Trail

The real gem of this journey is the self-guided nature trail at the Cosby entrance. This one-mile loop is a perfect way to experience the Great Smoky Mountains National Park without breaking too much of a sweat. The trail is suitable for all ages and fitness levels. You will want to wear good walking shoes or hiking boots. It typically takes about 45 minutes to complete, but you’ll want to take your time to enjoy the surroundings.

As you walk the trail, you’ll be immersed in lush forest scenery, with towering trees, vibrant plant life, and maybe even some local wildlife. You might even see a bear! You will also get another look at Cosby Creek. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast or just looking for a pleasant stroll, this trail has something for everyone.

A Different Kind of Park Experience

One of the best things about the Cosby entrance is that it offers a different kind of experience compared to the main Gatlinburg entrance. Here, you’re not heading into the mountains but rather into a peaceful, easy-to-navigate area of the Park. It’s perfect for those who want to enjoy the beauty of the Smokies without committing to a strenuous hike. If you’re traveling with young kids, older family members, or just prefer a laid-back adventure, this is the spot for you.

However, if your intention is to go up into the mountains…that is not what you will find here. The road that traverses the entrance, Cosby Entrance Road, makes a loop, so this is not a road that will take you into the mountains. If you’re looking for higher elevations, you will need to go to the main Park entance in Gatlinburg.

Bonus tip: thought not part of the national park, if you want to take a CRAZY mountain drive, continue down the highway past the Cosby entrance and you will find yourself on a wildly twisting road that rises into the mountains and then turns into dirt! It’s an adventure. You will find yourself crossing over the state line into North Carolina.

Camping at Cosby

If you’re up for more than just a day trip, the Cosby area also offers excellent camping facilities. The Cosby Campground is a wonderful place to set up camp. The campground is less crowded than some other spots, providing a more intimate and peaceful camping experience. It’s equipped with all the amenities you need, including restrooms, picnic tables, and fire rings. Imagine spending a night under the stars, with the sounds of nature lulling you to sleep—pure bliss.

Tips for Your Visit

Before you head out to Cosby, here are a few tips to ensure you have a great time:

  1. Pack Snacks and Water: While the hike is short and easy, it’s always a good idea to bring along some snacks and water. There’s nothing like enjoying a little picnic surrounded by nature.
  2. Wear Comfortable Shoes: The trail is easy, but you’ll still want to be comfortable. A good pair of walking shoes or hiking boots will do the trick.
  3. Bring a Camera: The scenery is stunning, and you’ll want to capture the memories. Whether it’s the creek, the trail, or the campsite, there are plenty of photo-worthy moments.
  4. Check the Weather: The weather in the Smokies can be unpredictable. Check the forecast before you go and dress accordingly. Layers are always a good idea.
  5. Leave No Trace: Help keep the Park beautiful by following the Leave No Trace principles. Pack out all trash, stay on the trail, and respect the wildlife.

The Cosby entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a hidden gem that offers a peaceful and accessible way to enjoy the natural beauty of the area with less traffic. Whether you’re taking a leisurely drive, stopping to admire Cosby Creek, or exploring the nature trail, this is a spot that promises relaxation and rejuvenation. So next time you’re staying with us in downtown Gatlinburg, consider taking a detour to Cosby.