Spanning a swath of mighty mountains along the North Carolina-Tennessee border and bisected by the Appalachian Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park reigns as America’s most visited national park — by far. Its guest count, topping 12 million in 2020, was more than three times that of the runner-up, Yellowstone. While the park itself lacks dining options beyond hiking snacks from the gift store, you don’t need to drive far to find a hearty breakfast, steak dinner, barbecue platter, or brewery patio.
The park’s location puts it at the nexus of Southern barbecue and Appalachian cooking traditions. In towns and cities on both sides of the park, such as Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Knoxville, and Asheville, chefs have a bounty of local ingredients to cull from and prepare dishes both contemporary and deeply classic. From fried cinnamon rolls by the fire to IPAs with a side of Cajun pork rinds, these are the best restaurants and bars near Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Note: The inclusion of restaurants offering dine-in service should not be taken as an endorsement for dining inside. Studies indicate a lower exposure risk to COVID-19 outdoors, but the level of risk is contingent on social distancing and other safety guidelines. Check with each restaurant for up-to-date information on dining offerings. For updated information on coronavirus cases in the area, please check each state’s COVID-19 response site. (Go here for Tennessee, and here for North Carolina.)
An RV enthusiast and freelance travel writer, Matt Kirouac is the co-founder and co-host of Hello Ranger, a national parks community blog and podcast.