HomeOutdoorsNewsGreat Smoky Mountains National Park Lays Out Guidelines for Air Tours

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Lays Out Guidelines for Air Tours

by Brett Stayton
(Photo by Mint Images/Getty Images)

Big news for folks who want to take in the breathtaking views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the sky. The most visited National Park in America is arguably the most aesthetically pleasing place on Earth. Watching a Smoky Mountain sunrise or sunset is a damn near therapeutic experience. Few things in life are better than immersing yourself in the calming vibes of an atmosphere where those rugged rolling mountains dance with a watercolor-painted sky as hazy clouds float through the air.

That natural splendor combined with all the bells and whistles and bright lights of the main drag that runs through downtown Gatlinburg and into the park’s front door makes it one of the most unique places on Earth. Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains is a trip that should be on any Outsider’s bucket list.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers no shortage of outdoor recreation activities like hiking, biking, fishing, paddling, camping, and horseback riding. The neighboring Cherokee National Forest also offers all that as well as hunting opportunities too. There are some awesome places to visit in the town of Cherokee, North Carolina as well including a casino and sports book. There is also a fascinating amount of historical knowledge that visitors to the area can study up on too. The “Smoky Signal Podcast” is a great place to learn more about scientific research that takes place in the park.

One of the most unique tourism experiences in the Park is the annual synchronous firefly spectacle. It has gotten so popular that tourists are now required to apply for limited viewing opportunities through a lottery process.

However, one of the most underrated ways to explore the area though is by air.

National Park Service Develops Official Air Tourism Plan For Smoky Mountains

Commercial air tours based out of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge have whisked park visitors up, up, and away on helicopter tours for years. However, until now there have yet to be any defined operating parameters. According to News 5 WCYB, the park hosted an average of 946 air tours annually between 2017 and 2019. Now National Park Service officials have used that number as a baseline for developing an official air tour management plan.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park is among 24 units for which the National Park Service is developing an air tour management plan. The official plan for the Smoky’s allows for up to 946 air tours annually. That plan also defines six routes over the park and up to half-mile outside the park’s boundary. It also sets an altitude limit above 2,600 feet.

“The plan incorporates several improvements that allow continued air tour activity, while at the same time better protecting the wilderness character of the backcountry, wildlife populations, natural soundscapes, and the visitor experience in historic areas like Cades Cove,” said park superintendent Cassius Cash.

For a preview of what soaring above the Great Smoky Mountains through the air might be like, check out this drone footage.