I was at Elkmont this weekend. Laurel Falls was a MAD HOUSE! I just drove past several times and could barely get by. Groups of 20+ heading up the hill. I know they got to the top and had to just wait to even see the falls.
The vast majority of people go to the same small handful of spots.
Did a multi-day backcountry hike to Clingmans from the NC side last weekend - plenty of parking spots in the lot where I arrived Sat am. Saw a handful of people over the three days in the woods, and then had the disconcerting experience of going from quiet solitude in the trees to the Disney parking lot that is Clingmans Dome.
The best places there are still very lightly traveled, imo.
I missed that one when we was up there. I loved all the cabins, churches, barns, etc. in Cades Cove. Just not enough to put up with the crowds and traffic. It was not relaxing in the least. Plus not many restrooms.
That and it wasn't even in the mountains. Totally not what I pictured in my mind. I'm not sure what I thought it was gonna be but not that.