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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

 

ABOUT THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a United States National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site that straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are a division of the larger Appalachian Mountain chain. The border between Tennessee and North Carolina runs northeast to southwest through the center-line of the park. It is the most visited national park in the United States. On its route from Maine to Georgia, the Appalachian Trail also passes through the center of the park. The park was chartered by the United States Congress in 1934 and officially dedicated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940. It encompasses 522,419 acres (816.28 sq mi; 211,415.47 ha; 2,114.15 sq km), making it one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States. The main park entrances are located along U.S. Highway 441 (Newfound Gap Road) at the towns of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Cherokee, North Carolina. It was the first national park whose land and other costs were paid for in part with federal funds; previous parks were funded wholly with state money or private funds.

This immense outdoor playground, filled with ancient old growth forests, numerous flora and fauna, and over 900 miles of hiking trails offers endless fun and adventure!

 

Great Smoky Mountain Park Highlights Not To Miss:

Black Bears:

  • With more than 1,500 Black Bears living in the park, the GSMNP is one of the largest protected wilderness areas for Black Bears in the eastern United States.
  • With an average of 2 bears per square mile of park, chances of seeing one are pretty good. However all visitors should use precaution and follow safety guidelines.

For more information on Black Bears in the park and what to do if you see one visit: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/nature/black-bears.htm.

Cades Cove:

    • One of the most popular destinations in the park, Cades Cove encompasses a resplendent valley ideal for wildlife viewing of white-tailed deer, black bear, coyote, turkey and much more.
    • This 11-mile one way loop also allows visitors to travel back in time and visit some of the many historic buildings original to the land before the park was established.
    • You can even bike this loop at certain times of the year without any car traffic!

For more information and to plan your visit to this famous area of the park visit: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/cadescove.htm

Elk:

    • Once native to the region, Elk were over hunted and eliminated in the Great Smoky’s region in the late 1700s.
    • In an effort to preserve native plants and animals the park reintroduced 25 Elk to the park in 2001 and 27 more in 2002.
    • Located in the Cataloochee section of the park one of the best times of the year to view and behold these magnificent creatures is during the rut in fall when the male elk bugle to attract female attention!

For more information about how to see elk in the park and safe viewing guidelines visit: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/nature/elk.htm.

Fishing:

  • With over 2,000 miles of streams within the park boundaries, the Great Smoky Mountains offers a wide variety of angler (fisherman) experiences.
  • From isolated headwaters trout streams to larger, cool water small-mouth bass streams, there is something for anglers of all ages and skill sets.

Learn more about Fishing in the Smoky Mountains.

Hiking:

    • The park features more than 800 miles of hiking trails.
    • It also includes nearly 71 miles of the famous Appalachian Trail, on its route from Maine to Georgia, it passes through the center of the park.
    • Because of the immense diversity of plants and animals in the park, hikers in the GSMNP have the outstanding opportunity to experience three different climate zones all in one hike, replete with different flora and fauna in each zone.

For more information on hiking in the park check out our Insider’s Hiking Guide

Junior Ranger Program:

    • For children between the ages of 5-12, the GSMNP can truly come alive.
    • Children can pick up a junior ranger booklet and Junior Ranger Badge at Elkmont Campground or Cades Cove and check off various interactive activities that make them more a part of the park experience.
    • Also during the spring, summer, and fall children can participate in ranger-led activities at different times and places.

Learn more about how to become a Junior Ranger and for a schedule of Junior Ranger events visit.

Salamander:

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also considered the “Salamander Capital of the World” The Park is home to 24 species of lungless salamanders.
  • North America’s largest salamander, the hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) is also found in the Smokies. The world’s largest hellbender, measuring 29 inches long, was captured in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1946.

Scenic Drives:

  • Any drive through the GSMNP offers incredible views of majestic mountain peaks sweeping valleys, and mature hardwood forests reaching to the horizon.
  • Known as “Auto Touring” in the days of yore; visitors with little mobility can still enjoy the scenic wonders of the park all from the seat of their car.
  • Today the GSMNP features 384 miles of road to choose from. Many of these roads are paved, and even the gravel roads are maintained in suitable condition for standard passenger cars.

Check out our recommended scenic drives.

Synchronous Fireflies:

  • Synchronous Fireflies are one of 19 firefly species in the park and the only species in America whose individuals can synchronize their flashing light patterns.
  • This mating ritual displayed in a flashing light pattern helps males and females fireflies recognize and attract each other.
  • This amazing amorous display of light can be witnessed every spring during a 2-week period in late May through Mid-June.

Photo Credit: The Knoxville News Sentinel /Times Free Press.

Wildflower Pilgrimage:

  • A five-day event held every spring, the GSNP hosts professionally guided programs to explore the region’s diverse and prolific wildflowers, wildlife, cultural and more.
  • Participants can take guided hikes, photo tours, classes, workshops and much more to learn more about the exquisite flora and fauna in the park.

Get more information on this annual event.

Waterfalls:

    • With prolific rainfall and high elevation the GSMNP has numerous stunning waterfalls for visitors to behold.
    • From large and thundering falls to lighter more narrow streams of falling water there are many places to take in the spectacular spray of water.

For more information on the best waterfalls to visit and waterfall safety in the park visit: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/waterfalls.htm

 

Ask A Local

Here’s why area outdoor enthusiasts love the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

Dave Crawford- Owner Rapid Expeditions Hartford, Tennessee

“The Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) brings me life: the air is crisp and cool, the sounds of the streams, wind, and nature. The high mountain views make me feel free!…There isn’t another park like it. It holds a wondrous diversity of life. With an on-going inventory this park holds over 80,000 species. It’s very rich in life and in history. Also, GSMNP is the only National Park that doesn’t have an entrance fee. It’s free to visit!! It’s sitting in the heart of the Southeast. It’s only a day’s drive or less to get to the GSMNP, whether you are traveling from Florida or New York. With this great location, it makes it the most visited National Park in our country. There is no shortage of things to do here. There’s music, Art, theme parks, ski resorts, zip lining, Whitewater rafting, horseback riding, hiking, camping, biking, to just name a few. This is a park is great for all walks of life: Young and Old.”

Favorite Thing to do in the GSMNP:

“I’m a whitewater kayaker, so after heavy rain, the streams come alive. So my favorite thing is kayaking. I also love trail running on the 800 plus miles of trails in the GSMNP.”>

Favorite Hiking Trail:

“My favorite trail is the Boulevard trail up to Mt. Leconte. And for added Fun I like coming down Alum Cave trail. This makes for a super day of hiking.”

Ed Mcalister- Owner River Sports Outfitters Knoxville, Tennessee

“Well, I feel pretty lucky having this national park at my back door. The diversity certainly makes it unique and being a white water canoeist the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers some of the finest boating around. [Boaters love it because…] most of the sections are close to a road for access. The hazel creek section of the park is every special due to its remoteness. Another thing about this park is in the winter you have it practically to yourself. It’s really incredible and is such a natural and offers so much for all to see and do. [All any visitor to the area has to do is a take a…] few steps from the car and get away from the road and it will be obvious.

Favorite Hiking Trail:

“My favorite hiking trail is Baxter Creek Trail to Mount Sterling, you won’t encounter many people and it’s only five minutes off the interstate.”

Diane Renfroe – Owner River Romp Sevierville, Tennessee

“As a child my family visited the Pigeon Forge area. My next visit I was 23 years old. Upon my return, I told my Mom about my trip and described the area as the place where ‘My Spirit is!’; in amazement my Mom reminded me that at 4 years of age I told her that ‘My Soul’ was here! The feeling when the road crests and I see the majesty of the Smokies, I feel God opens His hands and says welcome home my child! This is a feeling no place in the world has ever given me…Visitors to the park can enjoy it’s incredible beauty, trails, vistas, scents, sounds, experiences of the GSMNP there are sooo many things to do within 30 miles – there is something for EVERYONE to do!”

Favorite Thing to do in the GSMNP:

I love playing in the River, skimming stones and just listening! The blissful sounds of the moving waters, the breeze rustling and the giggles and sounds of astonishment from newcomers and those of us who are amazed each time we step foot into God’s garden.

Brad Dodson – Fly Fishing Specialist, 900 miler club member (avid hikers that have trekked and documented every hiking trail in the GSMNP)

“I am fortunate to have the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in my backyard. I love its unique habitat and amazing biodiversity. In addition it’s surprisingly easy to find solitude and so beautiful! The GSMNP is such a huge playground for so many outdoor activities and visitors will array of trees you’ll never see anywhere else.”

Favorite Thing to do in the GSMNP:

“Hike! With over 900 miles of trails to explore the possibilities are endless.”

Favorite Hiking Trail:

“I really like the Appalachian Trail from newfound Gap to I-40. This section of trail is really hard to beat. Another lesser known hike that is great is the Sugarland Mountain Trail.”

“The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site “

MORE DETAILS:

The Great Smoky Mountains stretch from the Pigeon River in the northeast to the Little Tennessee River to the southwest. The northwestern half of the range gives way to a series of elongate ridges known as the “Foothills,” the outermost of which include Chilhowee Mountain and English Mountain.

The range is roughly bounded on the south by the Tuckasegee River and to the southeast by Soco Creek and Jonathan Creek. The Great Smokies comprise parts of Blount County, Sevier County, and Cocke County in Tennessee and Swain County and Haywood County in North Carolina.