Great Smoky Mountains-the Most Visited National Park in the United States
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was created in 1934 to protect the beautiful forest and large tracts of tress from over logging. It is the most visited national park in the United States with over 9 million people visiting the park annually. The mountains that form the Great Smoky Mountain National Park straddles the borders of the two states North Carolina and Tennessee. The Cherokee used the word Shacorage meaning “blue, like smoke” to describe the mountain region. It national park is approximately 521,895 acres in size. It has up to 100,000 different types of plants and animals within the park. Mountain elevations in the park range from just over 875 feet to 6,643 feet. The tallest elevation point is at the popular tourist site of Clingmans Dome located just off US 441. US 441 takes visitor thru the Great Smoky Mountains between Cherokee, NC and Gatlinburg, TN.
The Great Smoky Mountains formed millions of years ago. The rounded mountains seen today is due to the erosive force of water that has occurred for hundreds of years.The first inhabitants of the mountains were the Cherokee Indians. The area was the Cherokee Indians hunting grounds. Later in the 18th century the Scotch-Irish, German and English settled in the area.
Logging by early settlers greatly affected the mountains. Over logging was destroying the forest and land. To protect the land the government bought land and in 1934 the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was officially established. Today the park has over 100 species of native trees, 1500 flowering plant species, 200 species of birds, 66 mammals, 50 native fish species, 39 reptiles and 43 amphibians. Due to the amount of rainfall and the summertime high humidity the area makes an excellent growing environment for a wide range of plant and animals to thrive.
The GSMNP is fully accessible to visitors with disabilities. Popular activities for visitors to the GSMNP include hiking, camping, fishing, biking, picnicking, wildlife viewing, and auto touring. Starting in the early spring flowering plants and deciduous trees start to bloom in late March and continue thru early November.
The most popular sites in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are: Clingmans Dome, Mount LeConte, Chimney Tops and their sheer rock pinnacles, the 100-foot waterfall at Ramsey Cascades, Cataloochee Valley, Cades Cove, and Oconaluftee.
There are 2 large visitor centers: Sugarlands and Oconaluftee and there is a smaller visitors center located in Cades Cove. Sugarlands is located near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s main north entrance south of Gatlinburg, Tennessee on US Highway 441. Oconaluftee is near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s south entrance which is north of Cherokee, North Carolina on US Highway 441. A smaller visitors center is located in Cades Cove on the 11 mile loop road in Cades Cove.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has over 800 miles of horse and hiking trails with about 150 different marked hiking trails. Developed and primitive camp sites are located and available thru out various locations in the park.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open daily year round and is free to the public. Some roads are closed in the winter season due to winter weather and storm damage causing poor road conditions.
Popular day trips in the Great Smoky Mountains
● Cades Cove
● Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail Loop
● Mt. LeConte
● Newfound Gap Road and Clingmans Dome
● Wears Valley
● Townsend-The Peaceful Side of the Smokies
Great Smoky Mountains Weather
The weather can change frequently and quite suddenly. When visiting the park be prepared for weather changes. Wear layers of clothes that can be added or removed as needed. Higher elevations in the park are cooler than lower elevations. Dense tree cover or north facing areas not getting sun can be much cooler than other areas. Always have rain gear due to the different elevations encountered thru out the park. It can be foggy or raining on top of a mountain while clearer conditions are at the base. Mild days and cool nights are typical weather for spring and fall. The summer season can bed warm and humid in the day and cool at night. The winter season can be quite cold with snow and ice at higher elevations.
A few safety tips should be followed while enjoying the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Do not feed the bears. Keep your distance from bears and back away slowly if you come across a bear. Stay on the trails and do not wander off into the forest. Be careful around water. The water in the streams and rivers can be contaminated with impurities and parasites causing gastric problems. Rocks and timbers in or near water can be slippery causing falls and injury. Do not swim in the water, hidden rocks beneath the surface can cause injury. Dress in layers and carry rain gear. Know park regulations.
Map and Location of the Great Smoky Mountains
Fall Foliage in the Great Smoky Mountains (from CBS This Morning)