Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Consisting of ridge upon ridge of endless forest straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the largest protected areas in the Eastern United States. World renowned for the diversity of its plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, and the depth and integrity of its wilderness sanctuary, the park attracts over nine million visitors each year. Once a part of the Cherokee homeland, the Smokies today are a hiker's paradise with over 800 miles of trails. In addition to hiking, the park provides opportunities for horseback riding, bicycling, automobile touring, wildlife observation, nature photography, picnicking, and camping. From waterfalls to black bears, the Smokies are full of new things to discover and new adventures to have.
The park preserves a rich cultural tapestry of Southern Appalachian history. The mountains have had a long human history spanning thousands of years--from the prehistoric Paleo American Indians to early European settlement in the 1800s to loggers and Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees in the 20th century. The park strives to protect the historic structures, landscapes, and artifacts that tell the varied stories of people who once called these mountains home.
Biological diversity is the hallmark of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. No other area of equal size in a temperate climate matches the park's amazing diversity of plants, animals, and invertebrates. The park is the largest federally protected upland landmass east of the Mississippi River. In recognition of the park's unique natural resources, the United Nations has designated Great Smoky Mountains National Park as an International Biosphere Reserve.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a premier place for birds. The crest of the Smokies towers nearly a mile above the foothills, creating a range in elevations and a variety of topographies that provide a diversity of habitats and microclimates for birds. From the high, exposed peaks, to the warmer, sheltered lowlands, some 240 species of birds have been found in the park. Sixty species are year-round residents. Nearly 120 species breed in the park, including 52 species from the neo-tropics. Many other species use the park as an important stopover and foraging area during their semiannual migration.
Bicycles can travel on most roads within the park. However, due to steep terrain, narrow road surfaces, and heavy automobile traffic, many park roads are not well suited for safe and enjoyable bicycle riding.
Cades Cove Loop Road is an exception. The 11-mile one way road, is a popular bicycling area. It provides bicyclists with excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing and touring 19th century homesites. During summer and fall, bicycles may be rented at the Cades Cove Campground Store (located near Cades Cove Campground). Other areas suitable for bicyclists include the roads in the Greenbrier and Tremont areas in Tennessee, and the Cataloochee Valley and Lakeview Drive in North Carolina. Cyclists may also traverse unfinished portions of the Foothills Parkway in Tennessee.
There are no mountain biking trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Gatlinburg Trail, the Oconaluftee River Trail, and the lower Deep Creek Trail are the only park trails on which bicycles are allowed. Bicycles are prohibited on all other park trails.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses over 800 square miles and is one of the most pristine natural areas in the East. An auto tour of the park offers a variety of experiences, including panoramic views, tumbling mountain streams, weathered historic buildings, and mature hardwood forests stretching to the horizon.
There are 384 miles of road to choose from in the Smokies. Most are paved, and even the gravel roads are maintained in suitable condition for standard passenger cars. Travel speeds on most of the park's paved roads average 30 miles per hour.
Great Smoky Mountain camping is primitive by design. The park operates 10 campgrounds that collectively have more than 1,000 sites. All front country campgrounds have cold running water, picnic tables, fire pits and flush toilets. There are no RV hookups or showers. The largest campgrounds also have amphitheatres used for ranger talks and slide shows. Cades Cove and Smokemont remain open year round. The park also has five drive-in horse camps, small campgrounds that are accessible by vehicle and offer hitch racks for horses, as well as primitive camping facilities.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has about 2,115 miles of streams within its boundaries, and protects one of the last wild trout habitats in the eastern United States. The park offers a wide variety of angling experiences from remote, headwater trout streams to large, coolwater smallmouth bass streams. Most streams remain at or near their carrying capacity of fish and offer a great opportunity to catch these species throughout the year.
Fishing is permitted year-round in the park, from 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset. The park allows fishing in all streams except Bear Creek at its junction with Forney Creek and Lynn Camp Prong upstream of its confluence with Thunderhead Prong.
Hikers enjoy the Smoky Mountains during all months of the year with every season offering is own special rewards. During winter, the absence of deciduous leaves opens new vistas along trails and reveals stone walls, chimneys, foundations, and other reminders of past residents. Spring provides a weekly parade of wildflowers and flowering trees. In summer, walkers can seek out cool retreats among the spruce-fir forests and balds or follow splashy mountain streams to roaring falls and cascades. Autumn hikers have crisp, dry air to sharpen their senses and a varied palette of fall colors to enjoy.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park holds one of the best collections of log buildings in the eastern United States. Nearly 80 historic structures--houses, barns, outbuildings, churches, schools, and grist mills--have been preserved or rehabilitated in the park. The best places to see them are at Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Oconaluftee, and along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Self-guiding auto tour booklets are available at each place to enhance your visit.
Guided horseback rides are available at four concession horseback riding stables in the park from mid-March through late November. Rides on scenic park trails are offered lasting from 45 minutes to several hours. All rides proceed at a walking pace. Weight limits and age restrictions may apply. Please call the stable you are interested in for additional information.
Picnic areas are located at Big Creek, Chimneys, Cades Cove, Collins Creek, Cosby, Deep Creek, Greenbrier, Heintooga, Look Rock, Metcalf Bottoms, and Twin Creeks. Picnic areas are marked on the park map, available in visitor centers.
The picnic areas at Big Creek, Cades Cove, Chimneys, Cosby, Deep Creek, Greenbrier, and Metcalf Bottoms remain open year-round. The remaining picnic areas are closed during the winter. All picnic areas have pavilions except Chimneys and Cades Cove. The picnic pavilions at Collins Creek, Cosby, Deep Creek, Metcalf Bottoms, and Twin Creeks can be reserved for groups one year in advance.
Viewing wildlife in the Smokies can be challenging because most of the park is covered by dense forest. Open areas like Cataloochee and Cades Cove offer some of the best opportunities to see white-tailed deer, black bear, raccoon, turkeys, woodchucks and other animals. The narrow, winding road of Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail encourages motorists to travel at a leisurely pace and sometimes yields sightings of bear and other wildlife. During winter, wildlife is more visible because deciduous trees have lost their leaves.
Because many animals are most active at night, it can be advantageous to look for wildlife during morning and evening. It's also a good idea to carry binoculars.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers a wide range of activitie year-round. The park's moderate climate makes it a favorite getaway for millions of people each year. Many visitors are now taking advantage of the reduced crowds and subtle beauty of late fall, winter, and early spring months. Some prior planning and weather-wise clothing will help ensure an enjoyable visit during any time of the year.
Keep in mind that elevations in the park range from approximately 875 feet to 6,643 feet and that the topography can drastically affect local weather. Temperatures can easily vary 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit from mountain base to top, and clear skies lower down do not guarantee equally pleasant weather at higher elevations. Rainfall averages 55 inches per year in the lowlands to 85 inches per year at Clingmans Dome.
Since 1953, Great Smoky Mountains Association has been supporting the educational, scientific, and historical efforts of the National Park Service through cash donations and in-kind services. Projects the association helped to fund include the elk reintroduction, seasonal park rangers, oral history projects, bear research and backcountry services.(865) 436-7318
The LeConte Lodge is located in Great Smoky Mountain National Park at the top of Mount LeConte. Sitting at 6,953 feet there are rough cabins available and two bedrooms lodges. The Lodge is just steps away from hiking trails and the perfect place to get a hot meal. Each unit comes with propane heaters, lanterns, a wash basin for a sponge bath and a porch swing.(865) 429-5704
Several major highways lead to the park. The following routes provide access to the three main entrances. In Tennessee: 1)From I-40 take Exit 407 (Sevierville) to TN Route 66 South, and continue to U.S. 441 South. Follow U.S. 441 to Park. 2.) From I-40 in Knoxville - Exit 386B U.S. Highway 129 South to Alcoa/Maryville. At Maryville proceed on U.S. 321 North through Townsend. Continue straight on TN Highway 73 into the park. In North Carolina: From I-40, take U.S. Route 19 West through Maggie Valley. Proceed to U.S. 441 North at Cherokee into the park. From Atlanta and points south: follow U.S. 441 and 23 North. U.S. 441 leads to the park.
The nearest major airport in Tennessee (McGhee-Tyson, TYS) is Alcoa, 45 miles west of Gatlinburg. North Carolina's, Asheville Airport is 60 miles east of the park.
There is no train or bus service accesses the park.