Flat land has certain advantages. It’s easier to drive on during blizzards. It makes miles and miles of boring cornfields easier to see all at once. It’s more conducive to taking naps.
But flat land doesn’t necessarily make a good national park, unless there’s something else significant going on. But miles and miles of mountains stretching across East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, visited by more than 9 million people each year, covered by a dense 187,000 acres of old growth forest? That’s the kind of place worth making a special trip for.
It’s difficult to know where to even begin describing the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, much less where to start exploring the actual terrain. The Smoky Mountains is a cornucopia of wildlife, plant life and cultural history.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is approximately 40 miles southeast of Knoxville. The park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, though some campgrounds and facilities are closed during the winter months. The Smoky Mountains is also one of the few national parks that doesn’t charge an entrance fee (fees are instead charged for activities like overnight camping and pavilion rentals). It is the nation’s most visited national park.
The park is home to an estimated 1,500 black bears, a salamander population only less diverse than that found in the tropics, not to mention elk, barn owls, river otters, white-tailed deer, raccoons, turkeys and woodchucks. It’s decorated by more than 1,660 kinds of flowering plants, more than any other national park in North America. That’s not to mention the 850 miles of hiking and horseback riding trails, the 2,115 miles of streams for fishing, the camp sites (both developed and back country), and not forgetting the multiple visitors' centers with their exhibits and artifacts.
Movement to establish the Smoky Mountains as a national park began in 1923. The arrival of the logging industry in the early 1900s had changed the region, bringing about rapid deforestation. The park was established in 1934 in part to preserve the primeval forests that remained in the mountains. More than 1,200 landowners had to leave their land to make way for the park. Many of the schools, churches, mills and farmhouses they left behind — more than 70 — remain preserved in the park today.
These mountains are a good place to do just about anything you like doing outdoors. Cyclists can take their bikes on most roads in the park, though the Cades Cove Loop Road area with its 11-mile one-way road is perhaps the most popular (bike rental is available). Campers can choose from backcountry sites, developed “front country” sites, group campgrounds that can accommodate eight or more people, as well as sites that can lodge horses. Anglers can wade into the icy waters in search of trout and smallmouth bass. Hikers have dozens of trails, those that will please beginners and experts alike, and that will take them under waterfalls and on peaks with endless views. Picnickers can feast on hot dogs and potato salad at one of 11 picnic areas, most of which also feature covered pavilions. Guided horseback rides are available from four riding stables in the park (or you can bring your pony if you’d like).
Whether you’re in the mood for rafting, bird watching or just getting away from it all, the Smoky Mountains offer hundreds of miles of opportunities.
|Baseball Fields||Basketball Court||Golf Course||Soccer Fields||Softball||Tennis Courts|
|Backcountry Camping||Campsite||Showers||Hiking||Running Trails||Picnic Area|
|Pavilion||Playground||Food Vendors||Restrooms||Grills||Alcohol Allowed|
|Boat Rentals||Boat Ramps||Docks||Marina||Lake||River/Stream|
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