We visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2015 on our 6 week road trip through the USA. Sadly, we couldn’t admire the Smoky Mountains that much, since we had rain and fog all day. Just before this we had driven the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Where is Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in the states of Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s roughly between Cherokee in North Carolina and Gatlinburg and Townsend in Tennessee.
Some facts about Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers some 521.490 acres and protects a great part of the Smoky Mountains. The park was established on 15 June 1934 and is under management of the National Park Service.
The Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited National Park of the USA. With over 10 million visitors a year, double of the rest of the parks. The park is on the UNESCO world heritage list. The Smoky Mountains are among the oldest mountains on earth. When driving through the Great Smoky Mountains I also got this feeling of being in the presence of something old.
The Great Smoky Mountains offer cascading waterfalls, endless views and roaming wildlife. People come here to camp, hike, fish and to see nature in all its glory. The park draws huge crowds in the fall, bumper-to-bumper to admire the fall foliage. It’s that spectacular.
The name ‘smoky’ comes from the “smoke” that hovers over the heath balds. Heath balds are tree-free zones where the shrubs have taken over. Here the leaves are densely packed and are air-breathing. They release water and hydro-carbons which is the “smoke”.
There’s a beautiful scenic highway through the park. In the Summer this road can get pretty packed with about 60.000 people on it in the weekends. There’s 384 miles of mountain roads, and most visitors don’t leave their cars. Since it was raining and foggy we only explored the park by car, but we have to come back to go on some hikes.
There are 2 roads one needs to take while in the park. First one being the Newfound Gap Road to Clingmans Dome. The dome is 6.643 foot and with that the highest point in the park. Driving up here will give a perfect overview of the park. Sadly we had too much fog at this point to get an overview of the park.
The second road to drive (or cycle) is the Cades Cove Loop Road. On this drive you get to experience pioneer history through historic homes and churches. Further there’s mountain scenery and a chance of wildlife viewing.
The Great Smoky Mountains offer 800 miles of hiking trails, ranging from a ½ mile path to a 70 miles long trail. Although a lot of people don’t get out of their cars, hiking is still one of the best ways to experience the Great Smoky Mountains. Yuri spotted some rocks to climb on, but they were too slippery due to the rain.
The most popular hikes are:
- Charlies Bunion,
- Alum Cave Bluffs,
- Andrews Bald,
- Rainbow Falls,
- Chimney Tops.
Next to the self-guided nature trails, there are nature walks both at day and evening.
International Biosphere Reserve
With over 1600 species of flowering plants and a wide range of plants and animals, it’s not that crazy that the area is protected. Much of the vegetation is old growth and exists out of many types if eastern forest. It had some of the world’s best examples of this.
The park has blooming wildflowers almost year-round. Besides the flowers the animals abound too, so keep an eye out for black bears.
So go wildlife viewing, spy the burial landscapes and admire the fall colors.
What else is there?
Other things on offer in the park are free naturalist-led activities, children and campfire programs, pioneer exhibits and demonstrations, slide talks, annual festivals, auto tape hour, bicycling, fishing (with a permit), horseback riding, sightseeing historic buildings, picnicking, ranger-led programs and watching waterfalls.
107 Park Headquarters Rd.,
There are 3 visitor centers: Sugarland which is in Gatlinburg, Oconaluftee which is in Cherokee and a minor one Cades Cove in Townsend. All are open daily, and year-round. The national park is open 24/7 and year-round. However the road to Clingmans Dome and a few unpaved roads close during the winter. There’s no entrance fee to the park.
We didn’t stay that long in the Great Smoky Mountains, because of the fog and rain. We didn’t feel like hiking in the pouring rain. But what we saw we loved, and we long to get back to the Great Smoky Mountains and explore some more on foot.