Description - Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in the states of North Carolina and Tennessee, encompasses 800 square miles of which 95 percent is forested. World renowned for the diversity of its plant and animal resources, the beauty of its ancient mountains, the quality of its remnants of American pioneer culture and the depth and integrity of the wilderness sanctuary within its boundaries, it is one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States.
Copyright: National Park Service
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America's most visited national park providing recreation for 10 million visitors each year.
Over 120 different species of trees, 1,800 species of plants, 2,000 species of mushrooms and 26 species of salamanders may be found within the park boundaries. The Great Smoky Mountains is known as having the largest number of salamander species in the world.
The mountainous area is primarily composed of heavily eroded sedimentary rock broken by numerous fault-zones. Archeologists have determined that the area is part of what was once an enormous mountain range higher than the Himalayas.
Today, the park is dominated by a region known as the Backbone. It is approximately 50 miles in length and runs southwest to northeast. Much of Tennessee and North Carolina state lines fall along this ridge as well as the famous Appalachian Trail.
The ridge along the eastern half of the Smokeys averages 5,500 to 6,000 feet elevation, which is a couple thousand feet above the valley floor. Rain fall in this region is generally heavier in Tennessee providing ample water for the beautiful thirsty hemlocks. The Park's vegetation is quite diverse with a total of 8 defined forest types. The forest floor is primarily influenced by the elevation, slope and angle to the sun. Much of the forest floor is moist with abundant mosses, lichens and ferns. The Great Smoky Mountains get its name from the often times present fog and clouds that shroud the peaks and valleys.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park harbors a variety of recreation and education facilities. Within the park there are three large Visitor Centers: Sugarlands, near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Oconaluftee Visitor Center, near Cherokee, North Carolina, and Cades Cove Visitor Center, near Townsend, Tennessee. These facilities present orientation programs and exhibits highlighting the natural and cultural history of southern Appalachia. These Visitor Centers are excellent places to begin your visit and gather information about recreation opportunities available within the park. Rangers are on hand to answer questions and provide insight about facilities. Backcountry permits are available at most Visitor Centers.
Sugarlands Visitor Center is open year-round and offers an orientation program and natural history exhibits. Oconaluftee Visitor Center is also open year-round and its exhibits focus on mountain life of the late 1800's. Adjacent to the visitor center is the Mountain Farm Museum, a collection of historic farm buildings. Cades Cove Visitor Center (closed in winter) sits among preserved historic buildings representing isolated farming communities of the 1800's.
There are about 170 miles of paved roads and over 100 miles of gravel roads in the park open for a variety of mechanized vehicles. More than 900 miles of trails within the park provide opportunities ranging from ten-minute saunters on quiet walkways to week-long adventures deep in the forest. Many of the trails are available to horseback riders. Horse rentals are available in season at five horse stables in the park in Tennessee and North Carolina. During the summer and fall, the park provides regularly scheduled ranger-led interpretive walks and talks, slide presentations and campfire programs at campgrounds and visitor centers.
LeConte Lodge, accessible only by foot or horseback, sits atop 6,593 Mt. LeConte, the Park's third highest peak. Reservations are required. The lodge is open mid-March to mid-November. A variety of lodging facilities are available in the outlying communities.
Camping facilities abound in Great Smoky Mountains National Park with over 300 sites available year round. A few hundred more site are open to the public during the Spring, Summer and Fall. There are ten developed campgrounds. Cades Cove in Tennessee and Smokemont in North Carolina are open year round. The other campgrounds are generally open from late March April to early November. Camping fees range from $10.00 to $15.00 per night.
Backcountry camping is free but requires a permit. Most campsites use self-registration at visitor centers or ranger stations, but shelters and rationed sites require reservations. Reservations can be made 30 days in advance by calling 423-436-1231, 8:00 a.m.- 6:00 p.m. daily.
Wheelchair accessible facilities, including restrooms, are located at the three major campgrounds, Cades Cove and Elkmont in Tennessee and Smokemont in North Carolina, visitor centers and many picnic areas. Campsites reservations can be made for the period May 15 to October 31 by calling Destinet at 1-800-365-CAMP. A five-foot wide paved and level accessibility trail, Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail, is a quarter mile south of Sugarlands Visitor Center. Specially designed communications media, including tactile and wayside exhibits, large print brochures and a cassette version are part of the trail.
Recreation - Great Smoky Mountains National Park supports a varied list of recreation opportunities. Depending on the amount of time you have to spend at the park, opportunities range from a long backcountry experience or afternoon visiting a museum. Developed facilities in the park provide a venue for RV and tent camping, viewing historic structures, watching demonstrations, reading interpretive panels, watching films and slide presentations, photography, scenic driving, biking and viewing scenery. The backcountry experience at Great Smoky Mountains National Park includes hiking, backpacking, camping, fishing and horseback riding.
Climate - Elevations in the park range from 800 feet to 6,643 feet and topography affects local weather. Temperatures are 10 to 20 degrees cooler on the mountaintops. Annual precipitation averages 65 inches in the lowlands to 88 inches in the high country. Spring often brings unpredictable weather, particularly in higher elevations. Summer is hot and humid, but more pleasant in higher elevations. Fall has warm days and cool nights and is the driest period and frosts occur starting in late September. Winter is generally moderate, but extreme conditions occur with increasing elevation. Layered clothing and rain gear is strongly advised.
The Great Smoky Mountains lie in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina above the Nantahala National Forest and beside the Pisgah National Forest. Several major highways lead to the Park. The following routes provide access to the three main entrances.
In North Carolina: From I-40, take U.S. Route 19 West through Maggie Valley. Proceed to US 441 North at Cherokee into the Park.
From Atlanta and points south, follow US 441 and 23 North. US 441 leads to the Park.
From I-40 take Exit 407 (Sevierville) to TN Route 66 South and continue to US 441 South. Follow US 441 to Park. OR From I-40 in Knoxville, Exit 386B US Highway 129 South to Alcoa / Maryville. At Maryville proceed on US 321 North through Townsend. Continue straight on TN Highway 73 into Park.