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Get information about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

With its spiky mountain peaks, lush green forest, and flowing waterfalls, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is lined up for a big adventure. It is one of America’s most loved national parks which spreads over 500,000 acres in the Southern range. The park is famous for all four seasons, for its colorful flowers in spring and its flaming leaves in autumn. It doesn’t take much to see why the Smoky Mountains is the most visited national park in the United States ranging from its great wildlife to its variety of plants. Let us delve deeper into this park and find out what you can expect when you get there.

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History of Great Smoky Mountains

Smokies is part of a group of only three national parks which split across state lines. It splits across Tennessee and North Carolina in the south of the United States. Logging companies picked out the smokies for its rich supply of timber. However, by the end of the 19th century, concerned residents started to advocate preserving the area. The federal government decided to make it one of the first national parks in the eastern United States in 1925. 

It was grassroots fundraising and not wealthy stakeholders that allowed for the land to be acquired. The work was completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the national park was officially opened in 1940. A unique quality of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is that it was developed keeping cars in mind. They specifically took advice from the American Automobile Association (AAA) while designing the park so that it could be reached by automobiles. 

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Getting there

Sugarland Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Tennesse, and Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, North Carolina are the two main doorways to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In between these two, there is the Newfound Gap Road which goes for 29 miles and bisects the park. Most of the trails, hikes, and historic views are found on this two-lane road. Cataloochee Valley on the east of the park and Cades Cove on the west are the other main entrance points.

The closest airport to the Great Smoky Mountains national park is Knoxville’s Mcghee Tyson Airport which is about a 70-minute drive to the Gatlinburg entrance of the park. Asheville, North Carolina, and Charlotte-Douglas International Airport are the other nearby airports which are an 80-minute and a 3-hour drive away respectively. No train service is available to the Smoky Mountains Park. There is no scheduled bus service or public transit inside the park available. Hence bringing a car to the park is your best option. 

Other than regular cars, there are several RV rental companies present in Knoxville, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge which you can rent to explore the smokies without camping. 

South Rim

While the months of winter are going on, you can decide to drive to the Hermits Rest. However, during the peak season, it is closed to private vehicles. This means the only two options left are hiking and taking the shuttle bus to explore the 7-mile stretch of the South Rim. Some of the experiences you do not want to miss along the way are the Abyss with its 3,000-foot drop and Prima Point.

 Many Grand Canyon experts always debate which overlook along the stretch is better. Grandview Point to Moran Point with its a view of Hance Rapids and Lipan Point where you can easily look at the big bend in the Colorado River. You can climb the Desert View Watchtower, which is an eighty-five-step climb to an observation deck for a view down the canyon. It sits more than 5,000 feet above the canyon floor and has a snack bar, store, and gas station. 

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Things to see & do

Due to its expansive trails, amazing forest valleys, and cloudy mountain slopes, it has become a great draw for visitors. The Great Smoky Mountains have over 800 miles of trails that range from easy to moderate to strenuous. Other than these, there are also over 100 backcountry campsites that the park offers for multi-day treks. 

For taking hikes, there is a 71-mile allocation of the Appalachian Trail that goes through the center of the park and in between Fontana Dam and Davenport Gap. The highest elevation on this trail is the park’s Clingman’s Dome which is often referred to as the “top of Old Smoky”. Mountains to the Sea Trails is another iconic hike in the park that to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Other hikes and trails in the area include the 900 Miler Club and Cross-Country Trails. The trails at Cades Coves include Abrams Falls Trails, Gregory Blad Trail and Rich Mountain Loop Trail.

Aside from hiking, there are several other ways to explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When you get tired of walking, take a ride on the Horseback Riding Stables that are situated in Carden Coves, Sugarland, and Smokemont. There are many scenic drives available as well including ridgelines road where you can look out and gaze at the amazing peaks. You can also visit the well-preserved log cabins, grist mills, and schoolhouses built by early settlers in the area. 

The park has maintained a few historic areas, an archaeological district that is within park boundaries. Some of these are

  • Cades Cove Historic district – It is an isolated valley in the Tennessee area of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The valley was previously home to many settlers before the park was formed. It is easily the most famous destination in the park with over two million people visiting it annually. This is due to its scenic mountains and plentiful wildlife. There are some historical structures at Cades Cove including the John Oliver Cabin and the primitive Baptist Church.
  • Elkmont Historic District – It is an area in the upper Little River valley of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. All throughout its history, it has been home to an Appalachian community and a logging town. Today it consists of a campground, ranger station, and historic district maintained by the national park.
  • Oconaluftee Archeological District – Oconaluftee is the valley of Oconaluftee River in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. It was originally the location of Cherokee village and Appalachian community which is now North Carolina’s main entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Along with its iconic sites in the area of Oconaluftee Visitor Center, the park services also maintain a large campground at the previous camp of Smokemont.
  • Noah Ogle Place – The present homestead is made up of a cabin, barn, and tub mill which was all built by the mountain farmer Noah “Bud” Ogle. The homestead was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and is now managed by the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
  • Roaring Fork Historic District – This is a stream in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. It was the former site of Appalachian community and now is home to Roaring Fork Nature Trail and the Roaring Fork Historic District. Just like many other streams, Roaring Fork is very volatile and after a mild shower can become a roaring rapid.

There is also some amazing wildlife to see all year round in the Smokies. You should take the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail to get the best out of your wildlife-peeking adventures. This is especially true in the wintertime, at dawn and in the evenings. This is the best time to see elk, bears, and fireflies that were reintroduced to the park in 2001.

There are several picnic areas available in the smokies. You can either eat at a picnic table or use a charcoal grill. There is a picnic area right outside Carden Coves. Metcalf Bottoms has a massive picnic area as well. Greenbrier, Cosby, Look Rock, and Chimneys are other areas where you have a picnic as well. 

Another fun thing to do fun you visit the national park is go fishing. If you have a valid Tennessee fishing license, you are allowed to fish in any water body in the park from sunrise to sunset. There are all kinds of species of fish here from the rainbow trout to the smallmouth bass.

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  • Spring – Springs runs from March to May in the smokies. Although it does have unpredictable weather patterns, especially in March. It can range from being warm one day and snowing the next day.
  • Summer – The temperature as well as the humidity goes up in the months of summer. These range from June to July and August and thunderstorms are common during this season.
  • Autumn – This season runs from the middle of September to the middle of November here. The days are usually warm with the nights being cold.
  • Winter – It runs from the middle of November to February. There are extremes in the upper elevation and can get below freezing during the nighttime.


Smokies are a very inexpensive vacation. It doesn’t cost a single penny to enter the national park. However, you will have to pay for camping, which can run from $14 to $25 a night. The cost of renting cars is very minimal as well. All the great attractions of the park, including the Mountain Farm Museum, Cades Cove, and the Clingmans Dome are all free. You can also add to that list all the ranger programs such as night hikes and morning porch talks. 

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The park gets crowded during the summer and autumn months and therefore it is wise to be prepared ahead of time. No motels or cabins are available to rent inside of the park. Although there are nine front country campgrounds, only one of them can be reserved online. 

If you do not like to sleep in a tent, the only option available to you within the park boundaries is the LeConte Lodge. However, the lodge is not accessible by road, and you will have to get there by hiking 5.5 miles to 9 miles depending on which trail you take. There are meals available at the lodge but due to its immense popularity, you will need to make reservations beforehand so that you can book a spot to lay your head there. 

Outside of the park, there are plenty of accommodation options available to you. Gatlinburg is packed with hotels and guesthouses and there are also many rental cabins available throughout the city and surrounding area. 

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