Spanning parts of Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses more than a half million scenic acres, including a 70 mile stretch of the historic Appalachian Trail. And within a short drive for over half of America’s population it is the perfect escape to nature.
What To See and Do in the Park
Whether visitors come for a few hours or several days, the variety of unspoiled scenery is breathtaking. Mountains, meadows, hardwood and evergreen forests, rushing streams, clear pools and cascading waterfalls preserve a vision of America as it once was, and there are numerous lookouts where visitors can pause to enjoy the panoramic vistas. From February through April thousands of wildflowers bloom in profusion, while October and November brings vivid autumn foliage and crisp, cool weather.
Cades Cove, Chataloochie and the Roaring Forks Motor Trail are favorite spots for observing the park’s large populations of black bear, white tailed deer and elk. There are also 40 types of salamanders, wild turkeys, owls and 200 other bird species along with box turtles, crayfish, coyotes and other mammals.
The park’s collection of historic structures includes cabins, barns, mills, schools and churches and is one of the few places in the country to see preserved buildings in the natural settings they were built for.
For families and the outdoor adventurist the park offers plenty of activities. There are over 850 miles of trails, with routes ranging from easy walks to challenging hikes and from half hour round-trips to multi-day backpacking treks. The park also offers guided tours, picnicking grounds and camping areas. Trail rides on horseback are popular, and visitors can also enjoy hayrides, wagon rides and carriage rides. For fishermen, more than 2,000 miles of streams are open for angling and feature abundant populations of wild trout and smallmouth bass.
Just Up the Road
On the Tennessee side of the park, visitors can exit and within a few steps find themselves on the main street of Gatlinburg. One of the south’s favorite vacation spots, Gatlinburg is known for its live music and shows, restaurants, shops, arts and crafts galleries, large aquarium and aerial tramway. Less then 7 miles north of Gatlinburg is Pigeon Forge, home of Dollywood, the Titanic Museum, live performances and concerts, indoor skydiving and over 300 shops and outlet stores.
The Great Smoky Mountains National park is open year round, though some trails and areas may be closed in bad weather. The staff is friendly and available and there are plenty of maps, apps and brochures to help visitors make the most of their stay.