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Fact or Fiction: The Most Common Myths About the Smoky Mountains

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The Great Smoky Mountains National Park may be the most popular national park in the country, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any secrets! There are always secrets swirling around about the Smokies, some fact and some fiction. We thought it’d be fun to talk about some of the most common myths about the Smoky Mountains and whether they’re true or false.

1. The “smoke” is from smoke machines.

The Smoky Mountains covered in blue mist.Fiction.

One of the most common myths we hear people talking about is that the signature “smoky” look to the mountains is from fog machines. This is definitely fiction. There are no fog machines that the national park turns on to make the Smoky Mountains look the way they do. The truth is, the “smoke” you see is actually fog from the area’s vegetation. VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are chemicals with a high vapor pressure. The millions of plants and trees in the Smokies all release VOCs, which come together to create the fog.

2. There’s a hidden tunnel near Clingmans Dome.

Fact.

This one is actually true! There is a hidden tunnel under Clingmans Dome Road! This tunnel, called the Thomas Divide Tunnel, is less than a mile west of the junction with Newfound Gap Road. When Clingmans Dome Road was finished in 1935, there was a trail that paralleled the upper section of Newfound Gap Road on the NC side. The trail connected to the Appalachian Trail on the far side of Clingmans Dome Road. Instead of routing the trail to cross the road, the CCC decided to build the tunnel under the roadbed. This prevented the hikers from having to cross over the road. It is estimated that hikers and riders used the road from 1935 to about 1960.

3. You’ll run into a ghost along Roaring Fork.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail roadFiction.

Do you believe in ghosts? There are rumors that when you drive through Roaring Fork, you should keep your eyes out for a ghost named Lucy. Lucy is said to be a young woman who died when her family’s cabin burned down in the early 1900s. The story began when a man named Foster claimed he ran into her in a dark, old-growth forest. He offered her a ride home on his horse, and then couldn’t stop thinking about her. Later on, he stopped by her house to ask her to marry him, and was informed by her parents that she had died years before he supposedly “met” her. Ever since then, travelers have mentioned spotting Lucy wandering along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. So is this story really fact or fiction? We’ll let you decide!

4. Gatlinburg was named after the most hated man in town.

Fact.

It’s ironic that such a popular city was named after the least popular man in town! Gatlinburg is named after Radford Gatlin, who moved to town and opened the second general store in what was then called White Oak Flats. A few years after moving there, Gatlin opened a post office inside his store, which resulted in changing the name of the town to Gatlinburg. He is remembered as being an outspoken, controversial man who strongly supported the Confederacy in a community that was primarily pro-Union. He was eventually asked to leave the area, but the town remained named Gatlinburg.

5. You can spot cougars when you visit the park.

cougar in mountainsFiction.

One of the most common myths about the Smoky Mountains is that cougars can still be seen roaming around. While, yes, cougars did used to roam through the Smoky Mountains, they were hunted out by the early settlers by the late 1800s. While there have said to be sightings recently, there hasn’t been a bona fide claim — most “cougar” sightings have most likely been bobcats or coyotes.

6. Cades Cove was supposed to be a marina.

Fact.

We know it sounds crazy to say that the most-visited place in the Smokies almost didn’t exist, but it’s true! Back in the 1930s, Cades Cove wasn’t considered anything special. A number of politicians and National Park Service employees created a plan to turn the valley into a lake. The National Park Service was going to build a dam close to the present day site of the Abrams Falls trailhead that was going to be 60 feet tall and 400 feet long, which would turn Abrams Creek into a reservoir 3 miles long and 2 miles wide. However, environmentalists and their allies stopped the proposal of the dam. So, we have them to thank for the beautiful Cades Cove we know and love today!

Visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

A bridge over a stream in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.These are just some of the most common myths about the Smoky Mountains, plus the truth behind some of them! Now that you know what’s fact and what’s fiction, we bet you can’t wait to plan your trip. Learn more about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, then plan your visit!