Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Located: Tennessee & North Carolina  -  Established: June 15, 1934

The ParkThe nation’s busiest park, Great Smoky Mountain straddles the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. The 11-million+ people who visit this park annually are treated to the beauty and grandeur of the southern Appalachian Mountains. When the park was being created between the 1920's and 1930's, most of the land came from private owners. Many of the buildings acquired were of varied forms of construction. The Park Service chose to save mostly those structures built from logs. (see pictures at end of page)

The park is home to one of the nation's largest collections of log structures and includes many buildings constructed during the Depression Era Civilian Conservation Corp era. Many people visit the Smokies to discover how their forebearers lived. 

The Cades Cove Loop Road offers visitors a glimpse at what life was like in the early 1900's. 

Getting thereThere are three main entry points into Great Smoky National Park. The two main Tennessee entrances are located on the northern reaches of the park just outside Gatlinburg and Townsend. From North Carolina, enter the park from the town of Cherokee. 

Creek adjacent to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Creek adjacent to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

When to visit:  The park is open all year; however, access to some areas of the park may be closed in the winter months due to snow and ice. The “fall color explosion” attracts very large crowds. If heat, haze and humidity are appealing, visit the Smokies in the summer! Spring weather is unpredictable from sunny skies to snow flurries. 

What to do: One of the main attractions at Great Smoky is Leaf Peeping.”  The fall color display begins as the deciduous trees begin to prepare for their annual shedding of leaves. Just prior to dropping their foliage, the leaves of the sugar maple, scarlet oak, sweet gum, red maple and the hickories explode into a vivid display of red, orange, purple and yellow!

Foggy forest from Clingman's Dome Observation Tower

Foggy forest from Clingman's Dome Observation Tower

Fall Color season will vary from year to year; however, the color display typically occurs between mid-October through November.  Of course, that’s also the season of heavy visitation so prepare for slow moving traffic! Taking the Newfound Gap road up to Clingman’s Dome– the highest point in the Park – will allow you to experience the best viewing of the Fall Color exposition. 

Motor Trails worth taking.The 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road offers a historic glimpse at what a settler’s life was like back in the 1800’s. The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, just outside of Gatlinburg, TN winds you through the back woods of the park and provides many scenic stops along the 5-mile one-way loop. 

Trekking a portion of the Appalachian Trail during our visit to park  #45 .

Trekking a portion of the Appalachian Trail during our visit to park #45.

Hiking: If you’ve grown weary of driving the park, get out of the car and hike! Great Smoky offers 150 official hiking trails covering a distance of over 800 miles within the park including 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

Where to stayGreat Smoky offers a variety of camping and lodging options: There are several Backcountry tent sites requiring a hike of several miles to access. The park has 10 front country campgrounds with over 900 campsites for more traditional RV and tent campers. 

The park features seven Group Camping locations accommodating up to 30 people per site. There are also five drive-in Horse Camps providing ready access to the park’s backcountry. 

There are plenty of lodging opportunities in nearby Gatlinburg, TN, which appeared to us to be the Pancake Capital of the World with over 15 pancake houses to choose from within a 3-mile stretch!

WildlifeApproximately 1,500 black bears live in the park. This equals a population density of approximately two bears per square mile. Bears can be found throughout the park, but are easiest to spot in open areas such as Cades Cove and Cataloochee Valley.

Smoky sunset

Smoky sunset

Memorable Moment: Witnessing a Great Smoky sunset. 

TriviaThere is no entrance fee into Great Smoky because when the state of Tennessee transferred ownership of the Newfound Gap Road to the federal government, it stipulated that “no toll or license fee shall ever be imposed...” to travel the road! 

Banner: Smoky sunset.

Experience these Check List:

  • Stop by any of the park's five Visitor and Welcome Centers 
  • Visit Cades Cove  
  • Drive the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
  • Trek up Clingmans Dome
  • Visit Mingus Mill  
  • Hike a piece of the Appalachian Trail  
  • Have pancakes in Gatlinburg!  
Roaring Fork Cabin

Roaring Fork Cabin

Cades Cove Cabin

Cades Cove Cabin