Whether green and blooming with the bright colors of spring or tinted with the golden hues of autumn, Great Smoky National Park
is always full of beauty. In fact, there isn’t a season of the year when the park, which receives more visitors than any other National Park per year, isn’t worth a visit.
The border between the states of Tennessee and North Carolina runs through the center of the park, as does the Appalachian Trail. Entrances to the park are located on both sides of the border, one in Cherokee, North Carolina and one in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
If you’re visiting on the Gatlinburg side, you’ll want to stop at the The Sugarlands Visitors Center on your way in. Tickets aren’t necessary – there is no cost to visit the park – but the center provides a host of information on the history, flora and fauna of the park. It also houses a gift shop.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedicated the park in 1940. The land for the park was bought in part with federal funds, a first, though donations from citizens of North Carolina and Tennessee as well as from wealthy philanthropist John D. Rockefeller also helped to build the park. Once the land had been bought and set aside, workers in some of FDR’s federal programs during the Great Depression, such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA) helped to create trails and build some of the park’s buildings.
The Smokies, as the mountains are called, are part of the Blue Ridge Mountains which themselves are part of the Appalachian Chain. While many of the mountains are gently steeped, there are sixteen mountains in the park whose peaks top 6,000 feet. The highest is Clingmans Dome at 6,643 feet.
The park is known for its natural beauty in part because of its great plant diversity. Differing elevations, good rainfall, and areas of older forest all contribute to the biodiversity. Certain animals have come to be particularly associated with the Smoky Mountains, most notably black bears.
One of the most popular places to visit in the park is Cades Cove, a valley located on the Tennessee side of the park. Pioneering settlers used to live there many years ago, and up until the formation of the park, it was still a thriving mountain community. In fact, the community was resistant to its lands being taken over by the park, which seems an irony given how many visitors now annually tour the community’s historic buildings preserved on an eleven mile loop trail. The tour includes cabins, a mill, and three historic churches, with most of the buildings dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition to the historic tour, many visitors enjoy outdoor activities at Cades Cove such as hiking, biking and horseback riding.
Whether you go for the history, the natural beauty, or both, a trip to Great Smoky National Park will be unforgettable.