Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The history of the Smoky Mountains began in ancient times, when giant continents collided and are now one of the oldest mountain ranges on earth. Some of the rocks here formed at the bottom of ancient oceans more than a billion years ago and were later uplifted when African tectonic plates collided with the North American side.

Human history is also long here, with indigenous people living in the Smoky Mountains region since prehistoric times, and archaeologists have found 10,000-year-old hunting bullets and pottery dating back to 700 BC. found. When European settlers arrived in his 17th century, they encountered the Cherokees living in settlements along the river valleys. The Smokies lay at the center of a vast territory until they were driven out of the area by Trail of Tears. In the 1900s, logging companies emerged and nearly wiped out the forest. Luckily, visionary locals fought to create a park in the 1920s that finally came to fruition in 1934.

Today, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited place in the United States. One reason for this is the ease of access to numerous major metropolitan areas, including Research His Triangle, North Carolina, and Knoxville, Tennessee. Atlanta, Georgia. and Washington DC. And thanks to an early decision to make the park passable, with a mix of roads and trails that appeal to a range of nature lovers, from the occasional history buff and wildlife watcher to seasoned backpackers and hikers. Yes. What’s more, this national park is freely accessible with no entrance fees or America the Beautiful Pass.

Hiking in Smoky Mountains National Park

The Smoky Mountains are part of the vast Appalachian Mountains and are one of the oldest mountains on earth. Formed over 200 million years ago, these ancient peaks were once much taller, perhaps as high as the Himalayas, but have eroded over time. Travel back to this distant past as you climb to the 6,000-foot peak and look out over the endless expanse of rolling ridges into the distance. There are many attractions throughout the park, including some mountain huts that can only be reached on foot.

With over 800 miles of hiking trails, this national park has no shortage of great hikes, from short excursions to waterfalls to multi-day hikes across the width of the mountains. Here are some highlights:

Clingman’s dome

No matter what time of year you visit, the highest peak in the national park offers breathtaking views. A circular observatory resembling a flying saucer offers sweeping 360-degree panoramas of rolling waves of forested mountains stretching into the distance. It’s an easy half-mile (0.5-mile) paved trail to the lookout, but there are many great hiking trails that intersect here, including the Appalachian Trail and the Alum Cave Bluffs Trail. If you come in winter when the access road is closed, you can have this spectacular view all to yourself.

Appalachian Trail

America’s most famous forest trails span nearly 2,200 miles across 14 states. Nearly 71 miles of challenging trails follow the ridges of the Smoky Mountains, past towering lookouts, misty coniferous forests and ancient fire towers that offer breathtaking views of the park’s lush expanses. increase. Even if it takes you less than a week (or even six months) to hike the entire Appalachian Trail, you can still enjoy a great day or night hike along this legendary trail.

Mount Leconte

One of his most challenging and rewarding day hikes in the park is climbing Mount LeConte, his third highest in the Smoky Mountains. Multiple trails meander to the summit, past rapids, waterfalls, wooden bridges, and steep vistas before reaching the 6,593-foot summit. At the summit, you can visit a rustic lodge that operated before the national park was established in 1934. Book your cabin (early) to make the most of this special Smoky Mountains experience.

Alum Cave Bluffs

One of his top 10 most popular hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains, Alum Cave Bluff Soften is visited by many. It’s a wonderful walk across wooden bridges, through native bush and enjoying the beautiful scenery. Highlights include Arch His Rock, a steep climb of handcrafted stone steps through an impressive stone arch portal that looks like Frodo had to climb it. After this interesting terrain, the trail crosses his Styx branch and begins a steep climb.

The forest gives way to the open sky at the next point of interest, a large bare moor where mountain laurel and blueberry bushes grow densely. After you’ve caught your breath, your efforts will be rewarded at the scenic lookout called Inspiration Point. From here it’s a short climb to Alum Cave Bluffs. After all, the name is a misnomer. What awaits you is not a cave, but a ledge. Additionally, the rock does not contain alum, but it does contain sulfur and rare minerals, some of which are not otherwise known. For a more pleasant punishment, you can continue to the top of Mount Leconte, 2.7 miles above Alum Cave Bluffs.

Ramsey Cascade

One of our favorite hikes in the park, the Ramsey Cascade Trail leads through old growth forest dotted with giant tulip trees to spectacular waterfalls. It takes a lot of work to get here. The altitude is hard because he climbs 2280 feet. The start of the hike is deceptively easy, along a wide and congested trail along the Middle Prong of Pigeon River’s rapids. At 1.5 miles (1.5 km), the trail becomes more interesting (and rather tricky) as it climbs uphill over thorny roots and past scenic viewpoints of a rushing river below. On mile 2.6, you’ll pass giant mature trees that have towered over the canopy for centuries. The final half-mile (0.5 mile) gets even steeper, reaching a refreshing waterfall that drops 100 feet (100 feet) over a carved gray stone ledge. Congratulations. We reached the tallest waterfall in the park. Some people have died from falling off the slippery rocks at the top, so don’t ruin the moment by trying to climb the falls.

Instead, keep an eye out for well-camouflaged salamanders on the periphery of the pool at the base of the cascades.

Camping in the Smokies

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a variety of camping options. However, Le Conte Lodge is the only place where you can get a room, and you have to hike to the top of the mountain to enjoy the privilege. Gatlinburg has the most lodging options of any gateway town, albeit at a higher price. There are cheaper options near Pigeon Forge, 10 miles north of the Sugarlands Visitor Center, and Sevierville, 17 miles north.

The National Park Service maintains developed campgrounds at his nine locations in the park (the tenth remains closed indefinitely). Each campground has toilets and flush toilets with cold water, but the park does not have showers or electricity or water hookups (although some campgrounds have emergency electricity). Each campsite has a grate and picnic table. Many sites can be reserved in advance, but some campgrounds (Cataloochee, Abrams Creek, Big Creek, Balsam Mountain) require advance reservations.

With nine developed campgrounds with over 900 pitches, you might think finding a pitch is easy. Not so in the busy summer season so plan ahead. You can book on most websites. Others are on a first-come, first-served basis. The Cades Cove and Smokemont campgrounds are open year-round. Others are open from March to October.

Backcountry camping is the best option and costs 5 nights ($4 per night, free thereafter). Permission is required. You can book online and get your permit at a ranger station or visitor center. Be sure to check the campground rules.

Driving the Smoky Mountains

As Philip D`Anieri explains in The Appalachian Trail: A Biography, building scenic byways into national parks was a controversial idea at the time parks like Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains were first established. Did they give the American public well-deserved access to natural spaces where they could find recreation and spiritual contemplation, or did they represent the intrusion of the urban world into pristine natural spaces best experienced on foot?

That’s a debate that still grips the outdoor community today, but in the end, roads are part of what make the Great Smoky Mountains experience what it is today. A slow ride along stretches of Little River Road, Cades Cove Loop Road, through the Cataloochee Valley, or Upper Tremont Road is the perfect way to take it easy – and with 384 miles of road in the Smokies, you can keep coming back for more. Here are some highlights:

Newfound Gap Road

The only paved route that bisects the park, the Newfound Gap Road offers fabulous scenery of the mountain forests as it curves its way for 33 miles between Cherokee, NC, and Gatlinburg, TN. The north-south crossing can be done in an hour or two, but you can stop at scenic lookouts, have a picnic by the babbling river, or hike one or two of one of the many memorable trails. Well worth taking it easy. Cross this iconic highway.

Lowering Fork Motor Trail

Only 5.5 miles long, this scenic road hides a treasure trove of natural wonders. The Roaring Fork, named after the rapid mountain stream that runs alongside it, takes you to a lookout with panoramic mountain views. It’s right next to a shimmering waterfall that cascades past old-growth forest and onto mossy rocks. You can also see evidence of human habitation in the area, including old homesteads that shed light on the area’s early inhabitants. Several excellent hiking trails start from this trail, including a beautiful cave waterfall.

Foothills Parkway

After years of construction and tens of millions of dollars of investment, a new 16-mile section of the Foothills He Parkway was scheduled to open in late 2018. Visitors can enjoy 33 miles of scenic routes on the newly expanded parkway.

More Things To Do

The sunny forests of the Great Smoky Mountains are a year-round wonderland. Abundant spring flowers bloom in all colors and sizes, and flame azaleas light up the high meadows in summer. Autumn brings its own fiery treat with quilted tones of orange, burgundy and saffron that blanket the mountainside. In winter, snow-capped fields and ice-covered waterfalls transform the Smokies into a quiet chill retreat. This enchanting environment is also a World Heritage Site and is home to more biodiversity than any other national park in the United States. Here are some activities you can enjoy.

Behold The Firefly

Every year in late spring or early summer, parts of the national park are lit up with synchronized fireflies. It’s a mesmerizing sight to see thousands of insects in perfect harmony lighting up a lantern (also known as a berry light organ). The event draws large crowds to his Elkmont campground, one of the best in the Smokies. The date changes every year, but it can be held anytime from the end of May to the end of June.

Viewing dates are usually announced in April. Those who want to see the event must obtain a parking ticket through a lottery system and then take the shuttle to the venue. The service will run from the Sugarland Visitor Center for eight days and is expected to peak in activity during the two-week firefly breeding season.

Wildlife Viewing in Cataloochee

Tucked away on the eastern edge of the park, Cataloochee is one of the best spots for wildlife viewing in the Smoky Mountains. Giant moose can be seen grazing and wild turkeys roaming. Hiking trails criss-cross the valley, including the Boogerman Trail through mature forest. Cataloochee had his one of the largest settlements in the Smokies. Step back in time as you stroll through early 20th-century log cabins, one-room schoolhouses and photogenic churches.

Rafting on the Pigeon River

Winding creaks and crystal clear streams wind through the Smoky Mountains and into the Big Pigeon River. When they converge, they create a stunning backdrop for whitewater adventures on rapids surrounded by a beautiful forest backdrop. Families with young children can enjoy a quiet paddle at Little Pigeon. For those looking for a little more adventure, choose Upper Pigeon, which has Class III and IV rapids. It all makes for a fun day trip on some of the best rafting trips in the Southeast.

History of Cayce Cove

The lush valley of Cades Cove, surrounded by mountains, is he one of the national park’s most popular destinations. The draw: great wildlife viewing, access to great hiking trails, ruins of his 19th and early 20th century buildings. In fact, a quick tour of the area will take you to old churches, barns, log cabins and working mills. Most of these date back to the first European settlements in the 1820s.

When To Visit

The park is open year-round, but summer and fall are the most popular seasons, with wildflowers and colorful foliage. Facilities may be closed from late autumn to early spring, and roads may be closed due to bad weather in winter.

Spring arrives in his April, with wildflowers blooming, large crowds (during spring break), and most campgrounds and roads reopening. Nights can still be below freezing (campers beware), but the days can be spectacularly sunny and warm. May is one of the best months to see spring wildflowers and flowering trees such as dogwoods and redwoods in the woods. With a mix of warm days and precipitation (possibly year-round), nighttime rates are still lower than peak summer rates.

June and July are some of the park’s most popular months, with summer vacations, Synchro Firefly shows, and Midnight He Parade on Gatlinburg’s Independence Day. Peak foliage is around October for him, with campgrounds filling up and roads slowing down on weekends. In November, the crowds fade as the ground (not the treetops) is sprinkled with vibrant fall colors. Some roads and campgrounds are closed during the season. We offer great accommodation plans.

Christmas is a big event in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Bryson City, with colorful lights and family-friendly events. Grab your snowshoes and see the park uncrowded in January and February, when waterfalls transform into ice sculptures and roaring fires in rental cabins reach hygge height.

Plan A Trip

The closest airports to the national park are Maggie Tyson Airport near Knoxville (40 miles northwest of Sugarlands Visitor Center) and Asheville Regional Airport, 58 miles east of Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Further afield are Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, 140 miles southwest of the park, Charlotte Douglas International Airport, 170 miles east, and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, 175 miles south of the park. After getting on the plane, you will need a car as there is no public transportation to the park. However, each airport has different car rental companies.

Unlike other national parks, admission to the Great Smoky Mountains is free. Fees are for camping or picnic gazebo rentals only. There are four visitor centers within the park: Cays Cove, Oconaluftee, Sugarlands and Clingmans Dome, and three information centers outside the park in the “gateway” cities of Gatlinburg, Sevierville and Townsend, Tennessee. there is.

The most important thing to note about your visit is the Smoky Mountains’ popular bear population. There are a number of regulations aimed specifically at reducing the chances of encountering the wrong kind of bear: a dog must be kept on a leash at all times in the park, and hiking his trails are not allowed. not. Food and utensils should be stored in the vehicle when not in use immediately, along with a container of water and strong odors such as candles or your favorite body wash. Food lockers are available at some campgrounds and garbage disposal units are specifically designed to deter bears.

History of the Smoky Mountains National Park

Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto arrived in southern Appalachia in 1540 and was probably the first European to reach the Smoky Mountains. De Soto he led an expedition of 600 men on a long journey, of which only half returned. The Spaniards marched west along the southern rim of the Smoky Mountains and stopped to encamp by the Oconalufteh River.

There they found the Cherokee, who had long established seasonal hunting camps, and the mountain trails that connected the various settlements. Cays Cove was once home to a permanent Cherokee village called Tsiyahi (Sea Otter Habitat) located on the banks of Abrams Creek. Another Cherokee settlement now within the park boundaries was the village of Oconaluftee on the river near what is now the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

The Smoky Mountains remained largely unsettled by Europeans for the next two centuries. In 1775, American naturalist and Quaker William Bartram spent several months in southern Appalachia during his four-year journey through the Southeast. He was one of the first to accurately describe both the wildlife and indigenous people of the area. German immigrant John Jacob His Mingus and his family were among his first Europeans to establish a homestead upon arriving in the Oconalufte River His Valley in 1798 (their descendants remained in the area and later founded Mingus his mill).

Over the next few decades, other settlers also settled in Cades Cove and the Cataloochee Valley. The settlers generally maintained good relations with the Cherokees, but after the Treaty of Calhoun of 1819 forced the Cherokees and other tribes to cede all their land in the Smoky Mountains, the Native Americans By 1999, it had almost completely disappeared from the area. In the decades after the Civil War, the Smokies quickly faced new threats. it is deforestation. It started small at first, with selective logging done by local landowners in the Smoky Mountains. By the 1900s, however, businessmen saw enormous economic opportunity in the vast stands of old-growth forest and began buying land and embarking on large-scale operations.

While much of the forest was cut down by logging companies, more and more locals realized the devastation the clear-cutting had left behind. In the early 1920s, several key figures in Knoxville, Tennessee and Asheville, North Carolina launched a campaign to protect Smokey. Ann Davis was one of the first to come up with the idea of ​​creating a national park in the Smoky Mountains. After she visited several national parks in the West in 1923, she and her husband Willis Davis worked tirelessly to forge alliances toward the goal of creating parks. She also ventured into politics, and in 1924 she became the first woman elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives for Knox County.

Negotiations began in 1925 and were complicated as more than 6,000 property owners were involved. In 1926, President Calvin Coolidge signed into law creating the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (along with his two other national parks). After signing, it was Park Booster’s responsibility to secure funding to purchase 150,000 acres before the Department of the Interior took responsibility. Even with cash, buying a small farm and various plots of land (some of which required research and estimates) was a tedious and time-consuming process. Many landowners are reluctant to leave the only home they’ve ever known, and some, like John Oliver in his community of Cades Cove, have been criticized by the Parks Commission and the Tennessee court system. fought.

In 1930, the park’s first administrators arrived to officially oversee the first land transfer. 158,876 acres were given to the US government. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park wasn’t officially established until 1934, but it finally became a reality. A few years later, in his 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the national park to “the eternal pleasures of men” with the new Rockefeller Monument in Newfound His Gap.

When the Great Depression hit the country in the early 1930s, President Roosevelt came up with innovative solutions to get people back to work. He founded the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). In this he has two purposes. There are CCC camps across the country, 22 of which are in national parks. In the Corps, which existed from 1933 to 1942, about 4,000 men, mostly between the ages of 18 and 20, worked. The men did a variety of jobs, including planting trees, building bridges and sidewalks, building fire towers, and clearing fire lanes. Their handiwork can be found throughout the Great Smoky Mountains, including shelters built along the AT. Hikers still stay overnight.

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