National Parks

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

River with crystal clear water flowing within the forest in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Pride of the East as the park is one of the most pristine natural areas that offer breathtaking mountain scenery, including panoramic views, whooshing mountain streams, and mature hardwood forests stretching to the horizon.

The Smokies are noted for incredible biodiversity; moving from the lowest to highest elevations within the park is like traveling from Georgia to Maine. There are over 1,500 species of flowering plants, 240 types of birds, around 50 kinds of fish live there, about 100 native trees in the mountains, and over 100 native shrub species. The haze fills the mountains and the valleys in the early morning; that’s how the Smokies got their name.

The shaconage, or “place of blue smoke,” as the Cherokee people call it, is caused by moisture and organic compounds released by the dense vegetation, especially on still summer days. Over the ages, the landscape of the Great Smokies has undergone profound changes. The rocks in this area are mostly of a sedimentary type formed by accumulations of soil, silt, sand, and gravel deposited into a huge shallow sea. More and more sediments were deposited over time, becoming hard rock layers some nine miles or thicker.

With the collision of drifting continents approximately 200-300 million years ago, tremendous pressures were generated, causing deformation of the once horizontal sedimentary rocks into folded structures. The entire belt of folded and faulted rocks extends over 2,000 miles from Maine to Georgia and is known collectively as the Appalachian Mountains.

In 1934 a significant portion of the forest in the park had been devastated by logging. Much of the land is under 1,200 small property owners. It took the governments of Tennessee and North Carolina, donations from wealthy conservationists, the U.S. Park Service, and a lot of work to buy out the loggers and landowners and restore the Great Smoky Mountains glory.

History of the Park

Landscape of the Great Smoky Mountains filled with trees

The park encompasses 522,419 acres making it one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States. A few people began the discussion on a public preserve of the Southern Appalachians about the 1890s. However, a bill reaching the North Carolina Legislature had failed. More and more people in the North and South were pressuring Washington for some public preserve by the 20th century.

In the mid-1920s, efforts to make the area a national park succeeded with most hard-working supporters based in Knoxville, Tennessee and Asheville, North Carolina. In particular, motorists had contributed much to push for a national park because of their formed auto clubs, mostly branches of the AAA, were interested in good roads through beautiful scenery on which they could drive their shiny new cars.

President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill in May 1926 that has provided the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park.

The area was once a homeland for the Cherokees before European settlers arrived. Frontiers began settling in the land in the 18th and early 19th centuries. By 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act that eventually resulted in the forced removal of all Indian tribes east of the Mississippi River to what is now Oklahoma. Many Cherokees were forced to leave, but some led by the renegade warrior Tsali hid out in the area that is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Activities in the Park

Foggy Mountains in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Hiking in the Smoky Mountains

You can have various routes for your trail from about 850 miles unpaved roads in the park, including 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail. One of the most frequently visited trails is Mount Le Conte, with an elevation of 6,593 feet that made it the third-highest summit in the park and the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River if measured from its base to its highest peak. Providing many scenic overlooks and unique natural attractions such as Alum Cave Bluffs and Arch Rock, the Alum Cave Trail makes the most heavily used of the five paths en route to the summit.

Camping

Aside from day hikes, the national park is the best place for camping and backpacking. Just make you are within the allowed designated camping areas and shelters. You can find most of the trail shelters along the Appalachian Trail or a short distance away on side trails, also Mt. LeConte Shelter is a short distance east of LeConte Lodge on The Boulevard Trail.

Fishing

The park waters have a long reputation for healthy trout activity and challenging fishing terrain, so fishing is also offered in the park. It’s one of the most popular activities.

Native fish species in the park waters are the brook trout, while brown and rainbow trout were only introduced to the area. Due to recent droughts that killed many native fishes, strict regulations are now imposed regarding fishing activities.

Horseback riding

One best way to see and enjoy scenic views within the park is through horseback riding. If you’re looking for that Great Smoky Mountains “horseback riding near me,” two horseback riding Gatlinburg stables are usually at the top of the search results: Smoky Mountain Riding Stables and Sugarlands Riding Stables.

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