The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established by Congress in 1934 and is the largest national park in the Eastern United States, consisting of over 500,000 acres of wilderness in the Appalachian Highlands of North Carolina and Tennessee. It encompasses over 800 square miles, and it is the most popular of our national parks with over 9 million visitors per year. The Park offers panoramic views, many miles of unspoiled mountains, lush forests and tumbling mountain streams like those found by the early American Settlers. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is renowned for the multitude and the diversity of its plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian Mountain culture.
The Great Smoky Mountains are a small portion of the 2,000 mile long Appalachian Mountain Range that extends from Georgia to Maine. The Smokies are among the tallest mountains in the Appalachian chain, with elevations ranging within the Park from 840 feet at Abrams Creek to 6,643 feet at Clingmans Dome, the third tallest peak east of the Mississippi River. The rainfall in the high country of the Great Smokies averages over 85 inches per year, and feeds over 2,000 miles of rushing mountain streams and rivers that flow through the park, including Chambers Creek, Eagle Creek, Forney Creek, Hazel Creek, Lands Creek, Nolands Creek, Pilkeys Creek, Twenty Mile Creek, and the Oconoluftee River. Over 700 miles of those waterways support more than 50 native fish populations, including the native Brook Trout. The elevation gradient presents many picturesque waterfalls in the streams throughout the Smokies that are a big attraction to park visitors.
The temperate, deciduous forest of the Great Smoky Mountains is home to and protects 66 species of mammals, over 200 varieties of birds, over 50 native fish species, and more than 80 types of reptiles and amphibians. The most commonly seen mammals are bear, deer, groundhog, chipmunk and squirrel. There are 85 species of migratory birds that visit the Park seasonally and 120 species that nest in the Great Smokies. Thirty birds that are listed as "Species of Concern" breed in the Park, making the Smokies an important source for repopulating bird species that are declining in numbers in areas outside the park. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has the greatest diversity of salamanders of anywhere on earth. The most famous resident of the Park, and the symbol of the Smokies, is the American Black Bear with an estimated population of about 1800. Extirpated species include bison, elk, mountain lion, and the gray wolf. Some native species previously eradicated have been re-introduced to the Park including the river otter, the elk, the red wolf, and the Peregrine Falcon. Visitors have the best opportunity to see wildlife in open areas of the Park like Cataloochee Valley and Cades Cove.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is famous for its great diversity of plant life. The variations in elevation, rainfall, temperature, and geology in the Park provide ideal habitat for over 5,400 species of plants that have been identified, including nearly 1500 species of flowering plants, 100 native tree species, and over 100 native shrub species. Ephemeral wildflowers bloom profusely in the deciduous forests of the Park in early Spring before the trees grow their leafs. This spectacular display of flowering color against a still barren forest is truly a spectacular site. Rhododendron, Mountain Laurel, & Flame Azalea shrubs present extravagant displays of beautiful flowers from mid-June to mid-July. Autumn brings a parade of Purple Astor, Goldenrod, and other late bloomers to complete the floral display of the Season.
Access to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is provided to motorists traveling U.S. Highway 441 (known in the Park as the Newfound Gap Road) between Cherokee, North Carolina and Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The New Found Gap, located near the center of the Park, (5,048 feet in elevation) on highway 441 is half way between the Sugarlands Visitor Center in Tennessee, and the Oconaluftee Visitors Center in North Carolina, and offers spectacular long range views of the Park. The Appalachian Trail crosses the Great Smoky Mountains at Newfound Gap. This popular route through the Park offers long-range panoramic views of this spectacular mountain range. The "smoky" vapor for which the mountains are named can be seen draping the ridge tops and hanging over the valleys. The thin blue haze or "smoke" is created by moisture from the park's lush vegetation. Visitors can take walks on any of the over 800 miles of hiking trails maintained by the Park. Walking and hiking are popular ways for visitors to see the wildflowers close up, to smell the scent of evergreens, to hear the sounds of birdsongs and cascading streams, and to experience a personal sense of the harmony of the natural wilderness environment that is preserved in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has 3 Visitor Centers
Oconoluftee Visitor Center:
TheÂ Oconoluftee Visitor Center is located one mile north of Cherokee, North Carolina and is open daily except Christmas. This center provides an excellent presentation of the early cultural history of the Great Smoky Mountains. The Mountain Farm Museum includes an old homestead located near the Visitor Center that is a recreation of a late 19th century mountain farm. It consists of a complete collection of authentic log structures, including a house, barn, corncrib, sorghum molasses mill, and blacksmith shop that were moved from their original locations throughout the National Park to this exhibit so that visitors can see a complete early American farm. Visitors can walk through and around the buildings and get a very real sense of how it would have been to live in the Great Smoky Mountains in the days when the country was first settled. This homestead would have been an early American settlers dream come true!
Cades Cove Visitor Center:
The Cades Cove Visitor Center is located in the Cades Cove area of the Park and is open daily, except in winter when it is open only on weekends. This center provides an excellent presentation of the early cultural history of the Great Smoky Mountains. An old Grist Mill, Old Homes, Churches, Barns and other old displays have been preserved to represent an isolated farming community of the 1800's for the enjoyment of Park visitors. One can get a very real sense of the community aspects of early American settlement in Cades Cove and the Great Smoky Mountains.
Sugarlands Visitor Center:
TheÂ Sugarlands Visitor Center is located two miles south of Gatlinburg, Tennessee on U.S. Highway 441 and is open daily except Christmas. This center focuses on natural history and has very interesting and educational displays on the Parks plants and animals. The Center is open year-round.
Points of Interest in the Great Smoky Mountains
This valley covering 6800 acres near Gatlinburg provides an understanding of the natural and cultural history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. About 2400 acres of Cades Cove are open fields that are surrounded by forests with mountains towering 5500 feet.
In Cades Cove the Park Service has successfully preserved the cultural history of the early settlement of the Great Smoky Mountains for all visitors to enjoy. There are several historic buildings dating to the nineteenth century, including the Peter Cable Grist Mill, The Becky Cable House, 3 churches, barns, and pioneer log cabins. The Cove is rich in cultural History. The Geneology and History of the early settlers of the Cove can be found in the many books sold in the Cades Cove Visitor Center Book Store.
The 11 mile long Cades Cove Loop Trail that winds one-way through the meadowlands and forests of Cades Cove is popular with visitors. Wildlife is abundant in the cove, and easy to observe from this road. It is common to see deer, woodchucks, and wild turkey. Sometimes visitors are lucky enough to see a black bear.
Cataloochee was the largest settlement in the Smokies. Today it is a popular location for viewing the Elk that were re-introduced to the Park in 2001 and 2002. The Elk graze in the fields and can be observed most days throughout the year.
Clingmans Dome rises 6,643 feet. It is the highest peak in the Smokies and the second highest peak east of the Mississippi River. A forest of spruce and fir trees covers the top of the mountain. Visitors can walk a Â½ mile paved pathway to the 54-foot tall observation tower where they are treated to a magnificent, 360-degree vista of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park surrounding Clingmans Dome. Sunrises and Sunsets from this point are truly spectacular. Take a sweater if you get cold easily, because the high elevation means that the temperature will be cool at the Dome even in Summer.
The Mingus Mill is a large water-powered mill that is still in operation for grinding corn into meal using 19th Century equipment. From mid-April through October, visitors enjoy watching the giant mill in operation, and can buy cornmeal and flour for later baking.
Campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains
Deep Creek Campground
Deep Creek offers recreational activities for the entire family including camping, hiking trails, bicycle riding trails, swimming, tubing & trout fishing. It is located about 2 miles from Bryson City.
Smoke Mont offers recreational activities for the entire family including camping, hiking trails, bicycle riding trails, horseback riding trails, swimming, & trout fishing. It is located just North of Cherokee, North Carolina on Highway 441.
Directions to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the Nantahala River Gorge
To travel to the Deep Creek Area of the Great Smoky Mountains take Highway 19/74 East about 11 miles, take the Bryson City exit and follow the signs to Deep Creek. The Park Boundary is located a few miles outside of Bryson City.
To Travel to Smokemont Area take Highway 19/74 East about 15 miles to the Cherokee/Great Smoky Mountains exit where you access Highway 441 North that takes you through Cherokee and to Gatlinburg through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.