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Great Smoky Mountains National Park
IUCN Category II (National Park)
Location Swain & Haywood counties in North Carolina; Sevier, Blount, & Cocke counties in Tennessee, USA
Nearest city Cherokee, North Carolina and Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Coordinates 35°41′0″N 83°32′0″W / 35.683333°N 83.533333°W / 35.683333; -83.533333Coordinates: 35°41′0″N 83°32′0″W / 35.683333°N 83.533333°W / 35.683333; -83.533333
Area 521,086 acres (276,344 acres in North Carolina, 244,742 acres (990.44 km2) in Tennessee)
Established June 15, 1934[1]
Visitors 9,289,215 (in 2006)
Governing body National Park Service
Great Smoky Mountains National Park*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Main Entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Gatlinburg, Tennessee.JPG
Main Entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, from Gatlinburg
State Party Flag of the United States.svg United States of America
Type Natural
Criteria vii, viii, ix, x
Reference 259
Region** Europe and North America
Inscription history
Inscription 1983  (7th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a United States National Park that straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are a division of the larger Appalachian Mountain chain. The border between Tennessee and North Carolina runs northeast to southwest through the centerline of the park. It is the most visited national park in the United States.[2] On its route from Maine to Georgia, the Appalachian Trail also passes through the center of the park. The park was chartered by the United States Congress in 1934 and officially dedicated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940.[3] It encompasses 814 square miles (2,108 km²), making it one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States. The main park entrances are located along U.S. Highway 441 (Newfound Gap Road) at the towns of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Cherokee, North Carolina. It was the first national park whose land and other costs were paid for in part with federal funds; previous parks were funded wholly with state money or private funds.[4]



Before the arrival of European settlers, the region was part of the homeland of the Cherokee Indians. Frontierspeople began settling the land in the 18th and early 19th century. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, beginning the process that eventually resulted in the forced removal of all Indian tribes east of the Mississippi River to what is now Oklahoma. Many of the Cherokee left, but some, led by renegade warrior Tsali, hid out in the area that is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Some of their descendants now live in the Qualla Reservation south of the park.

John Cable Homestead in Cades Cove

As white settlers moved in, logging grew as a major industry in the mountains, and a rail line, the Little River Railroad, was constructed in the late 19th century to haul timber out of the remote regions of the area. Cut-and-run style clearcutting was destroying the natural beauty of the area, so visitors and locals banded together to raise money for preservation of the land. The U.S. National Park Service wanted a park in the eastern United States, but did not have much money to establish one. Though Congress had authorized the park in 1926, there was no nucleus of federally-owned land around which to build a park. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. contributed $5 million, the U.S. government added $2 million, and private citizens from Tennessee and North Carolina pitched in to assemble the land for the park, piece by piece. Slowly, mountain homesteaders, miners, and loggers were evicted from the land. Farms and timbering operations were abolished in establishing the protected area of the park. Travel writer Horace Kephart, for whom Mount Kephart was named, and photographer George Masa were instrumental in fostering the development of the park.[4] The park was officially established on June 15, 1934. During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration, and other federal organizations made trails, fire watchtowers, and other infrastructure improvements to the park and Smoky Mountains.

The park was designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976, was certified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, and became a part of the Southern Appalachian Biosphere Reserve in 1988.[5]

A 75th anniversary re-dedication ceremony was held on September 2, 2009. Among those in attendance were all four US Senators, the three US Representatives whose districts include the park, the governors of both states, and Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar. Tennessee native, singer, and actress Dolly Parton also attended and performed.

Natural features

Elevations in the park range from 876 feet (267 m) at the mouth of Abrams Creek to 6,643 feet (2,025 m) at the summit of Clingmans Dome. Within the park a total of sixteen mountains reach higher than 6,000 feet (1829 m).[6]

The wide range of elevations mimics the latitudinal changes found throughout the entire eastern United States. Indeed, ascending the mountains is comparable to a trip from Tennessee to Canada. Plants and animals common in the country's Northeast have found suitable ecological niches in the park's higher elevations, while southern species find homes in the balmier lower reaches.

The observation tower at Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the national park.

During the most recent ice age, the northeast-to-southwest orientation of the Appalachian mountains allowed species to migrate southward along the slopes rather than finding the mountains to be a barrier. As climate warms, many northern species are now retreating upward along the slopes and withdrawing northward, while southern species are expanding.

The park normally has very high humidity and precipitation, averaging from 55 inches (1,400 mm) per year in the valleys to 85 inches (2,200 mm) per year on the peaks. This is more annual rainfall than anywhere in the United States outside the Pacific Northwest and parts of Alaska. It is also generally cooler than the lower elevations below, and most of the park has a humid continental climate more comparable to locations much farther north, as opposed to the humid subtropical climate in the lowlands. The park is almost 95 percent forested, and almost 36 percent of it, 187,000 acres (760 km2), is estimated by the Park Service to be old growth forest with many trees that predate European settlement of the area.[7] It is one of the largest blocks of deciduous, temperate, old growth forest in North America.

The variety of elevations, the abundant rainfall, and the presence of old growth forests give the park an unusual richness of biota. About 10,000 species of plants and animals are known to live in the park, and estimates as high as an additional 90,000 undocumented species may also be present.

Park officials count more than 200 species of birds, 66 species of mammals, 50 species of fish, 39 species of reptiles, and 43 species of amphibians, including many lungless salamanders. The park has a noteworthy black bear population, numbering at least 1,800. An experimental re-introduction of elk (wapiti) into the park began in 2001.

Over 100 species of trees grow in the park. The lower region forests are dominated by deciduous leafy trees. At higher altitudes, deciduous forests give way to coniferous trees like Fraser Fir. In addition, the park has over 1,400 flowering plant species and over 4,000 species of non-flowering plants.

Attractions and activities

The Alum Cave Bluffs trail to the summit of Mount LeConte provides numerous dramatic overlooks of the Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a major tourist attraction in the region. Over 9 million tourists and 11 million non-recreational visitors traveled to the park in 2003, twice as many as visited any other national park. Surrounding towns, notably Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, and Townsend, Tennessee, and Cherokee, Sylva, Maggie Valley, and Bryson City, North Carolina receive a significant portion of their income from tourism associated with the park.

The two main visitors' centers inside the park are Sugarlands Visitors' Center near the Gatlinburg entrance to the park and Oconaluftee Visitors' Center near Cherokee, North Carolina at the eastern entrance to the park. These ranger stations provide exhibits on wildlife, geology, and the history of the park. They also sell books, maps, and souvenirs. Unlike most other national parks, there is no entry fee to the park.

U.S. Highway 441 (known in the park as Newfound Gap Road) bisects the park, providing automobile access to many trailheads and overlooks, most notably that of Newfound Gap. At an elevation of 5,048 feet (1,539 m), it is the lowest gap in the mountains and is situated near the center of the park, on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line, halfway between the border towns of Gatlinburg and Cherokee. It was here that in 1940, from the Rockefeller Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedicated the national park. On clear days Newfound Gap offers arguably the most spectacular scenes accessible via highway in the park.

The park has a number of historical attractions. The most well-preserved of these (and most popular) is Cades Cove, a valley with a number of preserved historic buildings including log cabins, barns, and churches. Cades Cove is the single most frequented destination in the national park. Self-guided automobile and bicycle tours offer the many sightseers a glimpse into the way of life of old-time southern Appalachia. Other historical areas within the park include Roaring Fork, Cataloochee, Elkmont, and the Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill at Oconaluftee.



The Chimney Tops is a popular destination for hikers

There are 850 miles (1,368 km) of trails and unpaved roads in the park for hiking, including seventy miles of the Appalachian Trail.[8] Mount Le Conte is one of the most frequented destinations in the park. Its elevation is 6,593 feet (2,010 m) — the third highest summit in the park and, measured from its base to its highest peak, the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River. Its Alum Cave Trail, which is the most heavily used of the five paths en route to the summit, provides many scenic overlooks and unique natural attractions such as Alum Cave Bluffs and Arch Rock. Hikers may spend a night at the LeConte Lodge, located near the summit, which provides cabins and rooms for rent (except during the winter season). Accessible solely by trail, it is the only private lodging available inside the park.

Another popular hiking trail leads to the pinnacle of the Chimney Tops, so named because of its unique dual-humped peaktops. This short but strenuous trek rewards nature enthusiasts with a spectacular panorama of the surrounding mountain peaks.

Both the Laurel Falls and Clingman's Dome trails offer relatively easy, short, paved paths to their respective destinations. The Laurel Falls Trail leads to a powerful 80 foot (24 m) waterfall, and the Clingman's Dome Trail takes visitors on an uphill climb to a fifty-foot observation deck, which on a clear day offers views for many miles over both the Tennessee and North Carolina mountains.

In addition to day hiking, the national park offers opportunities for backpacking and camping. Camping is allowed only in designated camping areas and shelters. The park's trail shelters are all located along the Appalachian Trail. Designated backcountry campsites are scattered throughout the park. A permit, available at ranger stations and trailheads, is required for all backcountry camping. Additionally, reservations are required for many of the campsites and all of the shelters. A maximum stay of one night, in the case of shelters, or three nights, in the case of campgrounds, may limit the traveler's itinerary.

Other activities

After hiking and simple sightseeing, fishing (especially fly fishing) is the most popular activity in the national park. The park's waters have long had a reputation for healthy trout activity as well as challenging fishing terrain. Brook trout are native to the waters, while both brown and rainbow were introduced to the area. Partially due to the fact of recent droughts killing off the native fish, there are strict regulations regarding how fishing may be conducted. Horseback riding (offered by the national park and on limited trails), bicycling (available for rent in Cades Cove) and water tubing are all also practiced within the park.

Cades Cove panorama

Historic areas within the national park

The park service maintains four historic districts and one archaeological district within park boundaries, as well as nine individual listings on the National Register of Historic Places. Notable structures not listed include the Mountain Farm Museum buildings at Oconaluftee and buildings in the Cataloochee area. The Mingus Mill (in Oconaluftee) and Smoky Mountain Hiking Club cabin in Greenbrier have been deemed eligible for listing.

Historic districts

Individual listings

Electric vehicles

The National Park Service (NPS) recently announced that it will use electric vehicles (EVs) provided by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for a research project in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to evaluate the vehicles' performance in mountainous terrain. NPS said the EVs will be on loan from TVA for two years and will be used by park service staff at Cades Cove and the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont to determine the benefits provided by these vehicles versus standard gasoline-fueled vehicles.[9]

Air pollution

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is considered the most polluted national park according to a 2004 report by the National Park Conservation Association. From 1999 to 2003, the park recorded about 150 unhealthy air days, the equivalent of about one month per year.[10]

See also



  • Saferstein, Mark. 2004. Great Smoky Mountains. 22nd ed. American Parks Network.
  • Tilden, Freeman. 1970. The National Parks

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

North America : United States of America : South : Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park [1] is a United States National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and an International Biosphere Reserve that straddles the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. Because of its substantial size, its location within a few hundred miles of several large cities, its year-round accessibility, and of course its general appeal to a wide variety of people, it consistently ranks the most-visited national park in the United States of America, with 9-10 million visits per year.

Newfound Gap, in the North Carolina portion of the park
Newfound Gap, in the North Carolina portion of the park



The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established on June 15, 1934 after a long process of land purchases starting in with Congress' authorization in 1926. More than $11 million was required to make all of the purchases. The main benefactor, who came to rescue during the Great Depression, was the Rockefeller family which dontated $5 million. This great deed was honored by the erection of a memorial at Newfound Gap. The park was officially dedicated on September 2, 1940 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Campbell Overlook
Campbell Overlook

Flora and fauna

The park is almost 95% forested, with 25% of that being old-growth. Almost 100 different types of native trees can be found in the park in addition to over 1,400 flowering plant species and 4,000 non-flowering plants.

The wildlife is abundant as well, featuring hundreds of different bird species, 66 mammal types, 50 types of native fish, as well as numerous reptiles and amphibians.

Non-native species

Several non-native species, both plant and animal, now call the park home and often threaten the native species.


When planning a trip in the park, it is helpful to keep in mind that elevations in the park range from 800 feet to 6,643 feet and that the topography can drastically affect local weather. Temperatures can easily vary 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit from mountain base to top, and clear skies lower down do not guarantee equally pleasant weather at higher elevations. Rainfall averages 55 inches per year in the lowlands to 85 inches per year at Clingmans Dome.


March through May: Spring brings with it unpredictable weather. Changes occur rapidly - sunny skies can yield to snow flurries in a few hours. March is the month with the most radical changes; snow can fall at any time during the month, particularly in the higher elevations. Temperatures in the lower elevations have a mean high of 61ºF. Low temperatures, which are often below freezing, have a mean of 42ºF. By mid-April the weather is usually milder. Daytime temperatures often reach the 70s and occasionally the 80s. Below freezing temperatures at night are uncommon in the lower elevations but still occur higher up. April averages over four inches of rain, usually in the form of afternoon showers. May is warmer, with daytime highs in the 70s and 80s and lows in the 40s and 50s. May rainfall averages about 4.5 inches.


June through August: Summer in the Smokies means heat, haze, and humidity. Afternoon showers and thunderstorms are common. Temperatures increase through the period with July and August afternoon highs in the 90s in the lower elevations. Evening lows are usually comfortable with readings in the 60s and 70s. In the higher elevations, the weather is much more pleasant. On Mount Le Conte (6,593' elevation), no temperature above 80 degrees has ever been recorded.


September through mid-November: Clear skies and cooler weather signal the onset of the fall color season. Warm days alternate with cool nights. Daytime highs are usually in the 70s and 80s during September, falling to the 50s and 60s in early November. The first frosts often occur in late September. By November, the lows are usually near freezing. This is the driest period of the year with only occasional rain showers. In the higher elevations, snow is a possibility by November.

The park in autumn
The park in autumn


Mid-November through February: Winter in the Smokies is generally moderate, but extremes in weather do occur, especially with an increase in elevation. It is not unusual to have warm temperatures in the low elevations and snow in the higher areas. About half the days in the winter have high temperatures of 50 degrees or more. Highs occasionally even reach the 70s. Most nights have lows at or below freezing. But lows of -20°F. are possible at high elevations. In the low elevations, snows of 1" or more occur 1-5 times a year. Snow falls more frequently in the higher mountains and up to two feet can fall during a storm. January and February are the months when one is most likely to find snow in the mountains.

Get in

Note that access to the park is restricted to non-commercial vehicles.

Great Smoky Mountains area map
Great Smoky Mountains area map

By plane

Planes will get you to Asheville (60 miles East) or Knoxville (45 miles West).

By train

There is no train service. You might get a train to Atlanta, but that is a few hundred miles away.

By car

Travelling by car is the best method to visit the park. The most popular entrance into the park is from the North through Gatlinburg, Tennessee. You can also enter from the South on the North Carolina side of park, through Cherokee, Maggie Valley, or Bryson City.

By bus

There is no bus service to the park.

Fees / Permits

There are no entrance fees charged for visiting this park thanks to restrictions imposed when the park was established.

Get around

Take your car or backpack. Yes, you can walk through the park on the Appalachian Trail.

Road closures and restrictions

Motorists should be aware that some roads close for several months out of the year. Buses and large motorhomes are prohibited on some roads in the park. There are also temporary road closures due to weather and construction.

Refer to the park's website [2] for all up to date conditions.


See the mountains. Great wildlife, too. Heck, it's a rain forest!

Visitor centers

The park has several visitor centers inside the park as well as some in the surrounding areas. These centers offer various ranger-led programs, facilities, services, and exhibits. Visitors can get information to help plan their visit to the park and get answers to their questions from park rangers. There are two main ones:

  • Sugarlands Visitors Center Serves the Tennessee half of the park with a gift shop, small museum, and theater
  • Oconaluftee Visitors Center Serves the North Carolina half

In addition, there are visitors centers outside the park in Gatlinburg and Townsend

  • The Park has many miles of hiking trails, including the Appalachian Trail which crosses the park and there are occasional ranger-guided tours.
  • A drive around Cades Cove, an historic farming valley, is very popular due to the frequency of wildlife. However, due to congestion and "deer jams," the effective speed on this 11 mile (17 km) one-way loop is very slow — allow a few hours.
  • Take the walking path to the top of Clingmans Dome (6643 feet / 2025 m), it is the highest point in the park, the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest point east of the Mississippi river. From the Sugarlands Visitors Center, go south 13 miles on Newfound Gap Road, to the also stunning Morton Overlook, and west 7 miles to the parking lot, before hiking a fairly steep path .5 mile to a concrete overlook. There are many dead trees at the top, victims of bug disease over past decades. Visibility at the top has been greatly reduced over past decades due to pollution. On the 20 mile route from Sugarlands to the peak, you ascend roughly a mile.
  • Morton Overlook En route to Clingmans dome, or if you're just going from one end of the park to the other on Newfound Gap Road, this great overlook, close to a mile above sea level, offers great views, plus a sign displaying the Tennessee-North Carolina state border, and the Appalachian Trail crosses here. Morton Overlook is among the best venues in the Smokies for sunset viewing.
  • The easiest waterfall hike is 2.5 miles round trip to Laurel Falls. The trail is paved and accessible even to strollers.
  • US Highway 441 (Newfound Gap Road) runs north to south through the park connecting Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Cherokee, North Carolina. The road has steep grades and some tunnels as it winds through the mountains. There are many pull offs offering different views of the park, including the road to Clingmans Dome. Traffic on this road can be heavy during the park's busy seasons. The West Prong of the Little Pigeon River can be accessed from many of the pull offs on the Tennessee side of the highway, and the Oconaluftee River from the North Carolina side.


The visitor centers offer books and souvenirs pertaining to the park. The Cable Mill store, in Cades Cove, offers the same, as well as grains ground in the on site, water powered, historic cable mill. The main focus of the park is nature, not commerce, so don't expect huge selections of goods.

Autotouring is a nice way to see the park; however, gas is not sold in the park. There are gas stations in the surrounding cities.


Camp stores are expensive and have limited selection. There might be a restaurant or two, but lines are long and prices high. Since the near-by tourist towns of Gatlinburg and Cherokee are very tourist oriented, they offer a variety of restaurants to suit any taste. Your best bet is to visit a grocery store and buy ready-to eat or picnic style food. Many places in the park offer great locations to pull off the road and have a meal in nature. There are also many designated picnic areas in the park, including Collins Creek and Chimney Tops along Highway 441 and Greenbrier and Cades Cove along Laurel Creek Road.


The consumption of alcoholic beverages, and the possession of opened containers, is banned in the park except in housing, lodging facilities, designated picnic areas, campgrounds, or as allowed by special permit.

Do not drink the water in streams without first boiling it; this water may contain diseases transmitted by the fecal material of animals.

  • Le Conte Lodge, +1 865 429-5704, [3]. The only place to stay within the park is on top of Mount Le Conte, one of the park's highest mountains. It is only accessible by hiking at least 5 miles over one of five trails and reservations are often required more than a year in advance. No electricity is available, however there are flush toilets. Due to the elevation daytime temperature are below 80°F even during summer. Rates include meals. As an interesting aside, all of the lodge's supplies are brought up by either llama trains or by helicopter on Wednesdays and Fridays. $110/person, $600/8-person cabin, $800/12-person cabin.  edit


If you insist on being within a short walk from your car, that'll set you back between $12 and $20 a night. There are 10 "car camping" campgrounds in the park:

  • Abrams Creek. Mar 12-Oct 31, 16 sites, first come, first serve.
  • Balsam Mountain. May 14-Oct 11, 46 sites, first come, first serve.
  • Big Creek. Mar 12-Oct 31, 12 sites, first come, first serve. No RVs. Group sites (minimum 8 people) available.
  • Cades Cove. Year round, 161 sites, reservations available May 15-Oct 31: 1-800-365-2267. Group sites (minimum 8 people) available. This is a very popular site for overnight and day trips.
  • Cataloochee. Mar 12-Oct 31, 27 sites, first come, first serve. Group sites (minimum 8 people) available.
  • Cosby. Mar 12-Oct 31, 157 sites, first come, first serve. Group sites (minimum 8 people) available.
  • Deep Creek. Apr 2-Oct 31, 108 sites, First come, first serve. Group sites (minimum 8 people) available.
  • Elkmont. Mar 12-Nov 30, 220 sites, reservations available May 15-Oct 31: 1-800-365-2267. Group sites (minimum 8 people) available.
  • Look Rock. May 14-Oct 31, 92 sites, first come, first serve.
  • Smokemont. Year round, 140 sites, reservations available May 15-Oct 31: 1-800-365-2267. Group sites (minimum 8 people) available.

These campgrounds have restrooms with cold running water and flush toilets. There are no showers or RV hookups in the park. Each campsite has a picnic table and "grill." No more than six people to a campsite with a maximum of two tents or one RV and one tent. You are limited to a seven day stay during the Summer and Fall, and fourteen days during Spring and Winter. Pets are allowed if they are properly restrained.

Keep in mind that bears and other wildlife frequent camp areas. Do not leave any food, or items associated with food, out unattended. Store it in a closed vehicle, not your tent.


Your best bet is to camp in the backcountry for free, but a permit (available at most ranger stations and visitor centers) is required. Campers must stay in a park shelter or a designated camp site. The shelters, as well as a number of tent areas, require reservations (865-436-1231).

Outside of the Park

The towns of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville offer lodging close to the park's northern border in Tennessee along highway 73. Cherokee and Bryson City offer ample accomodations on the North Carolina side of the park. Lodging can usually be found with more ease and for lower rates in the North Carolina towns, as there is less human traffic.

  • Bears The park is home to more than 1,000 black bears. Bears should not be approached. If the bear's behavior changes, you are too close. Visitors to the park can get more information the park's bears in any of the park's Visitor Centers.
  • Snakes Twenty-three (23) types of snakes make their home in the park's lands, but only two varieties are venomous: Timber Rattlesnakes and Copperheads. Rattlesnakes are part of the pit-viper family and sport a distinctive rattle at the end of their bodies that makes a buzzing sound when the snake is agitated. The Copperheads account for most of the snake bites in the area, however their venom is the least toxic, but this does not mean you should underestimate it. Neither snake is aggressive and if you stay away from places where they tend to sun, you should be able to avoid them altogether.
  • Waterfalls Do not climb on the falls. Fatalities have occurred as a result of people climbing on the falls.
  • Hypothermia Be cautious when in the park's streams. Even during the hotter months of the summer, many of the higher elevation streams can induce hypothermia with extended exposure.

It is a good idea to have some first-aid knowledge if you wander far into the back country, especially off trail. Be sure to get a permit, so they'll know where to look for you if you do not show. And as always, beware of snowstorms.

  • Visit the Cherokee Nation at the eastern entrance to the park.
  • Drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway to Asheville or to Mount Mitchell (6684 feet / 2038 m), the highest peak in the eastern United States.
This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!


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