Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park 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. It consistently ranks the most visited national park in the United States of America.
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 Septermber 2, 1940 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
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 abudent as well, featuring hundreds of different bird species, 66 mammal types, 50 types of native fish, as well as numerous reptiles and amphibians.
Covering 814 square miles of rugged terrain, the park ranges in elevation from 6643 feet at the summit of Clingmans Dome to 875 feet. Climate changes strongly with elevation from subtropical at the base of the mountains to subpolar in the highest peaks. Heavy snowfalls coat the tops of the peaks for most of the year, in sharp contrast to the rest of the American South, whose residents are notoriously unable to travel with even a dusting of snow. Spending a summer day on the summits can provide a relief from the relentless heat and humidity at lower elevations, but bring (Southern) winter clothes if you spend the night in the park. You just might need them. Snowfalls are not unknown on the highest mountains in midsummer.
Much of the park is a rain forest, so prepare for plenty of fog and frequent, heavy rain and snow.
There is none. You might get a train to Atlanta, but that is a few hundred miles away.
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.
There is no bus service to the park.
There are no entrance fees charged for visiting this park thanks to restrictions imposed when the park was established.
Take your car or backpack. Yes, you can walk through the park on the Appalachian Trail.
See the mountains. Great wildlife too. Heck, it's a rain forest!
Great Smoky Mountains NP has many miles of hiking trails, including the Appalachian Trail. 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 jambs," 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), the highest point in Tennessee.
Sorry, but waterfalls aren't vending machines. Try again.
Camp stores are expensive and have limited selection. There might be a restaurant or two, but lines are long and prices high.
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.
The only place to stay within the park is Le Conte Lodge (865-429-5704, ) on top of Mount Le Conte, one of the park's highest mountains. It is only accessible by an at least 5 mile hike 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 vary on lodging type, but all include meals. As an interesting aside, all of the lodge's supplies are brought up by llama trains on Wednesdays and Fridays.
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:
These campgronds 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 vistor 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).
Twenty-three (23) types of snakes make their home in the park's lands, but only two varieties are poisonous: 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 alltogether.
It is a good idea to have some first-aid knowledge if you wander far into the backcountry, 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.