I loved reading about why to visit National Parks in this article but really felt like more specific information was needed. Especially on one of my favorites, the Great Smoky Mountains.
After our trip there last summer, it has risen to one of my favorite locations of all time. With lush green growth, gorgeous waterfalls, and interesting vistas it made for a fantastic trip. There are so many things to do and sights to see so I wanted to touch on a few more details in my article today. The park is open year-round and whatever season you come there is something spectacular to see. From the fall season color changes to springs beautiful new growth and rain-swelled waterfalls.
While there are no hotels or lodges for rent except Le Conte Lodge inside the park itself, there are several campgrounds that allow tents, horses, and RV’s. Be sure to note if you are camping in the park itself there are no shower or hot water facilities so rustic is the word! There are several ranger stations with historic and cultural acitivites.
When we went this summer my little brothers and sisters participated in the Junior Ranger program to earn badges, made Cherokee pottery designs, went on a guided wade through the river to examine local animals including fish and salamanders, and enjoyed other hands on activities that brought learning to a whole new level. Every evening there was something going on. One night we had a guided tour of the local river, adults watching as the children explored, fish nets in hand, to test the quality of the water by comparing the types of life found in the stream. Another afternoon there was guided tour of some one of the vista points with a discussion about erosion, Native Americans, and the first while settlers who came to surrounding mountain areas.
Another of our favorite visits was to the visitor center in Oconaluftee. Several historic farm houses from the early 1900’s had been brought to the field near the visitor center to show what life was like for earlier settlers. Volunteer enactors had hands-on displays, played period musical instruments and showed demonstrations of life at that time. A working spring house, barn and blacksmith’s forge were some of the favorites. Corn husk brooms and woven mats for sitting and standing on showed the entire family how early settlers made use of every bit of crop they grew and wasted nothing. Early refrigeration was shown in the working spring house. Antique farm implements were on display in the barn and the garden looked much as you might have expected it to 75 years ago.
Some vistas were easily accessible by automobile while others required some hiking. Whether you are a seasoned backpacker, or prefer to stay in the vehicle there is plenty to see and do in the parks over 270 miles of road and trails. We stayed on the easier trails which were clearly marked on the map with difficulty levels and accessibility. With a large family, and young children it was easy to find which trails we could do together, and which trails we should avoid.
Popular vista spots include; Clingman’s Dome, Big Cove Road and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. We most enjoyed the shorter loops that we could park, take an easy walk in one direction, follow the trail around and end up back at our car. Some of these trails took us past waterfalls, through beautiful ash forests and to scenic overlooks that were breathtaking.
Another favorite of the park is the amazing collection of waterfalls. Fueled by the 85″ of rain the high country receives each year the Great Smoky Mountain National Park has one of the largest number of waterfalls of any National Park in the United States. Nearly every streamlet will lead you to a waterfall of some degree, however the most popular have clearly marked, and well-worn trails leading to them as over 200,000 people visit each year. There are even several waterfalls you can drive to if hiking is difficult.
Wildlife at the Great Smoky Mountains is abundant throughout the park and surrounding areas, drawn by the ample supply of water and lush forest growth. Home to over 240 species of birds and the largest number of salamanders found anywhere in the world The park also boasts a healthy and a thriving elk population now thanks to efforts to reintroduce the animals back into an area they once populated. Black bears, turkey, squirrel and deer are just a few of the many other types of wildlife that can be seen throughout the Smokies.
This park, established in 1934, is now the most visited National Park in the country. Bring your family for a visit to find out why!