Which is the most visited national park in the united states? Yellowstone? Yosemite? Grand canyon? Guess again and look eastward. Great smoky mountains national park straddles the Tennessee-north Carolina border sees eight to ten million visitors a year, more than twice the number of any other park. That means as many as sixty thousand people in one summer day. The park is open all year long. Lowlands warm in the summer mild in the winter; summits always cooler, and autumn has the least rain. Some are just passing through but most are seeking at least a brief escape to a less crowded world of forests and hills and streams. Geologists class these mountains among the oldest on earth.
Can anyone find solitude in a place so heavily visited? The answer would be yes. You can stroll the trails during peak season and not encounter a soul. For one thing the park is extremely large, by eastern standards, only 226 miles of paved road traverse a domain that encompasses some 800 square miles of mountainous terrain. The close-packed leaves exude hydrocarbons and water vapor, which in turn produce the filmy “smoke” that gives the mountains their name. To find a campsite and to avoid horrendous traffic jams, come early in the day, preferably in the midweek. Camping in parks can be rewarding and inexpensive especially if car camping. The park has 1,008 developed campsites and 100 primitive sites.
Camping and fires outside the campgrounds will require a permit.
Many attractions can be seen without even leaving your car, there are drive-in nature trails. One of these are an 11 mile loop around Cades Cove, which is a nice place to drive through, but those who switch from car to foot will certainly see much more. Many visitors take advantage of the park’s 700 miles of hiking trails and nature walks that offer abundant opportunity to see at close range the park’s great wealth of plant and animal life. Some of the more popular sights include Clingmans Dome, Mount LeConte, the sheer rock pinnacles of Chimney Tops, the 100-foot waterfall Ramsay Cascades, and the scenic and historic sites at Cataloochee Valley, Cades Cove and Oconaluftee.
There are so many Special Programs and Activities to enjoy such as horse riding, biking, picnicking, tours and swimming. Park waters are dangerous and caution is a must. Swim at your own risk, and watch children carefully. The Park does not recommend any specific swimming area for this reason. Since Park waters rarely rise above 65°F, hypothermia is a year round risk. But there is no need to swim when you can check out everything else and just enjoy what the Great Smoky Mountains have to offer.