The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is 815 square miles of nature at her finest! Fall is one of the best times to experience the beauty of this natural wildlife refuge as the trees begin reaching their peak colors. This spectacular park runs between the borders of Tennessee and North Carolina. The Great Smoky Mountains are part of the Blue Ridge Mountains which are a smaller division of the larger Appalachian Mountain chain. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park was established in 1934 and was officially dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. The park is one on the largest protected areas in the eastern United States and it is recognized globally as an “International Biosphere Reserve” and “World Heritage Site.”
There are so many reasons for a nature lover to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is evident in the number of visitors every year. Approximately nine million people come to the park every year, making it the most visited national park in the United States! The convenient location of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park contributes to its large volume of visitors. It is within a one day drive of one third of the United States population!
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has elevations ranging from 875 feet to 6,643 feet above sea level, with the highest point being Clingmans Dome. There are sixteen mountains within the park that reach higher than 6,000 feet. This wide range of elevations along with the mild temperatures and abundance of rainfall gives this park one of the most diverse ecosystems on the entire earth! The park has more than 4,000 species of plants, including 130 types of trees. The trees in the park will begin their gorgeous display of fall colors in the higher elevations and spread down the mountains to lower elevations giving several weeks of “peak foliage” colors.
Fall is not the only time the park is known for beautiful colors. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also known for its abundance of wildflowers. It has more than 1,400 flowering plant species! Once you see the lovely species of rhododendrons blooming in their ideal location as nature intended, it is hard to look at them quite the same in our suburban landscapes.
The park has at least 230 types of birds, 65 types of mammals, 50 varieties of fish and more than 80 kinds of reptiles and amphibians. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also known as “the salamander capital of the world” with more than 30 different species. The park is well known for the more than 1,600 black bears roaming the forests. It has deer, elk, raccoon, wild turkeys, woodchucks and many more animals. Feeding and disturbing the wild life in the park in violation of federal regulations and will result in fines or arrests. The park wants us to enjoy the abundant wild life, but from a safe distance for us and the animals. The federal laws state that, “feeding, touching, teasing, frightening, or intentional disturbing of wildlife” is prohibited. It is best to use binoculars for viewing from a distance.
The Great Smoky National Park is extremely popular with hikers. It has more than 800 miles of maintained trails from the very short to very long trails that could require overnight camping. The park has several different types of campsites. The first is called “backcountry” which requires hiking several miles to a campsite. The second is called “frontcountry” where you can camp near your vehicle in a developed campground with restrooms with cold running water and toilets. Each individual site has its own picnic table and fire grate. The third types are large campsites intended for groups of eight people or more appropriately called “group campgrounds.” These are located in the frontcountry section of campgrounds. The last one is called “horse camps.” These are small sites accessible by vehicle. They offer hitch racks for horses and primitive camping facilities.
One of the ever popular ways to see the splendor of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is by vehicle. It offers stunning views and many opportunities for stopping to catch breathtaking photographs. There are many beautiful rushing streams and waterfalls you will encounter on your tour of the park. You will probably find yourself wanting to stop the vehicle as much as possible to just linger over nature’s majestic beauty.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open year round, 24 hours a day for 365 days a year and does not have an entrance fee. There will be certain secondary roads and campgrounds and visitor facilities that will close in the winter months. Sometimes additional roads and areas could temporarily close due to weather or construction. The three main entrances to the park are in Gatlinburg, TN, Townsend, TN and Cherokee, NC. You can visit the park at their web site at www.nps.gov/ and get any information you could possibly need. There is even a trip planner with loads of information and maps available to download. There are fees for pavilion rentals and camping facilities and reservations may be necessary for those. The park is truly a beautiful place to escape and enjoy magnificent scenery and wildlife. It is a trip you’ll remember and one you will not want to forget your camera!