Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a US 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 USA, with 9-10 million visits per year.
The Park was established on June 15, 1934 after a long process of land purchases starting in with Congress' authorization in 1926. Rockefeller family donated $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.
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 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.
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.
* 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.
* Morton Overlook En route to Clingmans dome.
* 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.
* Bears The park is home to more than 1,000 black bears.
* 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.
* Waterfalls Do not climb on the falls.
* Hypothermia Be cautious when in the park's streams.
Please click on the image for pictures.