The Great Smoky Mountains
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is undeniably one of the most cherished National Parks in the United States. According to the National Park Service, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park receives more visitors than any other National Park in the country. And this is a particularly impressive feat considering there are 59 National Parks in the system.
In this picturesque Park you will discover many natural wonders, including sweeping vistas, majestic mountains, crystal-clear waters, and wondrous wildlife. The Park straddles the states of Tennessee and North Carolina in the southeastern United States, and spans more than 800 square miles of natural backdrops that bewilder.
Practicing Patriotism in the Park
Visiting our National Parks is an act of patriotism. And Smoky Mountains National Park is a great place to celebrate our country’s beauty and bounty. Here we can reflect on the country we cherish, while surrounded by one of the great reasons why. As Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children.” Our National Parks are one of our country’s greatest treasures, and, thankfully, one we can pass on from generation to generation.
Significantly, Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the only National Parks that remains completely free to visitors, and we have the State of Tennessee to thank for that. The States of Tennessee and North Carolina cooperatively constructed Newfound Gap Road, which runs through the park. They later donated the road to the federal government to be a part of the National Park. As a stipulation to this donation, Tennessee included a deed requirement that “no toll or license fee shall ever be imposed…” as a way to assure their State’s residents would continue to have access to efficient transportation through the area. Presently, everyone has free admission.
Take the Slow Road
On the downside of free admission, the park tends to be very crowded, especially during peak season. But consider the traffic an opportunity to slow down, enjoy the scenery, and meditate on how amazing it is that we can all share in this breathtaking spectacle together! In this fast-paced world, it’s not every day we can stop and smell the pine trees. Occasionally we need to decompress. Amid the peace of the Park, this is possible.
Being Steeped in History
The National Park Service explains here that, “One of the best collections of log buildings in the Eastern United States [is here]. Over 90 historic structures – houses, barns, outbuildings, churches, schools, and grist mills – have been preserved or rehabilitated in the park.” (nps.gov) These charming yet rustic structures give a good glimpse of what life was like in the 1800s in the rural South. Not surprisingly, many of these historic cabins and other buildings in the park are registered with the National Register of Historic Places. When you freely explore them inside and out, you can imagine a life in a distant time.
Hit the Hiking Trails
For the energetically-inclined there are an array of hiking trails available. No matter what your preferred difficulty level, there’s a trail here to suit you. They range from short to long, and from easy to challenging. You can plan ahead, as hiking options are listed on the National Park Service’s Smoky Mountains website here. Once on-site, hiking trail maps are conveniently available at the Welcome Center.
Exploring on foot surrounds you with remarkable waterfalls, streaming creeks, and dense forests hosting an encyclopedic variety of trees, many of which are inaccessible by car. A hike here stimulates all of the senses… The spectacular views of the mountains, soothing sounds of bubbling brooks and trees rustling in the wind, plus the pristine smell of pine… there’s truly a feast for the senses to indulge in here.
Want to commemorate the memories of your hike? For $1 you can purchase a book to log your miles. Those who’ve hiked 100 miles or more can share their mileage booklet with the Visitor Center to receive a mileage pin and be immortalized in their “Hike the Smokies” record book.
Black Bears and Other Wildlife
Observing the fascinating antics of the local wildlife is one of the greatest perks of a visit to Smoky Mountains National Park. The Park is most well-known for its black bear population. When you see a log jam of cars parked illegally along the road and no scenic overlook, you can safely assume it’s a makeshift wildlife viewing stop. And if people are looking up into the trees, your first thought might be that they’re bird-watching. But, instead, they are likely viewing black bears: surprisingly highly capable climbers! The National Park Service suggests on their website here that there are approximately 1,500 black bears who call the Park home. Deer and other wildlife are also abundant in the park. Your next furry friend might be around the next bend…
With 384 miles of road, there’s plenty of opportunity to get off the beaten path here. Driving is certainly the most efficient way to explore the many historic buildings in the park and enjoy the scenery in two different states. Yet patience is still advised, however. As the most-visited park in the country, the roads and parking areas can get pretty crowded. So you may not be able to make every stop, or may need to repeat your tracks more than once if you don’t want to miss a thing. Savor every minute of it! Auto tour maps are available at the Park’s information center, to help you navigate your way to all of the historic sites, hiking trails, scenic overlooks, facilities, and more.
If your idea of a great night’s sleep is a night under the stars breathing in the pristine, pine-scented air, you may want to consider staying in one of the Park’s campsites. Indeed, a variety of options are available depending on your tolerance level for “roughing it.” For the truly adventurous, there are back-country campsites that can only be reached via hiking several miles. Front-country campsites are accessible by car and offer facilities with modern plumbing. Campsites for groups, and others that are able to accommodate horses, are also available should they better suit your needs.
The Great Smoky Mountains are named for the puffy plumes of mist that float freely among their plentiful peaks. Bask in the mist, and the beauty and vitality of our great nation that this charming Park exemplifies. This Park is free, but the scenery is priceless! To find out more about Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you can visit their official website here. If you want to read more from us, check out our last blog post here.
Author: Heather Anne Longfellow