Straddling the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of America's finest national treasures. This park and its surrounding foothills are called "smoky" because of the mists and haze that swirl through the tree-covered peaks. This gives the mountains a romantic, old-world feel that connects to the heart of every visitor.
The Smoky Mountains are a part of the Appalachian Mountain range, the ridge that runs nearly the whole length of the Eastern United States. These glorious mountains, often referred to as "the Smokies," are home to the most visited national park in the U.S. 9 million people visit this area every year, admiring the incredible views and abundant wildlife.
When you visit the Smokies, you can head into the national park or spend your time in the neighboring Nantahala National Forest, Pisgah National Forest, and Cherokee National Forest. The national forests are an ideal choice for anyone who wants to get away from the crowds or enjoy activities like hunting, dog walking, off-roading, and ATV riding. Inside the national park, on the other hand, you'll find protected old-growth forests, interpretive trails, viewpoints, and helpful rangers.
The Smokies include stunning peaks like Mount Le Conte, Balsam Mountain, and Tricorner Knob. Most of the highest mountains are part of a 75-mile stretch that runs between the Little Tennessee River and the Pigeon River. The highest point is Clingmans Dome (6,643 feet). Visitors can drive to within 300 vertical feet of the summit and hike up a paved trail to the top. If the day is clear, you can see as far as Georgia and Kentucky from the peak.
Not only are the Smokies known for their amazing wildlife, but the park is also called the "wildflower national park" because of the breathtaking spring and summer blooms. Depending on the time of year, you can see trilliums, bee balm, Solomon's seal, native rhododendrons, azaleas, and even orchids growing wild in the mountains. More than 10,000 species of plants and animals have been documented in the park.
Animals are a hallmark of the Smoky Mountains. Inside the national park, there are around 1,500 black bears. You'll also see deer, chipmunks, squirrels, groundhogs, and more than 200 bird species. If you're out at night, be sure to watch for owls and bats!
Fishing is a traditional Smoky Mountain activity. You'll find brooks and rivers with headwater trout, smallmouth bass, and brook trout. There are also hundreds of miles of roads and trails to explore. Hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding are all popular pursuits. This is also a great park to explore by car. You can buy inexpensive booklets that guide you through sights like the Newfound Gap, the Upper Tremont, Cades Cove, and the Cataloochee Valley.
Be sure to keep an eye out for waterfalls and historic sites. Nearly 80 historic buildings are part of the park, from churches and schools to grist mills and barns. These include the best group of log buildings in the eastern United States! Many of these structures have been preserved by park staff and volunteers.