Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Flora and Fauna
Nestled in-between North Carolina and Tennessee is the most visited National Park in America. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park attracts over 9 millions visitors every season, and has the accolade of being the first National Park that was created in 1934, in part, through Federal funding. Why is the park so popular? It is one of the most accessible national parks, as visitors can hike freely through the rolling mountains and heavily wooded forests on gentle trails. The exquisite beauty and uncommonly rich biodiversity in the Great Smoky Mountains are part of its popularity. The park’s flora and fauna is classically Americana. Black bears (ursus americanus) nose around for berries, over 50 species of fish populate the lakes and rivers, and over 200 species of birds migrate to and from the park yearly. In the past few decades, the National Park Service has reintroduced elk, river otter (lontra canadensis), and the Peregrine Falcon (falco peregrinus) to the Park. Moreover, there are over 1,600 species of flowering plants, and throughout the warmer months visitors are given a dazzling show of multi-colored blooms.
Photo Credit: NPS (both photos)
One of the most original aspects of the park is its historical significance to the communities currently living in the Appalachians. One of the most popular sights in the park is the old homesteads of the original inhabitants, many of whom have descendants living in the nearby towns of Gatlinburg and Asheville. Visitors have the opportunity to send their children to pioneer school, and to learn how to live life as it was lived in in the 1800’s. This is one of the best glimpses available to the homey and historic Appalachian lifestyle.
Photo Credit: NPS
Purple Mountains Majesty
America is known as the land of “purple mountains majesty,” and the Smoky Mountains fit this description as if it were written for them (which it wasn’t). The term “smoky” comes from the blue mist that hangs about in the valleys and drifts through the entire park in the mornings. This area gets more rain than nearly any other location in the United States. As the hot air from the coast condenses when it reaches the temperate Appalachian forests, a dense humid mist forms throughout the mountain range. The Cherokee name for the Smoky Mountains is Shaconage (Sha-con-uh-gee), which translates to “blue like smoke.” They were the first eyes to see the majesty of these purple mountains. Most of the Cherokee tribes, who considered the Smoky Mountains to be their home, were forcefully removed from their homeland due to the Indian Removal Act in 1830. However, a renegade band of Cherokee Indians led by a warrior named Tsali hid in the forest-covered hills, and their descendants remain in the area to this day. The park has since been delegated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976.
Photo Credit: NPS
1. Where is the Smoky Mountain National Park located?
The Park is located in the Appalachian Mountain Range, on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. A segment of the famous Appalachian Trail runs directly through the Park!
2. Where can I stay when visiting?
If you are coming from the Tennessee side of the park, Gatlinburg is the closest city on that end. Here, you will find a classic Southern culture and many hotels and other housing arrangements to choose from. If you’re coming from the North Carolina Side, Asheville is the closest city. Here, there is a hippie-vibe, foodie culture. While in Asheville, take some time to explore the University of North Carolina’s beautiful campus!
3. When are the visitor centers open?
There are four visitor centers in the park. The first is Cades Cove Visitor Center, which is in the middle of the eleven mile Cades Cove Loop road in Tennessee, and is open December and January from 9:00-4:30, February and November from 9:00-5:00, March, September, and October from 9:00-6:00, and April through August from 9:00-7:00. The second is Clingman’s Dome Visitor Contact Station, which is open from April through October from 10:00-6:00, November from 9:30-5:00, and is closed from December through March. The third is the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Located about a mile and a half from Cherokee in North Carolina, this center is open in January and February from 8:00-4:30, March and November from 8:00-5:00, April through May and September through October from 8:00-6:00, and June through August from 8:00-7:00. The fourth is Sugarlands Visitor Center, which is located in Tennessee, and is open from January through February from 8:00-4:30, March and November from 8:00-5:00, April, May, September, and October from 8:00-6:00, and June through August from 8:00-7:00. For more information about getting to these visitor centers and what they offer, follow this helpful link: http://www.fodors.com/world/north-america/usa/tennessee/great-smoky-mtns-national-park/travel-tips/visitor-information-2788197
4. What should I not miss when visiting the park?
The most popular destination is Cades Cove, where visitors can explore the old homesteads. The 8-mile hike to Charlies Bunion is will offer explorers the best vistas, and hikers get the added bonus of saying they hiked (park) of the Appalachian Trail! Other hikes include the Alum Cave Bluffs, Andrews Bald, Rainbow Falls, and the Chimney Tops. For more information about these opportunities, follow this link: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/hiking.htm
One of the best times to go to the park is from mid-June to mid-July, when the most flowers are in bloom. Among those in the dazzling show include mountain laurel (kalmia latifolia), azalea azalea candida), and rhododendron (rhododendron ferrugineum). If you’re lucky, you will even spot a sweet pinesap (monotropsis odorata). Follow this link to find out why this flowering plant is so special: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/nature/dff11-sweetpinesap.htm
5. What is the weather like in the park?
The weather is based entirely on the altitude and season in the park. Winters can be quite cold and summers can be very hot. However, during any season temperatures can change 10-20 degrees at the bottoms and tops of the mountains. Bring rain gear and great hiking shoes.
6. How much does it cost to enter the park?
This park is free to access!
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