Great Smoky Mountains National Park – 10 Reasons to Visit this Ancient Wonder

posted in: North Carolina, USA 14

The Smokies

USA

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of those places where you don’t really need a reason to visit – you just do! It is one of the ancient wonders of the world which will transport you to a whole new world of experiences. For a city girl like me, a visit here has not only been a memorable one but it is one of those places that has earned a spot on the “Return” list.

Come along with me and share my experiences.

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a place where there are no real words can be found to describe it accurately. It was established in 1934 and has been referred to as a living mountain range. It is continuously shaped by the forces of nature – wind, water and erosion. The natural beauty of the mountains, the tranquillity of the woods and the wildlife here makes this, one of the most visited natural parks in America, drawing over 200,000 visitors per year – a Park that continues to ‘live’ in a time capsule of the 1800s.

Where is Great Smoky Mountains located?

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park sits on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee.

map of the smokies on USA map
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The Smokies on USA map – sits on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee

There are major entrances to the Smokies from either of the States. More information is listed below on Useful information.

For now, join me on our journey.

The Foothills Parkway – gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Foothills Parkway gives you easy access to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from a road corridor that is outside the Park, providing you with magnificent views of the mountains and wildflowers.

Foothills Parkway
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Foothills Parkway – the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains Natural Park

Our visit here was before the New Leg of the Parkway was open, in early autumn. (The New Leg takes you from Townsend, TN, to Wears Valley, with a short ride into Pigeon Forge , TN, and Gatlinburg, TN – from US 129 to US 321 in Walland).

Have a look at the following scenic guide offered by google.my.maps

Crisscrossing of the Ancient Mountains is a sight to behold… 

The beauty of the mountains comes through as you drive up…when you see, as far as you can, ridge upon ridge of endless forest. It was one of the prettiest sights, that I had ever witnessed – the crisscrossing of the mountains in the distance as it blends into the blues of the skies, which makes it particularly picturesque.

The Smokies.
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The Smokies: The beauty of the mountains comes through as you drive up…when you see, as far as you can, ridge upon ridge of endless forest. It was one of the prettiest sights, that I had ever witnessed – the crisscrossing of the mountains in the distance as it blends into the blues of the skies, which makes it particularly picturesque

No two views are the same…

There are many ‘pull-over’ areas throughout the drive that gives you breath-taking views of the mountains. Stop as many times as you can – we, stopped at every pull-over site, because no two sites were the same and it afforded great photo opportunities.

Capture the sights of the Wildflowers – The Great Smoky Mountains Natural Park is home to approximately 1600 species of flowering plants.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to 1600 species of plants.
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Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to 1600 species of plants.

The Great Smoky Mountains are not just mountains…there is an air of tranquillity here which you must simply experience yourself.

This mountain range is also covered with the ever-present morning fog which gives it the name, “Smokies”.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park: This mountain range is covered with the ever-present morning fog which gives it the name, “Smokies”
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Great Smoky Mountain National Park: This mountain range is covered with the ever-present morning fog which gives it the name, “Smokies”

The importance of the Great Smoky Mountains was aptly described by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was quoted as saying:

“There are trees here that stood before our forefathers ever came to this continent; there are brooks that still run as clear as on the day the first pioneer cupped his hand and drank from them.”

Activities

This ancient mountains with its ancient wonders provide a myriad of activities for both young and old. There are many reasons why one would visit this ancient wonder and I have listed my top 10 reasons below.

10 Reasons Why you should Visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park aka The Smokies

1 | History of Mountain Culture at the Great Smoky Mountains

The Smokies has a long history of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, specifically a community of native Americans called, Cherokee. It is a small community that is preserving its 18th century way of life. 

We visited Oconaluftee Indian Village, in Cherokee, a town on the reservation in western North Carolina. We had a taste of their 18th century lifestyle. A guided tour of Cherokee dwellings, a look at how their ancient jewellery and beads were crafted, their primitive tools – all with live demonstrations. The highlight was the cultural dance that tells the tribal story. 

If you are visiting this part of the world, pay the Cherokee Village a visit, it takes you to a different dimension.

Below is a picture of a Native American, one of the elders of the Cherokee tribe, from the Oconaluftee Indian Village.

Great Smoky Mountains: A visit to the nearby town of Cherokee where the 18th century lifestyle is preserved.
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Great Smoky Mountains: A visit to the nearby town of Cherokee where the 18th century lifestyle is preserved.

2 | A natural habitat of the Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains is a natural habitat to a huge diversity of wildflowers, plants and animal life which are not found elsewhere. It was a wonderful experience to see the varieties in various colours, all in one place.

3 | Wildlife of the Great Smoky Mountains

3.1 | The Great Smoky Mountains is home to approximately 1,500 black bears.

We did not see a bear on our visit, however, it is said that the chances of seeing a bear is highly likely in Cades Cove, (on the western side of the park) and Cataloochee Valley, (on the park’s east side).

3.2 | Best time to see black bears

Spring and Summer are the best months to see the bears, especially in the early             morning and at dusk.

3.3 | Federal law requirements

The bears live throughout the Park and federal law requires all visitors to properly      store their food in the trunk of their vehicles and place all garbage and food scraps            in bear-proof trash cans.

3.4 | Elks

An animal associated with the American West. Sightings of these are rare. We were fortunate to see them on our way to Cherokee, North Carolina. 

Great Smoky Mountains: Rare sightings of Elks in Cherokee
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Great Smoky Mountains: Rare sightings of Elks in Cherokee

4 | Wildflowers of the Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains is home to approximately 1600 species of flowering                plants.

During the spring months (mid-April to mid-May) and early summer (late May to          mid-July), are the best times to see wildflowers here such as rhododendron and                flame azalea.

The Mountains are also covered with healthy shrub flowers on higher elevation              which we were able to capture on our visit.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to 1600 species of plants.
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The Smokies is home to 1600 species of plants.
Great Smoky Mountains Wildflowers
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Wildflower shrubs at the Smokies.

Wet and humid climates, as well as a broad elevation range, are two of the most               important reasons for the park’s renowned diversity.

5 | Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains

For the fishing enthusiasts, there is about 700 plus miles of fishable streams in the Park which offers a selection of brook, brown, or rainbow trout.

6 | Waterfalls of the Great Smoky Mountains

There are many waterfalls throughout the Park with larger falls such as Grotto, Laurel and Rainbow which are well worth a visit.

7 | Hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains

For the hiking enthusiasts, there are several hiking trails to explore – part of the Appalachian Trail is here. 

The Great Smoky Mountains is home to many hiking trails such as the Appalachian Trail
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The Smokies is home to many hiking trails such as the Appalachian Trail

8 | Highest point of elevation of the Appalachian Trail

The Smoky Mountains has the highest point of elevation of the entire Appalachian Trail at 2019 metres (6625 feet) – near Clingman’s Dome.

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Official Great Smoky Mountains National Park map – courtesy of mysmokymountainpark.com

9 | Camping in the Great Smoky Mountains

There are many camping sites available, from backcountry to horse campgrounds. Backcountry camping requires a permit and reservations in advance. Backcountry campers are also advised to check weather conditions against their itinerary before arrival.

Bear activity, in addition to weather, can cause sites, roads, trails and shelters to close. The park can accommodate large groups of campers (minimum party size of 7) at several sites. Group campers must use tents only and they must reserve a spot in advance. 

10 | Historic buildings in the Great Smoky Mountains

There are about 90 historic buildings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A collection of log buildings, houses, barns, churches, schools and grist mills have been preserved. Best places to experience these are at Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Oconaluftee and along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.

My conclusion of the Great Smoky Mountains

Being in the midst of nature, the Smokies was truly an experience for a city girl like me. I enjoyed waking up to the sounds of the birds, the freshness of the morning dew, a walk in the trails looking for the footprints of black bears, and the sighting of elks were experiences that I would never forget. These are also experiences that encourages me to revisit this ancient wonder and is on my “return” list.

Travel tips and Useful information on Great Smoky Mountains

Getting to Great Smoky Mountains

The Park sits on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park,

107 Park Headquarters Road

Gatlinburg, TN

As the Park sits on the borders of two states, it offers various possibilities of access. The most popular entrance to the Park is via Sugarlands, the north side of the Park. I accessed the following from the official website of the mysmokymountain:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance map
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The entrance via Sugarlands, through Gatlinburg, TN

Access via Foothills Parkway

The Foothills Parkway gives you easy access to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from a road corridor that is outside the Park. The New Leg of the Parkway takes you from Townsend, TN, to Wears Valley, with a short ride into Pigeon Forge, TN, and Gatlinburg, TN – from US 129 to US 321 in Walland.

Visitor Centres

There are four Visitor Centres:

Cades Cove, Clingmans Dome, Oconaluftee, and Sugarlands

You can check the official website of the visitor centres by clicking: https://www.mysmokymountainpark.com/park/visitor-centers

What you need to know about the Weather in the Great Smoky Mountains

  1. Weather at The Great Smoky Mountains:
  • It has four distinct seasons.
  • March through May – Spring;
  • June through August – Summer;
  • September through November – Fall;
  • Mid-November through February – Winter.

**The weather here includes severe storms—tornadoes, strong winds, and hail—that can occur especially during the spring and summer months with March having the widest temperature swings. You can expect snowfall at any time during this month.

**Great Smoky Mountains National Park weather is also dependent on elevation. The base of a mountain can be 10 – 20 degrees warmer than temperatures at higher elevations, so prepare accordingly.

Safety tips to think about when at Great Smoky Mountains

If you are hiking, riding or camping, it is a good idea for you to have the following considerations in mind:

i) Map of the Great Smoky Mountains

Bring a Great Smoky Mountains National Park Map.  Even better if you can get one that has the hiking trails, and camping sites dotted. You can purchase one from the Visitor Centre.

ii) Park Rangers of the Great Smoky Mountains

Ask Great Smoky Mountains Park Rangers for additional safety tips when hiking or camping.

iii) Compass and network

Ensure you have a compass with you and you have a hand-phone that is fully charged. Take a charging device as a precaution.

More ways to experience The Smokies

In and around the Smokies are attractions and activities which one could explore for experiences that will last a lifetime!

Gatlinburg is one of the busiest towns that has a great selection from accommodation to restaurants and souvenir shops plus loads of attractions to choose from. Visit the Titanic Museum, Anakeesta Theme Park or Dollywood. If you are seeking adventurous activities, you could always do a helicopter tour, a 3-hour jeep tour from Foothills Parkway or a mountain zip lining activity. There are more choices available here for you to peruse and purchase an Adventure Pass giving you money saving options to 30 attractions and more.

If you prefer a quiet getaway, exploring on your own terms, like us, you could do that too. Whichever way you would like your adventure to be, there is always something for everyone seeking a memorable vacation at The Smokies.

Notes:

This is not a sponsored post and all opinions expressed are my own. All photos are my own and are all rights reserved. Please do not reproduce them. All prints are available upon requests.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading this blog and my adventure here will inspire you to travel to this ancient wonder.


Is this post valuable to you in planning your visits to The Smoky Mountains National Park? If so, let me know in comments below or via Contact Form, I would love to hear from you.

Have a splendid adventure!

Georgina

February 2020, Update.

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[https://www.nationalparks.org/explore-parks/great-smoky-mountains-national-park]

[https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/historicbuildings.htm]


“There are trees here that stood before our forefathers ever came to this continent; there are brooks that still run as clear as on the day the first pioneer cupped his hand and drank from them.”

Franklin Roosevelt

A detailed guide to this Ancient Wonder on how to get here (with maps), activities to do, prepare for various weather condition  and a  safety list. via @GGeorgina_mytimelessfootsteps/
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Travel | Photography | Writing. Entrepreneur | London & Travel blog | A passionate advocate of women over50 in unlocking their values. Overview

14 Responses

  1. Georgina
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    Thank you! I think the Smokies are great at any time but fall is better if you want to catch the colours. Spring through early summer is said to be perfect for wildflowers. Look forward to reading your post when you visit.

  2. Jan Banerjee
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    What a lovely place! I am truly impressed by the colors of the various mountains one behind the other blending with the sky and clouds! Looks like a magical place with waterfalls and hike options. Would fall be a better time to visit here than spring or summer? I am saving your blog for our future visit to this place. 🙂

  3. Georgina
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    I so look forward to returning to the Smoky Mountains one day. There is so much that I want to experience. Look forward to seeing your experiences.

  4. Chelsea Messina
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    The Smokies are especially gorgeous in the fall. This is one of the few National Parks we can drive to from Michigan in a reasonable amount of time (<12 hours) I'd like to go back and do some more hiking. While we're out there we are planning on seeing the Mammoth Caves NP as well. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Georgina
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    So glad you are so close to the Smoky Mountains. The leaf changing will be absolutely awesome, for sure. Look forward to reading about your experiences.

  6. Andi
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    Now that I have moved to North Carolina I am SO close to this national park and I cannot wait for our future road trip there – we are hoping to go this fall. It looks so beautiful and I think the leaf-changing will be awesome!

  7. Georgina
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    The Smoky Mountains are absolutely so beautiful that I would return in a heartbeat. We were very fortunate to see the elks but was disappointed that no black bears were in sight. Perhaps next time…

  8. Georgina
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    I would love to visit all the national parks! They are incredibly beautiful from what I’ve seen. I would have loved to see a black bear. He must have looked so cute sitting up on the tree! Thank you so much for sharing your treasured memories of the Smokies.

  9. Nancy Hann
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    Thanks for sharing your journey to the Great Smoky Mountains! I agree that it’s a truly magical place. I had the chance to take a day trip into the park a few years ago and we were thrilled to see a black bear high up in a tree not far from the road. There was a traffic jam of cars all stopped to watch. I think I could have stayed as long as the bear was there, but we had to move on eventually. It’s a wonderful place to go to see fall leaves too. And if you haven’t had a chance to visit other national parks, I highly recommend it. They’re all so unique and beautiful in their own way.

  10. Sarah Wilson
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    I visited the Great Smoky Mountains a few years ago. Isnt it beautiful? Didnt get to see any elks though! I do love the US national parks. I hope to see many more.

  11. Georgina
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    I am so happy to hear this! Glad it brought back memories and inspires you to revisit. Thank you so much for your lovely comments. I appreciate it much.

  12. worldisyourlobsterr
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    I loved the smokies when I visited the states a few years back. Ah your article made me want to visit again!

  13. Georgina
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    Thank you so much for your lovely words, Estelle. Much appreciated. The Smokies is one of the Best and look forward to your adventures when you visit here.

  14. Estelle Anderson
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    Hello Georgina.
    Thank you so much for putting together such an informative post about the Great Smoky Mountains National Parks. We are huge fans of visiting NPs.

    Last year we visited a number of NPs in the USA, and they were all incredibly stunning – in different ways. We heard from other travellers that the Great Smoky Mountains NP is one of the best in the USA.
    We’d love to see the views of the ranges stretching out ahead, with the fog and wildflowers setting it off to perfection. One day… I’d love to visit

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