The first national park we will explore is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is located within the states of North Carolina and Tennessee at the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains and sees more visitors every year than any other national park—9 million.
This region was originally inhabited by the Cherokee people, but they were forced west in the 1830s. This event is known as "The Trail of Tears."
Those European settlers who lived in the area in the late 1800s and early 1900s lived off the land. They built their houses from the trees in the region and hunted for and planted their own food.
When the logging industry came to the area in the early 1900s, it didn't take long before those living there were heavily reliant on things that were manufactured and food bought in grocery stores instead of being self-sufficient. The industry, also, was decimating the forests. In 1934, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established to preserve the remaining woodlands from destruction. Those living here were forced to move. (Does anybody else notice the irony?)
More than 70 structures that were left behind when the inhabitants were evicted have been preserved. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has the largest collection of historic log buildings in the eastern part of the country.
Some of the folks responsible for championing the cause of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park were David Chapman, Ann Davis, Paul Fink, Horace Kephart, George Masa, Ben Morton, Mark Squires, Jim Thompson, and Charles A. Webb.
View some historical photos here.
Learn more about the people responsible here.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers 800 square miles. There have been more than 17,000 documented species, including 66 kinds of mammals, 67 fish species, 39 reptiles, 43 amphibians, 200 types of birds, and 100 native species of trees. One species of mammal present in the park is the American Black Bear. This is actually the symbol of the Smoky Mountains. This area is also home to white-tailed deer, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, bats, deer mice, otters, wolves, shrew, and more.
If you want to find out more about the specific animals and plants that live in this park, visit the National Park animal page.
If you are able to visit the park, there are numerous programs available. However, if a visit is not in the near future, consider participating in one of the distance learning programs. These include learning about current research projects and electronic field trips.
Park visitors can participate in the Junior Ranger program, if they are between the ages of 5 and 12. Booklets can be purchased in person and online. Kids can complete the activities in the book to earn a badge.
Other activities that the whole family can enjoy include touring the park in your car. The visitors' center has inexpensive booklets that help to guide the way, as well as numbered posts and landmarks along the way. You can also purchase them online before your trip. Bicycling is a wonderful activity in the park. There are many trails and roadways that allow for a view of the landscape and historical structures that are present throughout the park. There is a road within the park, Cades Cove Loop Road, that is closed to vehicular traffic on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10 a.m. so that bicycles need to be concerned with cars. There are no trails specific to mountain biking here, however.
If you're looking to spend some time in the park, camping is an option. If your idea of camping is hiking to a remote location and sleeping under the stars and using the nearest tree as the necessary, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has some rules and regulations. Permits are also required. They want to know you are out there, but they don't want to know you've been there. In other words, they want you to leave the park in better shape than what you found it. The same goes for those who choose to pitch a tent or drive their RV to the front country where there are electric hookups and bathrooms with showers available. There are 10 separate campgrounds located within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. View a map to see where they are located in relation to other points of interest within the park. Each campground has a different number of sites, a slightly different elevation, a different season length, and different restrictions on RV length.
Consider fishing, hiking, picnicking, and watching the wildlife. From mid-March through late November, horseback riding is available at four different locations within the park. The guided trail rides last 45 minutes to a few hours and start at a rate of $30 per hour. You can even bring your own horse. Hayrides and wagon rides are available as well.
Besides the beautiful panoramas that are offered throughout the park, visitors can trek inside to view one of the many waterfalls. The park receives an average rainfall of 85 inches per year. That means that this rain flows down the mountainside and fills the rivers and streams, creating an abundant flow of water to spill over the falls. There are a couple of waterfalls that can be reached by car.
The park offers various workshops and classes for grade-school kids through adults. Some of the programs have a fee associated with them. Call the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont at 865-448-6709 or the Smoky Mountain Field School at 865-974-0150 to find out what classes are being offered and how much they cost.
I hope you have enjoyed this look at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The number of activities and beautiful scenery make this a wonderful vacation spot for a weekend, a week, or just a get away for the day.
If there is something else you'd like to see in these national park posts, please let me know. If you have pictures you'd be willing to share, please also let me know that. I haven't been to too many of the parks to share my own photos.
Your Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park'
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (National Geographic: Trails Illustrated Map #229) (National Geographic Maps: Trails Illustrated)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Thirty Years of American Landscapes
Top Trails: Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone