Great Smoky Mountains National Park is part of the Appalachian Mountain chain located along the border of the states North Carolina and Tennessee in the eastern United States. It covers an area of 816.2 square miles (2,114 sq km).
The park boundaries incorporate parts of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains which are subranges of the larger Appalachian chain creating one of the larger national parks in the southeast region of the United States.
The primary entrances occur on US Highway 441 which runs through the park from Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Cherokee, North Carolina. It is locally known as the Newfound Gap Road and serves as a mountain pass toward the center of the park.
The park elevations start at 875 feet (267 m) and rise up to 6,643 feet (2,205) which are considerably lower elevations than Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Clingmans Dome is the highest summit and features a lookout observation deck located at the peak.
There are 16 peaks that hit heights over 5,000 feet (1,520 m). It is the beautiful rolling mountains covered with forest that create the spectacular landscapes of the park. Only 5% of the park is not covered by forests with the protected area serving as one of the largest old-growth forests in North America. There are over 100 species of trees making up the various forests of the park.
The abundant forested areas give way to an array of wildlife with popular mammalian animals including black bear, elk, bobcat, coyote, foxes, river otter, raccoon, skunk, and beaver. Additionally, there are 39 species of reptiles, 43 species of amphibians, and over 200 species of birds.
Great Smokey Mountain Highlights
The various landscapes are the highlight of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The views change seasonally with over 1,400 flower species decorating the spring and early summer months. The fall foliage that decorates the rolling mountain ranges is another highlight that draws millions over visitors. It is the most visited national park in the United States.
Laurel Falls is an 80-foot (24 m) waterfall which can be accessed through a short easy paved path. Clingman’s Dome observation deck is also accessed through a short-paved path.
Apart from the scenic drives through the park, the best way to experience the Great Smokey Mountains is hiking the numerous trails found throughout the park. Backpacking and camping are also common ways to enjoy the park.
Trails in Great Smokey Mountain National Park
The Great Smokey Mountain National Park is renowned for a place to hike to your heart's content. There are well over 300 different hiking trails that visitors can trek to explore the national park and the abundant wilderness that awaits. The trails range from easy escape to difficult challenging adventures.
Laurel Falls Trail: The ease and accessibility of this trail make it one of the most popular in the park. It is a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) journey with an elevation gain of 396 feet (120.70 m) while traveling on a paved journey out to the stunning Laurel Falls. There is a chance to see wildlife, but the hike is really about exploring the forest and seeing the beautiful waterfall.
Clingmans Dome Observation Tower Trail: This is a 1.2 mile (1.93 km) trek over a terrain that gives is a moderate rating. Once you make the hike, the reward is the observation tower that gives captivating panoramic views of the entire area in each direction. The mountain is the highest point in the national park, which means you will be the highest point when visiting the observation tower.
Chimney Tops Trail: This is a difficult rated 3.6-mile (5.79 km) with an ascent of 1,289 feet (392.88 m) while crossing rivers and trekking through the exquisite forest. The trail is rocky and quite an adventure.
Grotto Falls Trail: This is a popular trail that meanders through the forest out to a cascading waterfall. The terrain is rugged and ascends over 534 feet (162.76 m) while making the ascent up to where you will see the waterfall.
Rainbow Falls Trail: This is a challenging trail that ascends up 1,653 feet (503.83 m) over 5.5 miles (8.85 km). The trail features a cascading river as well as a cascading rocky waterfall. There is a chance of seeing wildlife while traversing through the forest and up the mountain.
Great Smoky Mountains Highlights
- Scenic drive along US Highway 441
- Clingmans Dome and observation deck
- Laurel Falls
- All Trails, Best Trails in Great Smokey Mountain National Park, https://www.alltrails.com/parks/us/tennessee/great-smoky-mountains-national-park, retrieved July 2020.
- Britannica, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, https://www.britannica.com/place/Great-Smoky-Mountains, retrieved September 2019.
- Gatlinburg, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, https://www.gatlinburg.com/explore/national-park/, retrieved September 2019.
- National Geographic, Complete National Parks of the United States, National Geographic Publishing, Washington DC.
- National Geographic, Guide to the National Parks of the United States, National Geographic Society, 2003.
- National Geographic, National Parks of North America, Canada-United States-Mexico, National Geographic Society, 1995.
- National Park Service, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, https://www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm, retrieved September 2019.
- Smoky Mountains, National Park, https://smokymountains.com/park/, retrieved September 2019.
- UNESCO, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/259/, retrieved September 2019.