Great Smoky Mountains National Park | Great Smoky Mountains National Park Map
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a United States National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and an International Biosphere Reserve that straddles the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. Because of its substantial size, its location within a few hundred miles of several large cities, its year-round accessibility, and of course its general appeal to a wide variety of people, it consistently ranks the most-visited national park in the United States of America, with 9-10 million visits per year.
Where are the great smoky mountains:
By plane:Planes will get you to Asheville (60 miles East) or Knoxville (45 miles West).
By train:There is no train service. You might get a train to Atlanta, but that is a few hundred miles away.
By plane:Travelling by car is the best method to visit the park. The most popular entrance into the park is from the North through Gatlinburg, Tennessee. You can also enter from the South on the North Carolina side of park, through Cherokee, Maggie Valley, or Bryson City.
By bus:There is no bus service to the park.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Fees / Permits :
There are no entrance fees charged for visiting this park thanks to restrictions imposed when the park was established.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Map:
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Road closures and restrictions:Motorists should be aware that some roads close for several months out of the year. Buses and large motorhomes are prohibited on some roads in the park. There are also temporary road closures due to weather and construction.
Refer to the park's website for all up to date conditions.
Smoky Mountains Climate:
March through May: Spring brings with it unpredictable weather. Changes occur rapidly - sunny skies can yield to snow flurries in a few hours. March is the month with the most radical changes; snow can fall at any time during the month, particularly in the higher elevations. Temperatures in the lower elevations have a mean high of 61ºF. Low temperatures, which are often below freezing, have a mean of 42ºF. By mid-April the weather is usually milder. Daytime temperatures often reach the 70s and occasionally the 80s. Below freezing temperatures at night are uncommon in the lower elevations but still occur higher up. April averages over four inches of rain, usually in the form of afternoon showers. May is warmer, with daytime highs in the 70s and 80s and lows in the 40s and 50s. May rainfall averages about 4.5 inches.
June through August: Summer in the Smokies means heat, haze, and humidity. Afternoon showers and thunderstorms are common. Temperatures increase through the period with July and August afternoon highs in the 90s in the lower elevations. Evening lows are usually comfortable with readings in the 60s and 70s. In the higher elevations, the weather is much more pleasant. On Mount Le Conte (6,593' elevation), no temperature above 80 degrees has ever been recorded.
Mid-November through February: Winter in the Smokies is generally moderate, but extremes in weather do occur, especially with an increase in elevation. It is not unusual to have warm temperatures in the low elevations and snow in the higher areas. About half the days in the winter have high temperatures of 50 degrees or more. Highs occasionally even reach the 70s. Most nights have lows at or below freezing. But lows of -20°F. are possible at high elevations. In the low elevations, snows of 1" or more occur 1-5 times a year. Snow falls more frequently in the higher mountains and up to two feet can fall during a storm. January and February are the months when one is most likely to find snow in the mountains.
Natural features at Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
The wide range of elevations mimics the latitudinal changes found throughout the entire eastern United States. Indeed, ascending the mountains is comparable to a trip from Tennessee to Canada. Plants and animals common in the country's Northeast have found suitable ecological niches in the park's higher elevations, while southern species find homes in the balmier lower reaches.
During the most recent ice age, the northeast-to-southwest orientation of the Appalachian mountains allowed species to migrate southward along the slopes rather than finding the mountains to be a barrier. As climate warms, many northern species are now retreating upward along the slopes and withdrawing northward, while southern species are expanding.
The variety of elevations, the abundant rainfall, and the presence of old growth forests give the park an unusual richness of biota. About 10,000 species of plants and animals are known to live in the park, and estimates as high as an additional 90,000 undocumented species may also be present.
Park officials count more than 200 species of birds, 66 species of mammals, 50 species of fish, 39 species of reptiles, and 43 species of amphibians, including many lungless salamanders. The park has a noteworthy black bear population, numbering at least 1,800. An experimental re-introduction of elk (wapiti) into the park began in 2001.
Over 100 species of trees grow in the park. The lower region forests are dominated by deciduous leafy trees. At higher altitudes, deciduous forests give way to coniferous trees like Fraser Fir. In addition, the park has over 1,400 flowering plant species and over 4,000 species of non-flowering plants.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Attractions and activities:
The two main visitors' centers inside the park are Sugarlands Visitors' Center near the Gatlinburg entrance to the park and Oconaluftee Visitors' Center near Cherokee, North Carolina at the eastern entrance to the park. These ranger stations provide exhibits on wildlife, geology and the history of the park. They also sell books, maps, and souvenirs. Unlike most other national parks, there is no entry fee to the park.
U.S. Highway 441 (known in the park as Newfound Gap Road) bisects the park, providing automobile access to many trailheads and overlooks, most notably that of Newfound Gap. At an elevation of 5,048 feet (1,539 m), it is the lowest gap in the mountains and is situated near the center of the park, on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line, halfway between the border towns of Gatlinburg and Cherokee. It was here that in 1940, from the Rockefeller Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedicated the national park. On clear days Newfound Gap offers arguably the most spectacular scenes accessible via highway in the park.
See the mountains. Great wildlife, too. Heck, it's a rain forest!
The park has several visitor centers inside the park as well as some in the surrounding areas. These centers offer various ranger-led programs, facilities, services, and exhibits. Visitors can get information to help plan their visit to the park and get answers to their questions from park rangers. There are two main ones:
- Sugarlands Visitors Center Serves the Tennessee half of the park with a gift shop, small museum, and theater
- Oconaluftee Visitors Center Serves the North Carolina half
In addition, there are visitors centers outside the park in Gatlinburg and Townsend
Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
There are 850 miles (1,368 km) of trails and unpaved roads in the park for hiking, including seventy miles of the Appalachian Trail. Mount Le Conte is one of the most frequented destinations in the park. Its elevation is 6,593 feet (2,010 m) — the third highest summit in the park and, measured from its base to its highest peak, the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River. Alum Cave Trail is the most heavily used of the five paths en route to the summit. It provides many scenic overlooks and unique natural attractions such as Alum Cave Bluffs and Arch Rock. Hikers may spend a night at the LeConte Lodge, located near the summit, which provides cabins and rooms for rent (except during the winter season). Accessible solely by trail, it is the only private lodging available inside the park.
Another popular hiking trail leads to the pinnacle of the Chimney Tops, so named because of its unique dual-humped peaktops. This short but strenuous trek rewards nature enthusiasts with a spectacular panorama of the surrounding mountain peaks.
In addition to day hiking, the national park offers opportunities for backpacking and camping. Camping is allowed only in designated camping areas and shelters. Most of the park's trail shelters are located along the Appalachian Trail or a short distance away on side trails. In addition to the Appalachian Trail shelters used mostly for extended backpacking trips there are three shelters in the park that are not located on the Appalachian Trail.
- The Mt. LeConte Shelter is located a short distance east of LeConte Lodge on the Boulevard Trail. It can accommodate 12 people per night, and is the only backcountry site in the entire park that has a permanent ban on campfires.
- The Kephart Shelter is located at the terminus of the Kephart Prong Trail which begins upstream of the Collins Creek Picnic Area. The shelter, situated along a tributary of the Oconaluftee River can accommodate 14 people.
- Laurel Gap Shelter is one of the more remote shelters in the park. Situated in a Beech forest swag between Balsam High Top and Big Cataloochee Mountain, the Laurel Gap Shelter can accommodate up to 14 people per night. This shelter is a popular base camp for peakbaggers exploring the heart of the Smokies wilderness.
Designated backcountry campsites are scattered throughout the park. A permit, available at ranger stations and trailheads, is required for all backcountry camping. Additionally, reservations are required for many of the campsites and all of the shelters. A maximum stay of one night, in the case of shelters, or three nights, in the case of campsites, may limit the traveler's itinerary.
Other activities at Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
Do at Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
- The Park has many miles of hiking trails, including the Appalachian Trail which crosses the park and there are occasional ranger-guided tours.
- A drive around Cades Cove, an historic farming valley, is very popular due to the frequency of wildlife. However, due to congestion and "deer jams," the effective speed on this 11 mile (17 km) one-way loop is very slow — allow a few hours.
- Take the walking path to the top of Clingmans Dome (6643 feet / 2025 m), it is the highest point in the park, the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest point east of the Mississippi river. From the Sugarlands Visitors Center, go south 13 miles on Newfound Gap Road, to the also stunning Morton Overlook, and west 7 miles to the parking lot, before hiking a fairly steep path .5 mile to a concrete overlook. There are many dead trees at the top, victims of bug disease over past decades. Visibility at the top has been greatly reduced over past decades due to pollution. On the 20 mile route from Sugarlands to the peak, you ascend roughly a mile.
- Morton Overlook En route to Clingmans dome, or if you're just going from one end of the park to the other on Newfound Gap Road, this great overlook, close to a mile above sea level, offers great views, plus a sign displaying the Tennessee-North Carolina state border, and the Appalachian Trail crosses here. Morton Overlook is among the best venues in the Smokies for sunset viewing.
- The easiest waterfall hike is 2.5 miles round trip to Laurel Falls. The trail is paved and accessible even to strollers.
- US Highway 441 (Newfound Gap Road) runs north to south through the park connecting Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Cherokee, North Carolina. The road has steep grades and some tunnels as it winds through the mountains. There are many pull offs offering different views of the park, including the road to Clingmans Dome. Traffic on this road can be heavy during the park's busy seasons. The West Prong of the Little Pigeon River can be accessed from many of the pull offs on the Tennessee side of the highway, and the Oconaluftee River from the North Carolina side.
Stay safe at Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
- Bears The park is home to more than 1,000 black bears. Bears should not be approached. If the bear's behavior changes, you are too close. Visitors to the park can get more information about the park's bears in any of the park's Visitor Centers.
- Snakes Twenty-three (23) types of snakes make their home in the park's lands, but only two varieties are venomous: Timber Rattlesnakes and Copperheads. Rattlesnakes are part of the pit-viper family and sport a distinctive rattle at the end of their bodies that makes a buzzing sound when the snake is agitated. The Copperheads account for most of the snake bites in the area, however their venom is the least toxic, but this does not mean you should underestimate it. Neither snake is aggressive and if you stay away from places where they tend to sun, you should be able to avoid them altogether.
- Waterfalls Do not climb on the falls. Fatalities have occurred as a result of people climbing on the falls.
- Hypothermia Be cautious when in the park's streams. Even during the hotter months of the summer, many of the higher elevation streams can induce hypothermia with extended exposure.
It is a good idea to have some first-aid knowledge if you wander far into the back country, especially off trail. Be sure to get a permit, so they'll know where to look for you if you do not show. And as always, beware of snowstorms.
Historic areas within the national park:
The park service maintains four historic districts and one archaeological district within park boundaries, as well as nine individual listings on the National Register of Historic Places. Notable structures not listed include the Mountain Farm Museum buildings at Oconaluftee and buildings in the Cataloochee area. The Mingus Mill (in Oconaluftee) and Smoky Mountain Hiking Club cabin in Greenbrier have been deemed eligible for listing.
- Cades Cove Historic District
- Elkmont Historic District
- Oconaluftee Archaeological District
- Noah Ogle Place
- Roaring Fork Historic District
- Mayna Treanor Avent Studio
- Alex Cole Cabin
- Hall Cabin (in Hazel Creek area)
- Little Greenbrier School
- Tyson McCarter Place
- John Messer Barn
- Oconaluftee Baptist Church (also called Smokemont Baptist Church)
- John Ownby Cabin
- Walker Sisters Place
The National Park Service (NPS) announced in late 2001 that it would use electric vehicles (EVs) provided by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for a research project in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to evaluate the vehicles' performance in mountainous terrain. The NPS said the EVs will be on loan from TVA for two years and will be used by park service staff at Cades Cove and the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont to determine the benefits provided by these vehicles versus standard gasoline-fueled vehicles.
Flora and fauna Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
The wildlife is abundant as well, featuring hundreds of different bird species, 66 mammal types, 50 types of native fish, as well as numerous reptiles and amphibians.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park History:
As white settlers moved in, logging grew as a major industry in the mountains, and a rail line, the Little River Railroad, was constructed in the late 19th century to haul timber out of the remote regions of the area. Cut-and-run style clearcutting was destroying the natural beauty of the area, so visitors and locals banded together to raise money for preservation of the land. The U.S. National Park Service wanted a park in the eastern United States, but did not have much money to establish one. Though Congress had authorized the park in 1926, there was no nucleus of federally-owned land around which to build a park. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. contributed $5 million, the U.S. government added $2 million, and private citizens from Tennessee and North Carolina pitched in to assemble the land for the park, piece by piece. Slowly, mountain homesteaders, miners, and loggers were evicted from the land. Farms and timbering operations were abolished in establishing the protected area of the park. Travel writer Horace Kephart, for whom Mount Kephart was named, and photographer George Masa were instrumental in fostering the development of the park. The park was officially established on June 15, 1934. During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration, and other federal organizations made trails, fire watchtowers, and other infrastructure improvements to the park and Smoky Mountains.
Part of Disney's Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier was shot here in the mid-1950s starring Fess Parker.
This park was designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976, was certified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, and became a part of the Southern Appalachian Biosphere Reserve in 1988.
A 75th anniversary re-dedication ceremony was held on September 2, 2009. Among those in attendance were all four US Senators, the three US Representatives whose districts include the park, the governors of both states, and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Tennessee native, singer, and actress Dolly Parton also attended and performed.