Great Smoky Mountains National Park | Great Smoky Mountains National Park Map

Great Smoky Mountains National Park | Great Smoky Mountains National Park Map

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a United States National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site that straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are a division of the larger Appalachian Mountain chain. The border between Tennessee and North Carolina runs northeast to southwest through the centerline of the park. It is the most visited national park in the United States. On its route from Maine to Georgia, the Appalachian Trail also passes through the center of the park. The park was chartered by the United States Congress in 1934 and officially dedicated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940. It encompasses 814 square miles (2,110 km2), making it one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States. The main park entrances are located along U.S. Highway 441 (Newfound Gap Road) at the towns of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Cherokee, North Carolina.
It was the first national park whose land and other costs were paid for in part with federal funds; previous parks were funded wholly with state money or private funds.

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:

Note that access to the park is restricted to non-commercial vehicles.

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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Get around:

Take your car or backpack. Yes, you can walk through the park on the Appalachian Trail.

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:

When planning a trip in the park, it is helpful to keep in mind that elevations in the park range from 800 feet to 6,643 feet and that the topography can drastically affect local weather. Temperatures can easily vary 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit from mountain base to top, and clear skies lower down do not guarantee equally pleasant weather at higher elevations. Rainfall averages 55 inches per year in the lowlands to 85 inches per year at Clingmans Dome.


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.


September through mid-November: Clear skies and cooler weather signal the onset of the fall color season. Warm days alternate with cool nights. Daytime highs are usually in the 70s and 80s during September, falling to the 50s and 60s in early November. The first frosts often occur in late September. By November, the lows are usually near freezing. This is the driest period of the year with only occasional rain showers. In the higher elevations, snow is a possibility by November.


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:

Elevations in the park range from 876 feet (267 m) at the mouth of Abrams Creek to 6,643 feet (2,025 m) at the summit of Clingmans Dome. Within the park a total of sixteen mountains reach higher than 6,000 feet (1829 m).

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 park normally has very high humidity and precipitation, averaging from 55 inches (1,400 mm) per year in the valleys to 85 inches (2,200 mm) per year on the peaks. This is more annual rainfall than anywhere in the United States outside the Pacific Northwest and parts of Alaska. It is also generally cooler than the lower elevations below, and most of the park has a humid continental climate more comparable to locations much farther north, as opposed to the humid subtropical climate in the lowlands. The park is almost 95 percent forested, and almost 36 percent of it, 187,000 acres (760 km2), is estimated by the Park Service to be old growth forest with many trees that predate European settlement of the area. It is one of the largest blocks of deciduous, temperate, old growth forest in North America.

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 Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a major tourist attraction in the region. Over 9 million tourists and 11 million non-recreational visitors traveled to the park in 2003, twice as many as visited any other national park. Surrounding towns, notably Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, and Townsend, Tennessee, and Cherokee, Sylva, Maggie Valley, and Bryson City, North Carolina receive a significant portion of their income from tourism associated with the park.

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.

The park has a number of historical attractions. The most well-preserved of these (and most popular) is Cades Cove, a valley with a number of preserved historic buildings including log cabins, barns, and churches. Cades Cove is the single most frequented destination in the national park. Self-guided automobile and bicycle tours offer the many sightseers a glimpse into the way of life of old-time southern Appalachia. Other historical areas within the park include Roaring Fork, Cataloochee, Elkmont and the Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill at Oconaluftee.

See the mountains. Great wildlife, too. Heck, it's a rain forest!

Visitor centers:

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.

Both the Laurel Falls and Clingman's Dome trails offer relatively easy, short, paved paths to their respective destinations. The Laurel Falls Trail leads to a powerful 80 foot (24 m) waterfall, and the Clingman's Dome Trail takes visitors on an uphill climb to a fifty-foot observation deck, which on a clear day offers views for many miles over the Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia mountains.

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:

After hiking and simple sightseeing, fishing (especially fly fishing) is the most popular activity in the national park. The park's waters have long had a reputation for healthy trout activity as well as challenging fishing terrain. Brook trout are native to the waters, while both brown and rainbow were introduced to the area. Partially due to the fact of recent droughts killing off the native fish, there are strict regulations regarding how fishing may be conducted. Horseback riding (offered by the national park and on limited trails), bicycling (available for rent in Cades Cove) and water tubing are all also practiced within the 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.

Historic districts:

  • Cades Cove Historic District
  • Elkmont Historic District
  • Oconaluftee Archaeological District
  • Noah Ogle Place
  • Roaring Fork Historic District

Individual listings:

  • 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

Electric vehicles:

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 park is almost 95% forested, with 25% of that being old-growth. Almost 100 different types of native trees can be found in the park in addition to over 1,400 flowering plant species and 4,000 non-flowering plants.

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:

Before the arrival of European settlers, the region was part of the homeland of the Cherokee Indians. Frontierspeople began settling the land in the 18th and early 19th century. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, beginning the process that eventually resulted in the forced removal of all Indian tribes east of the Mississippi River to what is now Oklahoma. Many of the Cherokee left, but some, led by renegade warrior Tsali, hid out in the area that is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Some of their descendants now live in the Qualla Reservation south of the park.

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.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Pictures: