Great Smoky Mountain National Park: A Travel Breakdown


Great Smoky Mountains: History

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park are layered in history, literally. Although they are one of the highest peaks in the Appalachian mountain range, years of erosion has left them lower in elevation compared with say, the Rocky Mountains. The life of the Great Smoky Mountains started almost 300 million years ago, when centuries of sediment buried and fossilized the ancient sea life.  Look closely on the nature trails and you’ll see the boulder fields as a result of freezing and thawing rock during the ice ages!

The journey to the Great Smoky Mountains becoming a national park was a curious venture, beginning with a St. Louis librarian named Horace Kephart in 1904. Kephart sought out the Smokies as a retreat to fortify his health. Upon arrival, he observed massive logging operations and unrest from the local inhabitants. This initiated Kephart to campaign for preservation of the area, which is exactly the opportunity the National Park Service needed.

Moving westward, the NPS went after the Smokies, realizing the park's location sat particularly close to a large population. The reaction in support of the project was overwhelming--thousands of citizens donated millions of dollars to fund the purchase, despite some resistance from the federal government. Along with public support and the federal government contribution, John D. Rockefeller donated the remaining $5 million and the deal was sealed.

Lumber companies were bought out, while the permanent residents within the park’s boundaries were allowed lifetime residency rights. Then, on June 15, 1934, Great Smoky Smoky Mountains National Park was officially established, protecting its lands for centuries to come.

Travel Tips

  • Avoid Peak Months: June - August, Octover
  • Get up early and beat the crowds: Before 10 a.m. should do the trick!
  • FREE admission year round. Yup, free.
Regulations/Permits:
  • Obtain all permits from the visitor center and/or ranger stations
  • Alcohol is allowed only in designated picnic and campsite areas and at LeConte Lodge. Open containers in automobiles are illegal.
  • No hunting, weapons, or fireworks are allowed, including bows, arrows, and slingshots.
  • Fires are allowed only in designated areas (i.e. fire rings and fireplaces). Use only dead and downed trees may be used for firewood. Firewood is sold by concessionaires at the Cades Cove, Elkmont, and Smokemont campgrounds.
  • For backcountry camping you must obtain a permit from a ranger station, one of the campgrounds, or one of the visitor centers (except Cades Cove).
  • Motorcycles, bicycles, and mountain bikes are allowed on paved roads and in campgrounds (helmets required). They are not permitted on trails and administrative roads. Skateboarding is prohibited in the park.
  • Pets are allowed in parking lots, in campgrounds that are accessible by motor vehicle, and along paved roads. They are not allowed on the trails, in public buildings, or in the backcountry -- with the exception of Seeing Eye and hearing guide dogs, which are permitted to travel throughout the park.
  • It is illegal to pick, damage, destroy, and/or disturb any natural feature of the park.
  • Food should never be left out. You'll find bear-proof trash cans and dumpsters throughout the park for depositing any food, wrappings, and containers.

Slip in by on the North Carolina side--you’ll witness some great views, wildlife and best of all, less people!

For Crowds: Cades Cove Loop Road, Newfound Gap Road
For Solitude: Cosby, Fontana Lake, Greenbrier Cove, and Foothills Parkway (East & West)

Hotels

  • Best Western Twin Islands, starting at $134/night → Book Now
  • Microtel Inn And Suites Gatlinburg, starting at $72/night → Book Now
  • The Park Vista, starting at $179/night → Book Now
  • Days Inn And Suites Downtown Gatlinburg Parkway, starting at $90/night → Book Now
  • Super 8 Downtown Gatlinburg Convention Center, starting at $77/night → Book Now

Things To Do

Autumn leaves turn around mid-September and spread into early November. Catch these familiar trees as they paint the mountains with warm strokes of brilliance: Sugar maples, scarlet oaks, sweetgums, and hickories change into bright gold, red, and purple shades.

  • Junior Ranger Program: Children ages 5-12 complete activities listed in the Junior Ranger booklets available at the park's visitors centers.
  • Fishing: 2,115 miles of streams within the park and home to and one of the last wild trout habitats in the eastern United States. Fishing is permitted with a Tennessee or North Carolina fishing license, which can be purchased in nearby towns or online.
  • Scenic Drive: Cades Cove, 11-mile one-way loop with a variety of historic buildings, including churches, log cabins, a working gristmill along the way and teeming with wildlife. Cades Cove also allows for excellent wildlife sightings.

Hike(s): 800+ miles of maintained trails to choose from!

  • Laurel Falls Trail: 2.6-mile round-trip trail. Start on Little River Road near Elkmont then traverse en route to the 80-foot-high falls.
  • Alum Cave Bluff Trail: 5.5 mile climb up to the summit of Mount LeConte, First, a 1.4-mile gentle climb to Arch Rock. At Arch Rock, step up the stairs through the arch to Inspiration Point, where you can see the Eye of the Needle, a hole in the rock near the top of Little Duck Ridge.
  • Ramsey Cascades Trail: 8-mile round-trip hike that follows rushing waters much of the way. After a bit, the narrowing trail reveals dramatic views of the Ramsey Cascades, the tallest waterfall in the park accessible by trail.


Unique Factor

The Smokies is the self-proclaimed “Salamander Capital of the World," 30 species of salamanders, 13 species of frogs and toads roaming the park! Keep your eye out for these cute reptiles and the other hundreds of animals in the Smokies. They’re closer than you think ;)

Leave a comment

Back to National Parks Depot Blog