Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, which lays across the mountainous border between Tennessee and North Carolina, was established in 1934 to protect some of the densest “old-growth” deciduous forest in the world.
Visitor Rating (write your own review below)
|Scenery||Rolling Appalachian Mountains, streams and falls|
|Uniqueness||Some of the densest hardwood forest in the world|
|Wildlife||Deer, black bear, birds of all sort|
|Diversity||Different hikes, drives, lookouts, historical buildings|
ILNP Park Review
In a Word “Refreshing”
“How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” -Psalms 84:1
Our Visit I visited Great Smoky Mountains in May as part of a trip home to Georgia. My sister and I left Atlanta in the morning, drove 3 1/2 hours to the Park, meandered and hiked through most of the Park, and drove home all in one day.
Our Weather The weather was warm (mid 80s) and partly cloudy. In the course of the day, we had brilliant sunshine, overcast skies, heavy rain and sunshine again.
Overall Impression The Appalachians and their smaller eastern cousins may not be as dramatic as the Rockies or Sierra Nevadas, but what they lack in enormity, they make up for in charm and grace. Great Smoky Mountains National Park preserves one of the most beautiful slices of the eastern ranges and makes it’s beauty accessible to everyone. Everywhere you go in this Park, you’re surrounded by dense green trees, fast-moving streams and waterfalls. When you finally climb out from the forests, you’re struck with views of hazy mountainsides stretching as far as the eye can see. To spend a day in this Park is to take a stroll back through time to a place where things are simple and timeless.
Favorite Spot Standing at Laurel Falls
Minimum Time Required About 1 hour. In an hour, you can tour this Park the way most of the 10,000,000 visitors per year do–you can drive through it on US 441 stopping only at the visitor center. This will offer magnificent views and pleasant drives through tree-covered roads with beautiful streams alongside. To do this park justice, though, you’ll want to budget some time to visit the out-of-the-way places and do a little hiking.
A Longer Visit If you can, spend at least one full day in the Park. In a day, you can drive the major roads through Newfound Gap, to Clingmans Dome and over to Cades Cove. Most of the Park’s beauty can seen not far from these roads. We chose to take a couple of hikes to get a little further away from civilization.
Our first hike was the popular 1-mile round trip to the lookout tower atop Clingmans Dome. We didn’t see much because of the clouds, but it was still neat to stand amidst the fog and clouds that give this Park it’s “Smoky” name. A caution, though, this hike is high in altitude (5,000 feet) and steep–make sure you’ve got the strength and stop often. The next hike was a very short one at an unnamed pull-off two miles west of Newfound Gap where the road crosses a stream. It was great to stroll around with the sounds of the brook ever-present. It’s these little pullouts, many of them pointed to by signs hailing “quiet walkway” that allow you to get away from the crowds on the main roads.
The next area we explored was the road to Cades Cove, the road winds along streams the entire way, and there are plenty of photo opportunities to be had without venturing far from the road. We wanted to see a waterfall, so we hiked up to Laurel Falls, a 4 1/2 mile round trip. It took a while, but the path was almost completely covered by trees the whole way, and the falls were beautiful and refreshing. Further up the road, we took the scenic loop through Cades Cove, the site of an 1800’s farming village. The meadows here are the premier spot in the Park for viewing wildlife, and the meadows are home to many of the rustic buildings from the original town. You can explore many churches, cabins and farms which haven’t changed much over the past century. While this road doesn’t look very long on a map, it’s slow going, so be sure to budget plenty of time.
Suggestions Don’t be surprised by traffic and crowds–this is the most visited National Park in the country. The way to avoid the crowds is to hike off the roadways. If you can, visit during the week instead of the weekend. Take some time to visit the unnamed pull-offs and “quiet walkways” because you’ll never know what you’ll find.
Prepare for rain–it rains a lot here, that’s why it’s so lush and beautiful! Chances are, you can find a spot in the Park where it’s not raining and come back to do that rained-out hike later.
Other Nearby Attractions Gatlinburg, TN, Cataloochie Ski Area, Asheville, NC.
Official NPS Site Great Smoky Mountains NP
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