It just occurred to me that we’ve been here hiking for about 3 weeks now and I haven’t said anything really about the park itself. This is a “great” place and deserves some attention all its own.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park was chartered in 1934 and opened in 1940 after the dedication by F. D. Roosevelt. Not only is it a National Park it is also designated an International Biosphere Reserve and a certified UNESCO World Heritage Site. These designations help make it the most visited National park in the country with over 9 million visitors a year.
The park is located on the Tennessee/North Carolina border with the highest ridgeline in the park separating the two states with approximately half of the park in each state. It is a huge park with over a half million acres. That’s why we take the RV from side to side and end to end to find campgrounds close to the area in which we’ll be hiking.
There are two main park entrances. Both are on US 441--one at the town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee and the other in Cherokee, North Carolina. There are two main visitor centers, as well--Sugarlands Visitor Center on the Tennessee side and Oconaluftee Visitor Center on the North Carolina side. US 441 runs through the park and offers many pull-outs at scenic overlooks, parking for trailheads, and side roads leading to picnic areas and campgrounds. Traffic on this two-lane, curvy mountain road can get pretty congested particularly when someone spots a bear.
There are other less popular entrances and other visitor centers scattered throughout the park, but to get from Tennessee to North Carolina inside the park, US 441 is the only route.
One spur road off US 441 leads to Clingmans Dome (6642 ft), the highest point in Tennessee. There are some great views from the parking lot at the end of that road, even if you don’t hike the half mile paved trail that leads to the observation tower.
If you’re going to Clingmans Dome for the views, be sure to pick a clear day. This park is famous for its rain. More rain falls here than any other place in the US except the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. It’s no wonder the upper reaches of the Park are classified as a rainforest.
There are some popular destinations within the park. One is Cades Cove and another Clingmans Dome. Some of the most popular trails include Alam Cave Trail, Laurel Falls Trail, and Chimney Tops Trail. All these trails have huge parking lots, but it isn’t uncommon to see them full. Hundreds of people could be on any one of these trails during the summer months, but there are other trails where you might not encounter another soul.
We think Great Smoky Mountain National Park is a special place. Of course, it is in our home state and we’ve come here more often than anywhere else. I suppose we’re a little prejudiced in that regard. However, we highly recommend it to any and all nature lovers and, of course, hikers.
That’s it for today. Thanks for tagging along.