Day 3: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. The park is located in the Appalachian Mountains on the eastern border of Tennessee and the western border of North Carolina, and we are fortunate that Micah’s parents live only an hour and a half from the Smokies, allowing us to visit the park several times a year. The Great Smoky Mountains take their name from the mist that often surrounds the mountains, giving them a “smoky” appearance, but, in addition to the mountains, there is a plethora of creeks, waterfalls, flora, fauna, and even historic sites that document the history of the early settlers in the area. Given the park’s many natural and historic wonders, the Smokies are a must visit.
The most obvious feature of the Smokies is the mountains-they form part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a subrange of the Appalachians, and can rise above 6000 feet in the park. Amid the mountains and foothills are forests that boast some of the most diverse plant life in the United States. In fact, the Smoky Mountains contain more varieties of plant life than all of Europe! Much of the Smokies were destroyed due to logging in the 19th and early 20th century, but a portion of old growth forest, the largest east of the Mississippi River, remains. The Smokies also contains a number of creeks and small rivers flowing throughout the mountains; many of the hikes in the park feature the creeks and rivers, as well as waterfalls. Such a park, of course, contains a great amount of wildlife. The Smokies are home to a large Black Bear population, the only herd of Elk east of the Mississippi, one of the world’s most diverse salamander populations, and countless other animals. Finally, the Smokies still have cabins, homesteads, and churches from settlers throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The main park road takes visitors across the mountain range, while other roads lead to the lesser known areas of the park, as well as one of the most popular destinations for visitors, Cades Cove, a drive that features classic views 0f the Smokies, several opportunities to see the historic cabins and churches, and a few short trails; for those wanting to venture off the beaten path, the Smokies have more than 900 miles of trails. All of the trails in the Smokies are worth exploring, but we’ll mention a few below that we think are among the best in the park.
One of the classic hikes in the Smoky Mountains is the Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte, one of the highest peaks in the park and the location of a lodge, a number of small cabins, and scenic views of the mountain range. If you enjoy waterfalls, Rainbow Falls and Ramsey Cascades are both worth the hike, but those are just two of many waterfalls that are worth exploring. If you prefer historic sites and have already seen the 19th century buildings at Cades Cove, you can fast forward to the 20th century and visit the remnants of the Wonderland Hotel in the Elkmont area or hike the Little River Trail and the old cabins there. These are just a few of our favorite hikes, but there are many other hikes that are worthwhile; take a trip to the Smokies and find your own special hikes!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most popular national park in the United States and for good reason-it offers classic mountain views, beautiful hardwood and spruce forests, rushing rivers, abundant wildlife, and historic structures. We have found the Smokies to be a peaceful place where we can take in the mountain air and enjoy nature. It’s easy to find solitude once you get on one of the park’s many trails, and any visit-whether it involve driving, hiking, biking, fishing, etc.-will allow you to experience the wonders of the Smoky Mountains.