Mingus Mill at the Smoky Mountain National Park

The Smoky Mountains region is full of rich history, people, and culture. While now you might associate the Smokies with attractions, hiking, and delicious food, there is more to the Smokies you might not be aware of (like they are technically a temperate rainforest). Here are some surprising facts about the Smokies.

 

The Salamander Capital of the World

Salamander in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Photo by Lexie Stevenson (Flickr)

If you are passionate about animals, amphibians, or salamanders, you’ll want to make sure you keep a lookout for these nimble little creatures. They are dubbed “spring lizards” in the area, and 30 species are living here. In higher elevations, you might spot the brightly-colored red salamanders. Lungless salamander can be observed throughout the Smokies. Frogs and toads are also high in number, with 14 different species calling the Smokies home. Additional species are still being found, with the latest addition being the non-native green treefrog, discovered in Cades Cove in 2011.

 

These Mountain are Old!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Mt. Cammerer
Photo by Michael Hicks (Flickr)

You might be shocked to discover the Smoky Mountains are among some of the oldest ranges in the world. They aren’t as tall as other ranges like the Rockies, but they might have looked similar at one point in time. Now, you’ll see smaller peaks due to erosion. More resistant layers of rock form peaks like what you’ll observe at Clingman’s Dome.

 

Home to the Most Old-Growth Forests

Smoky Mountain Forests
Photo by Ilho Song (Flickr)

There are at least 175,000 acres of untouched forest within the Smoky Mountains. The logging industry cleared out large portions of land (up to 80% of what we see today). Becoming a National Park in 1934 saved the rest of the forest. It also forced the land-owners to move out of the park, which is why we see so many farm buildings, mills, schools, and churches. Some of the trees in the old-growth areas could be more than 500 years old! The best place to check out these forests first-hand is the Ramsey Cascades Trail, the Noland Divide Trail, and The Caldwell Fork Trail and Boogerman Trails near Cataloochee.

 

The 900 Miler Club

Foot Log at Kephart Prong trail (Great Smoky Mountains National Park)
Photo by Alexander Lerch (Flickr)

If you have blazed all the trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you can be part of the 900 Miler Club, founded in 1995. As of December 2017, there were 551 club members. Have you hiked all the open trails? You can apply to become a member (it only costs $15) on their website. You’ll get a patch, a sticker for your vehicle, and a certificate.

 

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Helped Fund the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Beginning of the Park
Rocks were cut for use in bridges and guard rails along park roads. Photo taken in 1936.

This heir of the oil legend John D. Rockefeller provided five million dollars of his own money in 1928 to buy private lands in the Smokies to give to the park service. That would be equal to about $69.7 million today. There is the Rockefeller Memorial within the park at Newfound Gap, straddling the Tennessee and North Carolina borders.


With over 800 square miles of land making up the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there is plenty to see and do. Whether you want to check out the history, the trails, or animals, there is something for everyone, and best of all it’s free!

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About April Sadowski

April Sadowski is a wife, mother of a toddler, and a travel junkie. She's a content author for the Smoky Mountain region and is always looking for the latest tip for making a vacation a memorable one.

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