Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Smokies are home to more than 18,000 species of plants and animals, including more native tree species than any other national park and more than 1 million wildflowers blooming on any given spring day. World renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and its rich Southern Appalachian mountain culture, this is America’s most visited national park. Great Smoky Mountains National Park was created in 1934 and officially dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. The Smokies are considered to be the oldest mountains in the world and boast sixteen mountain peaks about 6000 feet in elevation. Along the spine of the Smokies, the Appalachian Trail runs 71 miles through Great Smoky Mountains National Park on its course from Georgia to Maine. From Cades Cove to Cataloochee Valley and more than 500,000 acres in between, Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers exceptional hiking, camping, fishing, and wildlife viewing.
Cades Cove is a broad valley surrounded by mountains and is one of the most popular destinations in the Smokies. It offers some of the best opportunities for wildlife viewing in the park. Large numbers of white-tailed deer are frequently seen, and sightings of black bear, coyote, ground hog, turkey, and other animals are also possible. An 11-mile one-way loop circles Cades Cove, offering motorists the opportunity to sightsee at a leisurely pace. Allow at least two to four hours to tour Cades Cove, longer if you walk some of the area’s trails. Traffic is heavy during the tourist season in summer and fall and on weekends year-round.
Campers in Great Smoky Mountains National Park can enjoy backcountry sites (for backpackers), frontcountry and group camp sites with cold running water and flush restrooms, or horse camps with hitching posts and primitive camping facilities. Some permits or reservations may be required, call (877) 444-6777 for more information. Remember, only certified, heat-treated firewood may be brought into the park and is available in surrounding communities from park concessioners.
Hikers enjoy the Smoky Mountains during all months of the year with every season offering its own special rewards, from wildflowers and waterfalls to beautiful fall colors and breathtaking views. Pick up a trail map at the park visitor centers and choose your route. Leave with enough time to return before sunset and remember to bring plenty of water, sturdy shoes, and snacks for energy. For a guided hiking experience, explore the park on Friends of the Smokies’ Classic Hike of the Smokies.
There are more than 2,000 miles of streams open to fishing in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Fishing is permitted year-round in the park, from 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset. You must possess a valid fishing license or permit from either Tennessee or North Carolina. Either state license is valid throughout the park and no trout stamp is required.
An auto tour of the park offers a variety of experiences, including panoramic views, tumbling mountain streams, weathered historic buildings, and mature hardwood forests stretching to the horizon. Among the nearly 400 miles of road in the park, the best options for a scenic drive are Cades Cove Loop Road, Cataloochee Valley, Newfound Gap Road, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, and Upper Tremont Road.
The park is home to a large collection of historic structures – log homes, barns, outbuildings, churches, schools, and grist mills. The best places to see them are at Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Oconaluftee, and along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
Open areas like Cataloochee and Cades Cove offer some of the best opportunities to see white-tailed deer, elk, black bear, raccoon, turkeys, woodchucks, and other animals. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail encourages motorists to travel at a leisurely pace and sometimes yields sightings of bear and other wildlife. Because many animals are most active at night, it can be advantageous to look for wildlife during morning and evening. It’s also a good idea to carry binoculars.
Picnic areas at Cades Cove, Deep Creek, Greenbrier, and Metcalf Bottoms are open year-round. Picnic areas at Big Creek, Chimneys, Collins Creek, Cosby, Heintooga, Look Rock, and Twin Creeks are closed during the winter.
Visiting waterfalls in the park can make for a great experience, some reaching as high as 100 feet. The park’s most popular waterfalls include Laurel Falls, Abrams Falls, Grotto Falls, Rainbow Falls, and Ramsey Cascades. Locations are listed on trail maps available at park visitor centers.