Hosting over 9 million visitors annually, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited national park. It is a landscape that combines natural and cultural history beautifully. History unfolds before the eyes, emerging from lush forests and rich lowland valleys.
Make no mistake, despite the roads and easy access, much of the Smokies 500,000 acres are pure wilderness. More species of plants are found within the park than any other area in North America. Over 1,500 flowering shrubs and plants, 124 species of trees and 30 varieties of orchids and grasses can be found here. The Smokies are also home to a diverse array of wildlife, harboring over 60 species of mammals, 200 species of birds, nearly 70 kinds of fish and 80 varieties of reptiles and amphibians. White-tailed deer, red fox, wood chucks, squirrels and raccoons are often encountered on quiet roadsides. Peregrine falcons, red wolves and river otters are recent re-inductees to the park, having been previously eradicated from the area. The black bear (Ursus americanus) is easily the park’s most popular citizen and park officials estimate that between 400 and 600 bears inhabit the Great Smoky Mountains.
So what to do in this vast natural wonderland here in East Tennessee? Let’s look at some recommendations for what to explore and how to explore it:
Chimney Tops – The chimneys top a sheer rise of almost 2,000 feet and were known to the Cherokee as “Dukiskwal-guni” (forked antlers). From the overlook on Newfound Gap Road, passersby can see the 30-foot deep “flue” in the right-hand peak which gives the outcropping its name. The Chimneys Picnic Area, located in a ravine on the mountain’s side, is an excellent place to stop for a leisurely lunch.
Mount LeConte – Mt. LeConte is the Park’s third highest peak at 6,593 feet. Despite runner-up ranking, LeConte serves as the focal point of the Park. The summit offers unforgettable views from two different overlooks, Myrtle Point and Cliff Top. Hikers can choose from five different trails to the top, ranging from 11 to 16 miles roundtrip.
Newfound Gap – In 1940 Franklin Delano Roosevelt officially dedicated the Park from this majestic site. The road, completed in 1932, straddles Tennessee and North Carolina here. Originally, Indian Gap, a point two miles west, was thought to be the lowest gap in the mountains, but Newfound Gap was discovered to be lower in elevation, thus the name.
Charlie’s Bunion – This 1,000-foot sheer drop-off can be found four miles east along the Appalachian Trail. The cliff is named after a bunion that prevented Charlie Conner, an Oconaluftee settler, from traveling through the Gap in 1928. Fellow travelers claimed the bare mountain resembled their friend’s bunion.
Clingman’s Dome – Clingman’s Dome is the Smokies’ highest peak and the third highest point east of the Mississippi. Named for a colorful Civil War general, Clingman’s Dome rears its head 6,642 feet. The observation tower, located 7 miles off Newfound Gap Road, looks out on an ever-changing view. Occasionally the peak is above cloud level, creating a surrealistic scene of mountaintops floating in an ocean of white.
Andrews Bald – A picture-perfect picnic spot, Andrews Bald offers glorious views of the towering mountain ranges of North Carolina and Georgia. It’s a 3.6 mile round trip hike from the Forney Ridge parking area at Clingmans Dome and is the most accessible bald in the Park.
Smoky Mountain Scavenger Hike Adventure – Enjoy adventure travel in the Smokies to the fullest extent by planning a hiking vacation or just an afternoon of family fun! This great hiking adventure book will lead you on easy, moderate, and strenuous hikes through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, with the added twist of a scavenger hunt. Authors John & Kat LaFevre have compiled directions, history, and little known facts about each trail to help you enjoy the splendor of the Smoky Mountains!
GSM Outfitters LLC – Gear up for the great outdoors at GSM Outfitters, located in Wears Valley, Tennessee. Our store is stocked with everything you need to explore the hills of Tennessee – hiking and camping gear, clothing for all ages, boots and footwear, fishing gear and more. No matter what you have in mind, we can prepare you with the finest of gear for your Smoky Mountain Fun!
Smoky Mountain Jeep Rentals – Imagine a fourwheeling afternoon of fun in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Cades Cove, Little River Road, Wears Valley Road along with Bluff Mountain and Metcalf Bottoms are just some of the cool adventures that await just minutes from our rental office conveniently located on Walden’s Creek Road. Groups welcome!