Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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Photo by Bob Carr/NPS
Great Smoky Mountains National ParkStraddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains is America’s most visited national park. Among the forests and ancient mountains, visitors find a vast array of plant and animal life as well as vestiges of Southern Appalachian mountain culture. Each season here offers its own surprises—spring brings wildflowers and blossoming trees; summer is perfect for swimming in the mountain streams and cascading falls; fall draws hikers and leaf-peepers; and winter, with its bare trees, exposes stone walls, chimneys, and other reminders of the past. Popular hikes through the park lead to waterfalls, old-growth forests, and sweeping views, making it easy to spend several days exploring.
AFAR Local Expert
over 5 years ago
Newfound Gap Trail: The Jump Off
At an elevation of 5,046 feet, the infamous Appalachian trail straddles Tennessee and North Carolina via the Newfound Gap in the Smokies. This three-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail will give you a sense of what hikers experience on their journey from Georgia to Maine. Most of the trail is still covered in ice and packed snow in early March, but it still offers scenic overviews. The best time to get a great view is just as the trees are starting to bud—mid-March through early April—otherwise your view will be obstructed by the high bushes that grow here. Prepare for a 10-degree drop in temperature at this altitude. A lot of backpackers start their trek from this point so you may see a lot of them on your day hike here.
AFAR Local Expert
over 5 years ago
Gateway To The Smokies
A new adventure. An 1,800-mile trip from Phoenix to Knoxville, the Smokies were calling us. Living and breathing for camping, hiking, and exploring, we finally made it to the gateway of the Smoky Mountains. A little drive through the backroads towards the Smokies and on to Gatlinburg, we stopped for a hike to the Grotto Falls via the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The National Park website claims the trail is moderate to difficult but we found the only difficult part was not tripping over the tree roots along the path. Other than that, it was absolutely beautiful and peaceful and didn't feel like three miles. We ended up seeing a black bear cub down a ways from the trail and took a few pictures of it. Although a popular trail, we barely ran into anyone at 5 p.m.
over 5 years ago
Great Smoky Mountains
The Smoky Mountains are magnificent, and if you’ve never taken a drive through them, I suggest you put it on your list. I think one of the best ways to really experience the Smoky Mountains is to tent camp there. Of course, you could opt instead to join the thousands of tourists that flock to DollyWood in nearby Pigeon Forge or Ripley’s Believe It or Not in Gatlinburg and completely miss out on the mountains sandwiched so beautifully in between. As I’m sure you could guess, I wouldn’t recommend that option. The winding drive into the mountains is incredibly fascinating and there are plenty of places to pull off to the side and snap some photos of the haze looming in the mountains. It is incredibly quiet and serene in these locations and the view is just breathtaking. We camped in the Elkmont Campground, which is one of many campgrounds scattered throughout Smoky Mountain National Park. The national park rangers are extremely pleasant and helpful and the campground is well maintained. Bathrooms are easily accessible and within walking distance to all sites.
over 3 years ago
Those Gorgeous Smoky Mountains
I am quite fortunate to live only 2 hours away from the Great Smoky Mountains. I've been going there since I was a kid. I have pics of myself and my brother sitting near the welcome sign when I was about three years old. There is something magical about the lush forests and towering mountains of the Smokies. Standing on an overlook near Clingman's dome you can look around and see footpaths to our ancestors. So many things to do there. We like to rent a cabin and go for a drive up into the mountains, stopping at the Indian reservation for a little shopping. Dollywood Amusement Park is a popular destination in nearby Pigeon Forge. Gatlinburg sits at the foot of the mountains and is a quaint little town with shops, food, an aquarium and Ripley's Museum. You can watch taffy being pulled and visit the candy and popcorn shops along the way. There is a Space Needle if you aren't afraid of heights which will allow you a wonderful view of the town at night or day. Also the chair lifts afford a view of the adorable cabins hanging precariously over the mountains above the town. Ride the trolley up the mountain and you can ice skate or toboggan down the hills. They even offer zipline adventures in Pigeon Forge. Funny enough my favorite part of the trip is driving through the tunnel and blowing our car horn as it reminds me of trips with my mom and dad when we were young.