The Great Smoky Mountains in the states of North Carolina and Tennessee encompasses 800 square miles of which 95 percent are forested. World renowned for the diversity of its plant and animal resources, the beauty of its ancient mountains, the quality of its remnants of American pioneer culture, and the depth and integrity of the wilderness sanctuary within its boundaries, it is one of the largest protected areas in the east. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established June 15, 1934. The Great Smokies were named a International Biosphere Reserve in 1976 and a World Heritage site on December 6, 1983.
Great Smoky Mountains Hotels, Lodging and Camping
The only lodging other than camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the LeConte Lodge. The LeConte lodge is accessible only by foot or horseback, and sits atop 6,593 Mt. LeConte, the Park’s third highest peak. Reservations are required. The lodge is open mid-March to mid-November. A great variety of lodges, hotels, motels, and cabins are available in the outlying communities. Adjacent to the western entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains is Gatlinburg, Tennessee which has many lodging facilities including hotels, motels, mountain cabins, condos and chalets. Some of these are the Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort Gatlinburg, Days Inn Gatlinburg, Super 8 Gatlinburg, Sidney James Mountain Lodge, Hickory Mist Luxury Cabins Gatlinburg and Best Western Fabulous Chalet. At the eastern entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains lies Cherokee, North Carolina. The lodging options in Cherokee are numerous including Comfort Suites and Inn Cherokee, Holiday Inn Express Cherokee, Best Western Great Smokies Inn, and Baymont Inn Cherokee Smoky Mountains. There are 10 Frontcountry Campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Most Campgrounds are open from March through October each year. Two of the campgrounds are open year round. These two are the Cades Cove Campground on the Western Side of the Great Smokies and Smokemont on the Eastern Side of the Great Smokies. There is also backcountry camping, group campgrounds and horse camps.
Activities and Park Use in Great Smoky Mountains
Visitors engage in a wide variety of activities including camping, hiking, picnicking, sightseeing, bicycling, fishing, auto touring, horseback riding, nature viewing, and photography. The Sugarlands Visitors Center at the western entrance near Gatlinburg, Tennessee is open year round and has a great indoor museum about the park. The Oconaluftee Visitors Center at the eastern entrance near Cherokee, North Carolina is open year round and has a great outdoor museum called the Mountain Farm Museum which has a collection of historic farm buildings. The Cades Cove Visitor Center near Townsend, TN, (closed in winter), sits among preserved historic buildings representing isolated farming communities of the 1800s. The park offers guided horseback riding at several locations in the park. Horse camps and rentals are not available for part of the winter. The Newfound Gap Road bisects the park from North Carolina heading west in to Tennessee and is 32 miles long.
Climate of Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Elevations in the park range from 800 feet to 6,643 feet and topography affects local weather. Temperatures are 10 to 20 degrees cooler on the mountaintops. Annual precipitation averages 65 inches in the lowlands to 88 inches in the high country. Spring often brings unpredictable weather, particularly in higher elevations. Summer is hot and humid, but more pleasant in higher elevations. Fall has warm days and cool nights and is the driest period, and frosts occur starting in late September. Winter is generally moderate, but extreme conditions occur with increasing elevation.
Visitation of Great Smoky Mountains
With over 9 million visitors a year the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the National Park System. The peak months are June to August and October during spectacular autumn color. Lowest visitation occurs in winter months, November to February, and early spring.
Location of Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Borders North Carolina and Tennessee Trails and Roads at Great Smoky Mountains National Park More than 800 miles of trails provide opportunities ranging from ten-minute saunters on quiet walkways to week-long adventures deep in the forest. There are about 170 miles of paved roads and over 100 miles of gravel roads. The “backroads” offer a chance to escape traffic and enjoy the more remote areas of the park.
Adjacent Visitor Attractions to Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains are surrounded by Gatlinburg, Tennessee at the Western Entrance and the Cherokee Indian Reservation at the Eastern Entrance in North Carolina. Also the Blue Ridge Parkway starts a few miles from the Eastern Entrance. Many National Forests surround the Great Smoky Mountains mostly on the North Carolina side including Pisgah National Forest, Nantahala National Forest, and Cherokee National Forest.