Tennessee and North Carolina residents banded together in 1934, giving their land to the federal government in return for national park protection. The result was the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a tract of over 520,000 acres of land that has become America's most visited national park. Some 9 million visitors arrive annually to stand dwarfed beneath ancient hemlocks, photograph blooming mountain laurels and hike the Appalachian Trail. When you look out onto the horizon, you'll see the magical haze that gives the Great Smoky Mountains their name.
With more than 800 miles of trails, the park offers something for visitors of all fitness levels. Cove Hardwoods Nature Trail leads hikers past budding mountain laurels and rhododendrons. The more strenuous hiking around Clingmans Dome reveals the park's best "smoky" views from its highest peak, about 6,600 feet above sea level. The vistas are especially spectacular at sunrise and sunset. Serious hikers seek the granddaddy of them all -- the Appalachian Trail, traversing the park from east to west.
Flora and Fauna
The Smoky Mountains preserve myriad wildlife within its borders. Walk among some of the 100 tree species that thrive here -- hickory, dogwood and fir, as well as the few ancient, towering hemlocks that escaped the logger's axe in the early 1900s. Flowering rhododendron blooms on the park's treeless "balds," while a blanket of trilliums and lady's slippers brightens lower elevations. The park's most publicized resident, the black bear, shares the Smokies with white-tailed deer and bobcats.
More than 700 miles of fishing streams wend their way through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For anglers, the most popular fishing holes lie along Abrams Creek, Fontana Lake and the Little River. Falcons, grouse, wild turkey and juncos are just a few of the 200 species that draw the attention of binocular-clad birders. Spend an evening relaxing under a canopy of stars and roasting marshmallows over the fire at one of 10 developed campgrounds within the park.