Turning the calendar at Great Smoky offers a wide range of weather...and a wide range of surroundings.
Proof of landscape resiliency -- and incredible diversity -- are on display in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many stories are told within the park’s roughly 800 square miles that cover the Tennessee-North Carolina border like a rumpled blanket.
Though the Smokies run only about 50 miles, within that stretch is the wildest terrain the Southern Appalachian region can claim, and some of the wildest to be found in the eastern United States. At their heart is the national park, which sprawls across 815 square miles, a swath of land just a little over half the size of Rhode Island – probably bigger than the state if you rolled the mountains flat -- on which nature has gone wild.
The Smokies were settled by whites in the 18th century, logged well into the 20th century, and have been flourishing almost as wilderness again since 1934 when this landscape was destined to become a national park. Despite the roughly 9 million visitors who traipse through the park each year, it continues to be a wellspring of biological diversity.
Venture into this park draped over the ridgeline of the Appalachian Range and you’ll discover five different forest types; both grassy balds and heath balds that poke holes in the woods near the mountains’ summits; and vegetative tangles produced by the vigorous growth of catawba and rosebay rhododendrons, magnolia, ferns, holly, and mountain laurel abound.
There are even caves that worm into the karst formations underlying the Smokies’ extreme western portions. Spend time roaming from the park’s 870-feet-above-sea-level basement to its 6,643-foot-high Clingmans Dome and you will, in essence, have negotiated diverse vegetative topography akin to what you would find hiking the Appalachian Trail 2,181 miles, from Georgia to Maine.
Even without its heavily populated surroundings, Great Smoky would be wildly popular with visitors. Its rumpled mountains provide great hiking and course with 2,100 miles of leaping streams popular with anglers and which, lower down where they spread out and flow more serenely, delight young and old alike seeking to escape the high heat and humidity of summer by taking a dip in a river.
Cultural history is rich in the park, with 19th-century homesteads that are well-preserved in places such as Cades Cove and Cataloochee.
Traveler's Choice For: Hiking, backpacking, cultural history, wildlife, wildflowers, fall colors.