May 18

Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains

In the mountains of eastern Tennessee there lies a national park that encompasses over 500,000 acres of lush forest. Part of the Appalachian Highlands, it houses thousands of species of wildlife. It offers unparalleled views of American nature at its finest.

The elevation of the park varies from just under 900 feet to over 6,600, making it perfect for those looking for variety. Mount Le Conte at nearly 6,600 feet, and the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi, is one of the most popular. In all, 16 mountains here reach heights over 6,000 feet.

Oconaluftee Overlook Sunrise

Oconaluftee Overlook Sunrise

The lower elevations make for easy hiking, while the truly hardy can scale the highest peak, Clingman’s Dome, by taking Alum Cave Trail. Once there, visitors can enjoy an unobstructed view over thousands of acres of forest land. The concrete ramp at the end provides easy access to the 50-foot high observation tower. With over 9 million visitors to the park per year, it can get crowded though, so exercise patience.

Still, with over 850 miles of trails and unpaved roads it isn’t hard to find a route that is serene and lightly traveled. Of that, seventy miles are along the famed Appalachian Trail. One leads to Chimney Tops, where hikers can enjoy being on top of these twin peaks for a breathtaking view of the land below. Another leads to Laurel Falls, where you’ll be greeted by an 80-foot waterfall that would compete well with those in Yosemite.

Cinnamon Black Bear in North Carolina Smoky Mountains

Cinnamon Black Bear in North Carolina Smoky Mountains

There are lots of other activities available in Great Smoky National Park, as well. Fly fishing is one of the most popular. Rainbow Trout, Brook and others populate much of the over 700 miles of streams. Horseback riding is another favorite. The park offers four separate rental stables. Cycling is a frequent activity near Cades Cove.

Thanks to over 55 inches of rain per year in the valleys and over 85 inches on the peaks, no matter where you travel you’ll find lush vegetation. Nature’s green bounty means that the local wildlife have ample supply. That makes for great birdwatching and easy spotting of a wide variety of animals.

Official statistics tabulate more than 200 species of bird and several dozen species of mammals, including a Black Bear population that is estimated at around 1,500. Head to Cataloochee to see some of the White-Tailed deer, raccoons or woodchucks.

Appalachian Mountain Light Rays on Blue Ridge

Appalachian Mountain Light Rays on Blue Ridge

You can see them on foot or travel along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This 5-mile long road lets you take a leisurely drive in the comfort and safety of your car. Along the way you’ll find old-growth forest that is home to everything from elk to owls.

Also on the trail there are lots of old grist mills, well-preserved historic log cabins and other structures. Nature’s ‘buildings’ are also much in evidence, such as several stellar low waterfalls surrounded by lush greenery. The hushed atmosphere makes for a perfect way to experience the park.

Visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at any time of the year. It’s as likely to be 65°F/18°C in the winter as to be 20°F/-6.6°C, so great trips are possible in any season.

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