Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. The sprawling landscape encompases lush forests and an abundance of wildflowers that bloom year-round. Streams, rivers and waterfalls appear along hiking routes that include a segment of the Appalachian Trail. An observation tower tops Clingmans Dome, the highest peak, offering scenic views of the mist-covered mountains.
Whether you delight in the challenge of a strenuous hike to the crest of a mountain or prefer to sit quietly and watch the sun set, Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers many activities for you to enjoy. The hardest part may be choosing which auto tour, trail, waterfall, overlook, or historic area to explore!
Things to see and do in the park:
1. Auto Touring:
Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses over 800 square miles and is one of the most pristine natural areas in the East. An auto tour of the park offers a variety of experiences, including panoramic views, tumbling mountain streams, weathered historic buildings, and mature hardwood forests stretching to the horizon.
There are 384 miles of road to choose from in the Smokies. Most are paved, and even the gravel roads are maintained in suitable condition for standard passenger cars. Travel speeds on most of the park’s paved roads average 35 miles per hour.
Inexpensive booklets are available to serve as your personal tour guides along many park roads. These booklets are keyed to numbered posts or landmarks and include information on park history, wildlife, and plants. Booklets are available for the following roads:
Cades Cove Loop Road
Newfound Gap Road
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Upper Tremont Road
Bicycles can travel on most roads within the park. However, due to steep terrain, narrow road surfaces, and heavy automobile traffic, many park roads are not well suited for safe and enjoyable bicycle riding.
Cades Cove Loop Road is an exception. The 11-mile one way road, is a popular bicycling area. It provides bicyclists with excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing and touring 19th century homesites. During summer and fall, bicycles may be rented at the campground store (located near Cades Cove Campground). For information call (865) 448-9034.
From early May until late September each year, the loop road is closed to motor vehicle traffic on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10:00 a.m. to allow bicyclists and pedestrians to enjoy the cove.
Other areas suitable for bicyclists include the roads in the Greenbrier and Tremont areas in Tennessee, and the Cataloochee Valley and Lakeview Drive in North Carolina.
Safety is always a major concern where cars and bicycles must share the road. The State of Tennessee requires that children age 16 and under wear a helmet. We strongly recommend that all riders wear helmets, use rear view mirrors, and ride properly fitted and well-maintained bicycles. Please obey all traffic regulations.
3. Burial Landscapes
The park’s historic cemeteries are important examples of the park’s early landscape, linking contemporary Great Smoky Mountains National Park with a rich historical legacy. Cemeteries are essential elements of the park’s collective history, providing fascinating insight into past burial customs, religious beliefs, cultural and ethnic influences, community origins and development, and landscape design principles. Although virtually every remnant from the beginnings of a community in the park may be lost, cemeteries often remain as some of the last tangible links to the past.
• Backcountry – for backpackers. Requires hiking several miles to a site located in the park’s backcountry.
• Frontcountry – camping near your car in a developed campground that has restrooms with cold running water and flush toilets. Each individual campsite has a fire grate and picnic table.
• Group Campgrounds – large campsites suitable for groups of eight people or more. Located in frontcountry campgrounds.
• Horse Camps – Small campgrounds, accessible by vehicle, that offer hitch racks for horses and primitive camping facilities.
Campground facilities and the procedures for obtaining a site in each type are different. Click on the titles above for additional information about facilities, reservations, and operating seasons.
5. Fall Colors
The park usually experiences an autumn leaf season of several weeks as fall colors travel down the mountain sides from high elevation to low. However, the timing of fall color change depends upon so many variables that the exact dates of “peak” season are impossible to predict in advance.
Elevation profoundly affects when fall colors change in the park. At higher elevations, where the climate is similar to New England’s, color displays start as early as mid-September with the turning of yellow birch, American beech, mountain maple, hobblebush, and pin cherry.
From early to mid-October, fall colors develop above 4,000 feet. To enjoy them, drive the Clingmans Dome Road, the Blue Ridge Parkway, or the Foothills Parkway.
The fall color display usually reaches peak at mid and lower elevations between mid-October and early November. This is the park’s most spectacular display as it includes such colorful trees as sugar maple, scarlet oak, sweetgum, red maple, and the hickories.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has about 2,900 miles of streams within its boundaries, and protects one of the last wild trout habitats in the eastern United States. Approximately 20% of the park’s streams are large enough to support trout populations.The park offers a wide variety of angling experiences from remote, headwater trout streams to large, coolwater smallmouth bass streams. Most streams remain at or near their carrying capacity of fish and offer a great opportunity to catch these species throughout the year.
Fishing is permitted year-round in the park, from 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset. The park allows fishing in all streams.
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