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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Fast Facts

Location: To the east of Tennessee and west of North Carolina states; eat of Mississippi
Time to Visit: Throughout the year
Preferred Timings: Morning or late evening
Admission Fee: Admission to the National Park is free; activities like horse riding and camping are chargeable
How to Reach: Fly to McGhee-Tyson Airport in Tennessee and then travel 45 miles by road to Gatlinburg; alternatively, fly to Ashveille Regional Airport in North Carolina and travel 60 miles by road to Cherokee
Nearest International Airport: Mc-Ghee Tyson Airport in Tennessee, and Ashville Airport in North Carolina
Time required for sightseeing: 3/ 4 days

It is mid-autumn in the Great Smoky Mountains, and the burning red of the leaves changing color seamlessly lose themselves in the iridescent red of the setting sun behind the mighty Appalachian mountain. You are sitting; all by yourself as a Cherokee chief may have been sitting there two centuries back, contemplating on the transience of nature as a pride of elks walk around the valley beneath. If you are of a more adventurous type, go hiking, biking or even auto trailing across the beautiful national park. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park has a wide variety of attractions for the visitors to this premier natural wealth of the US.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in United States of America. This ridge of forest bordering Tennessee and North Carolina is renowned for its ancient Southern Appalachian mountain range and variegated animal and plant life. Apart from animal and plant life, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is well known for its rich cultural history dating back to the Paleo Indians. This park developed with an aid of $5 million from Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial Fund works towards preserving the historic structures, artifacts, and landscapes

The National Park of the Great Smoky Mountains is a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve. With an extent of over 800 square miles it contains over 10,000 species of documented plants and animals. Scientists believe that another 90,000 unaccounted species exist in this national park. This diversity is due to the mountainous topography, presence of glaciers, and conducive climate for propagation of animal and plant life. This park located to the east of River Mississippi is characterized by gently sloped forested landmass. The crest of these hills forms the boundary between the states of North Carolina and Tennessee. The hill chain of roughly 36 miles and having an elevation range of 875 feet to 6600 feet is among the oldest mountain ranges in the world dating back 200 or 300 million years ago.

The subtropical climate of Smoky Mountains featured by humid summers with plentiful of rain encourages thick vegetation. The annual rainfall varies from about 55 inches in the valleys to 85 inches in the higher slopes. Abundant rainfall has resulted in the growth of diversified plant life in this national park. 95% of this park is forested of which 25% is occupied by old-growth forest consisting of deciduous trees. This park is among the few in United States that have an extensive growth of old-growth vegetation. Azalea, rhododendron, and mountain laurel are the main trees growing in this area. In the higher slopes you find the spruce-fir forest of Frasier fir, red spruce, mountain-ash, yellow birch, sugar maple, and American beech. If you visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in fall, you will be stupefied by the brilliant color of the deciduous forest.

If you are a wildlife enthusiast visit this heritage park either early in the morning or late in the evening. View more than 66 mammal types, 200 bird species, 39 species of reptiles, 43 varieties of amphibians, and over 50 species of fish. Deer, chipmunks, opossums, skunks and foxes are easily visible, while coyotes and bobcats are not easily seen. Otters being nocturnal are not easily visible during daytime. Raccoons congregating on the stream banks are a familiar sight. Being omnivorous, raccoons feed on salamanders, crayfish from the streams and berries and nuts from trees. The other omnivore that may interest you is the black bear which is comparatively smaller and less aggressive than the grizzly bear. These black bears are lazy in nature and prefer easy prey. The black bears are sighted March onwards after they wake from their long winter sleep.

Bears are best seen from Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and Cades Coves in the morning or late in the evenings. Refrain from feeding bears or any other wild animals at the National park. Feeding or harassing any wild animal may result in a fine of $5000 and imprisonment of 6 months.

Elk and red wolves, natives of the Smoky Mountains became extinct because of extensive hunting. In the 1990s red wolves and in 2001 elks were released into this habitat for proliferation. As of now there are 25 red wolves and the same number of elks.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Activities

This National park bordering North Carolina and Tennessee to the east of Mississippi is accessible on all months of the year. The Caves Cove Visitor Center remains open from 8am to 4:30 pm except Saturdays and Sundays in January and February; from 8 am to 4:30 pm between Monday and Friday and from 9 am to 5 pm on Saturday in March to October; from 9 am to 4:30 pm except Saturday and Sunday in November and December. You can approach other visiting centers in Gatlinburg, Oconaluftee, Sugarlands, Townsend, Gateway, and Smoky Mountain.

The Wildlife Pilgrimage beginning in April and extending till July will enable you to feast your eyes on blooming flame azaleas, mountain laurels, and rhododendrons in spring and summer. Explore blooming red clover, Queen Anne's lace, daisies and Black-eyed Susans in June, bright orange butterfly weed in July, trumpet vine in August, and yellow fringed orchid in July — September.

Bicyclists have an exhilarating time discovering new routes inside Smoky Mountains National Park. The Foothills Parkway, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, and Cades Cove are outstanding cycling trails. The loop road which remains closed to motorized traffic till 10 am from May to September also adds up as an alternative trail. Horseback riding is seasonal and you can avail of this exciting option from middle of March till Thanksgiving period in end November. You can hire a horse from any of the five stables within the National Park premises at an hourly charge of $15. You can carry your child upto 5 years of age with you. If the children are of 6 years and above they need to ride alone. The rides are from 9 in the morning till 5 o'clock in the evening.

Picnics are a popular form of pastime in this National Park. Specific sites like Deep Creek, Cades Cove, Cosby, and Chimneys remain open throughout the year. These picnic areas are available with restrooms, tables and fire-rings. Some of these spots are wheel-chair accessible.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park organizes learning programs for children upto grade 8. These free classroom sessions in the open are aimed at creating awareness for the environment and its preservation.

There are quite a few wonderful sites that provide wonderful audio-visual and written records of travelers' visit to the Smoky Mountain National Park. Here are some of them: Part one of a set of two slideshows that showcase the beauty and tranquility of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Great photographs, which do not need a narrative — the pictures speak a thousand words. Another wonderful video with great music accompanying it. For a view of all the major viewing points and landmarks in the Great Smoky Mountains, watch this video! A traveler's shot of the eternally mystical Smoky Mountain. Watch the fogs float magically across the grand peaks and fill the entire valley. Great music to go with it, enjoy! A very interesting, candid and enjoyable travel entry on a visit to the Smoky Mountain National Park. Great read, and photos too!


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