The Great Smoky Mountains are a pinnacle of American beauty. What’s the best way to see this gigantic gem? By visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, of course!

Spanning over 800 square miles of diverse terrain, this park is easily the busiest in the nation. Over 60,000 tourists visit the park each day during the summer. 

Why is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park So Popular?

The spectacular smoky mountains offer scenery and wildlife unmatched in other parts of the country. The deciduous forest growing in the region is one of the oldest and most well-preserved in the world. 

Because of the unique biodiversity of the site, it has been designated an international biosphere reserve and is considered an important research site as well as a recreational destination. The park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

So what can you do to experience the best of the Smoky Mountains National Park?

The Great Smoky Mountains has Activities for Everyone

Pick up a Great Smoky Mountains National Park map at one of the park’s Visitor Centers and get to exploring! 

Get Your Hike On

Hiking is one of the most popular activities in the Great Smoky Mountains. With over 150 trails, the mountains offer something for all tastes. 

It doesn’t matter when you go — every season offers up its own special rewards. Winter brings an icy wonderland of frozen falls and fresh snow, while summer provides the chance to cool off and splash around in the brooks and streams. 

Trails here meander through pockets of wildflowers, rise steeply over challenging cliffs, and plunge you right into the heart of nature’s awesome power. 

You’ll find all levels of hiking difficulty here. To figure out which trail is right for you, visit the Smoky Mountains National Park hiking page. 

Fish the Great Smoky Mountains

The Park is a destination for fishermen around the country, offering up 2,900 miles of streams. 

Fishing is permitted in every part of the park, though you must obtain a license from either Tennessee or North Carolina. Both licenses can be used throughout the entire park. 

Fishing is a year-round activity here, and many of the streams are filled with delicious trout and bass. 

Waterfalls to Lift the Spirit

The park is home to a vast number of waterfalls, thanks to over 85 inches of rain that falls in the mountains every year. And that’s just the average!

Some peaks receive as much as 8 feet of rain, which in turn form some of the most beautiful waterfalls around. 

The popular Mingo Falls is over 120 feet tall, and one of the highest falls in the area. You can visit dozens of waterfalls across the park free of charge and without reservations.

The Great Smoky Mountains has Wildlife that Can’t be Missed

For viewing wildlife, the Great Smoky Mountains are without equal. 

You’ll see elk, black bear, white-tailed deer, turkeys, and other animals. You may not ever have the chance to see these creatures again, so why not take advantage of what the park has to offer?

Visit the historic valley of Cataloochee in order to see a herd of elk peacefully grazing away. For the best experience, go early in the morning or in the evening, when the animals are out in droves.

Cades Cove is the destination to see black bears, deer, and turkeys. Make sure you don’t get too close and treat animals with respect and dignity in accordance with federal rules and regulations when you visit. 

Educational Opportunities at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

If you live nearby, you’ll find excellent opportunities to learn more at the park too.

The Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont

The Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont provides educational programs for kids and grown-ups, as well as professional development for teachers.

You can enjoy learning from the various programs, including teacher escapes, naturalist certification programs, and residential programs.

For kids, they host a “Girls in Science” program, teen adventure programs, and Firefly Camp for the little ones.

They even offer a family week-long vacation, where you and yours can camp and enjoy the wilderness with hiking and nature study.

The University of Tennesse Knoxville Smoky Mountain Field School

The University of Tennessee Knoxville offers a field school hosted at the park for adults 18 and up. You’ll get a day in the wild under the instruction of experts to learn wildcraft skills and make memories.

Some of the most fascinating classes include wildcraft foraging for wild foods and medicines. You can learn about Cherokee plant lore, as well as their myths and legends. Or take a class on nature photography, wildflower identification, or orienteering.

Where to Stay in the Great Smoky Mountains

You’ll probably want to stay at least a few days in this natural wonderland. There are several options for those wishing to stay overnight.

Lodging in the Great Smoky Mountains

The one lodge located inside the park itself is the LeConte Lodge. Accessible only by foot, this lodge sits atop Mount LeConte and offers a stunning view. 

Make sure you allow yourself enough time to get there, as the hike is pretty long. You’ll have to trek between 5 and 8 miles to reach this gem, but it’s worth the effort!

Camping in the Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping is some of the best in the country. 

The 800 miles of trails provide a perfect backcountry camping experience for both amateur and experienced campers. These sites are primitive, without electricity or water, and are usually far from roads accessible by car. Make sure to get your permit before you go!

Frontcountry camping is available nearer to the main roads. These sites have electricity, running water, flush toilets, and picnic tables. 

Most campsites require you to make reservations ahead of time. Make sure to check the park’s camping page to see which sites are available and see how to reserve them.

Great Smoky Mountains cabins

One of the Smokey Mountain’s biggest draws is the wide selection of cabins available throughout the area. If you’re not keen on tent camping outdoors for whatever reason, you may wnat to reserve a cabin nearby instead.

The mountains are a popular tourist attraction for many reasons, which means there are plenty of places to stay nearby. And many couples choose a smoky mountain national park wedding to start their married life.

Have a Smoky Mountain National Park Wedding

The park hosts destination weddings and is happy to help you plan. You’ll need to apply to the park for a Special Use Permit first. You’ll also need to follow some simple guidelines.

Although every area of the park is open to the public, you can only hold your wedding in one of the 50 pre-approved spots. You can view their map online to figure out which would be best for you.

The park says that they host around 350 weddings every year. They’ve even provided a useful video to help you plan your smoky mountain national park wedding.

The Great Smoky Mountains are Fun for Everyone

The Great Smokey Mountains and the park that protects them are a haven for everyone and a sight you have to see at least once in your life. 

But be forewarned:

Once you visit the mountains, you may not want to leave.

And if you love exploring national parks like the Great Smoky Mountain, you may also want to check out these 5 Can’t-Miss National Park Activities for an Experience of a Lifetime.)”

Featured Image: CC BY-SA 4.0, by Niagara66, via Wikimedia Commons

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