With visitors numbering over 11 million annually, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is by far the most popular national park in the United States. It is also one of the largest protected areas in the eastern U.S., encompassing over 522,000 acres of pristine mountains, valleys, rivers, and waterfalls. After years of struggles due to land acquisition issues, the Great Depression, and WWII, the park was established in 1934 and officially dedicated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1920.
There are four distinct historic districts (Cades Cove being the most visited and well-known) and one archaeological district within park boundaries, which also include nine sites on the National Register of Historic Places. Most are just a short, beautiful drive from Tennessee hot spots such as Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Maggie Valley.
Another favorite “attraction” is Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the park, at an elevation of 6,643’. There are 850 miles of trails to explore, including 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Hiking, bicycling, fishing, camping, and horseback riding are a few of the park’s most popular activities.
For overnight guests, there are ten campgrounds which offer restrooms with cold running water but no showers, water hookups, or electricity. There are also seven primitive group camps (tent only) and five drive-in equestrian camps.
For back-country camping, permits and reservations are required. Please observe the “Leave No Trace” policy while hiking and back-country camping. There are several one-night shelters throughout the park, most located along the Appalachian Trail. All park activities are seasonal, so check availability before your visit. If you haven’t yet explored this park, be sure to put it on your bucket list – there’s a reason it attracts twice as many visitors as the Grand Canyon!