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A Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Must-See Attractions and Activities

Are you ready for an unforgettable adventure in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? This guide will provide you with all the essential information you need to plan your trip, including the park's top attractions and exciting activities. Get ready to immerse yourself in the breathtaking beauty of this iconic national park.

Explore Cades Cove.
One of the must-see attractions in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Cades Cove. This scenic valley offers a glimpse into the region's rich history and stunning natural beauty. Take a leisurely drive along the 11-mile loop road and keep an eye out for wildlife such as deer, black bears, and wild turkeys. You can also explore the historic buildings, including churches, log cabins, and a working grist mill. Don't forget to bring your camera to capture the picturesque landscapes and charming rustic structures. Cades Cove is a must-visit destination for nature lovers and history enthusiasts alike.

Hike to Clingmans Dome.
One of the most popular hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the trail to Clingmans Dome. This iconic spot is the highest point in the park, offering breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The hike to Clingmans Dome is a challenging but rewarding experience, with a steep ascent and a total round-trip distance of 1.5 miles. Along the way, you'll pass through a beautiful forest of spruce and fir trees, and you may even spot some wildlife. Once you reach the top, you'll be rewarded with a stunning 360-degree view that stretches for miles. Don't forget to bring plenty of water and wear sturdy shoes, as the trail can be slippery and rocky. Hiking to Clingmans Dome is a must-do activity for outdoor enthusiasts visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Visit the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
If you're looking for a scenic drive through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a must-visit attraction. This 5.5-mile one-way loop takes you through a beautiful forested area, with opportunities to see historic buildings, rushing mountain streams, and even wildlife. Along the trail, you'll find several pull-offs where you can park your car and explore on foot. One of the highlights of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is the Rainbow Falls hike, which takes you to a stunning 80-foot waterfall. This trail is moderately difficult, with some steep sections, but the views are well worth the effort. Whether you're driving or hiking, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a great way to experience the natural beauty of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Take a scenic drive on Newfound Gap Road.
If you're looking for a breathtaking scenic drive in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, be sure to take a trip on Newfound Gap Road. This 33-mile road stretches from Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Cherokee, North Carolina and offers stunning views of the park's mountains, forests, and valleys. Along the way, you'll have the opportunity to stop at several overlooks and take in the panoramic vistas. One of the highlights of the drive is the Newfound Gap overlook, which sits at an elevation of 5,046 feet and offers a stunning view of the surrounding mountains. Whether you're driving through the park or just looking for a beautiful spot to stop and take in the scenery, Newfound Gap Road is a must-see attraction in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Go wildlife spotting in Cataloochee Valley.
If you're a nature lover and want to see some of the park's wildlife up close, a visit to Cataloochee Valley is a must. This remote valley is home to a variety of animals, including elk, black bears, and white-tailed deer. The best time to visit for wildlife spotting is early morning or late afternoon when the animals are most active. You can explore the valley on foot by hiking one of the many trails or take a scenic drive through the area. Don't forget to bring your camera and binoculars to capture the beauty of the wildlife in Cataloochee Valley.

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park consists of over 520,000 acres of forest straddling the Tennessee/North Carolina boundary along the Appalachian Mountains. The Park was created from land purchases made mostly during the 1930's utilizing much private donation including substantial funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. The effort effectively put a halt to timbering in the mountains before all the areas of virgin forest were lost. Still, much of the area was cultivated by the hundreds of families who made their homes and livelihoods along the flanks of the mountains. The real cost of the Park's creation must include the personal debt paid by those who had to adapt their lives and watch the forest reclaim their yards,

orchards and fields. Evidence of those homesteads exits

today in weathered road cuts, rock walls, and foundations

and chimneys. For those of us fortunate enough to know

those who lived within the area of the Park, we have had

the benefit of learning the wildness available there from

those who loved it and struggled with it on a daily basis.

It's a unique place of overwhelming richness of human

experience and nature's persistence.

The higher elevations of the Park receive close to 85 inches

of rain a year, making it one of the wettest locations in the

U.S. There's an elevation difference between those highest

peaks and the low lands of the Park of over a mile. The

bio-diversity within the Park boundaries is extreme and

more species of plants, animals, and micro-organisms new to the Park, and also to science, are still being discovered as research continues today. One way of appreciating this diversity is to look at comparisons between the Park and the four times larger Yellowstone National Park in the Rocky Mountains. From a Park Service publication I found these comparative statistics. Yellowstone's annual rainfall is less than 25 inches per year. Only eleven species of trees exist at Yellowstone while there are 135 in the Great Smokies; and five times as many fern species, nearly three times as many fish, seven times as many reptiles, ten times as many amphibians, and 50% again as many mammals. The Appalachians of the Great Smokies are much older than the Rockies. Plant evolution there has had a much greater time to develop. And, the Appalachians were never glaciated serving instead as a haven for northern plants and animals driven south during the last ice age.

Much detailed information is available about the Park. A good place to start to learn both the human and natural elements of the Park when you're here is at the Sugarland Visitors Center, which is just as you enter the Park from Gatlinburg. There's an excellent film shown regularly there which offers a moving introduction to all the magic of the life of the Park. Reference books, tapes ,and maps available there can broaden your level of experience in whatever direction you might choose . You might want t o visit their web site at GRSMNP to get an idea of the scope of things there.

From the Tennessee side, the Park is accessible from Townsend via US Highway 321, from Gatlinburg via US Highway 441, via Little River Road connecting the Townsend Park boundary with US 441 at Gatlinburg, via Cosby from US Highway 321, and via US Highway 321 connecting Gatlinburg with Cosby to the east.

It's this Tennessee eastern side of the Park that we focus on here. It's where we have lived, worked, and played for 10 years. It's where we have absorbed the magnificence of the beauty of the area ...where we know it best, and where we feel most qualified to share with you it's treasures.

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Great Smoky Mountains Sunset  Near our cabins Gatlinburg are close-by to all the Smokies Activities
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