Your Next Adventure: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Your Next Adventure: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Nestled evenly between North Carolina and Tennessee is America's most famous national park, dense with majestic forests, mature vegetation, and protected wildlife. Rich in the Southern Appalachian people's mountain culture is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Being a national park means a plethora of things to do in its vast 522,427 acres, depending on the season and which sections are open. Great Smoky National Park flaunts more than 850 miles of hiking trails and 730 miles of fishing streams. Visitors can enjoy mountain biking, horseback riding, bicycling, wildlife sightseeing, waterfalls, and more. It also contains one of the most "significant collections of log structures in the eastern United States. More than 90 historical structures, including houses, barns, outbuildings, churches, schools, and grist mills, are preserved or rehabilitated in the park."
An animal habitat, the park protects many species, including the black bear, with roughly 1,500 roaming freely, so take precautions with your family, food, and pets. Other fascinating wildlife includes groundhogs, chipmunks, white-tailed deer, red and flying squirrels, salamanders, river otters, elk, and bats. Birdwatching is another excellent past time. Bring binoculars with more than 200 types to seek out. Again, depending on your location in the park and the time of year, you just might see the Eastern Screech-Owl, Red-tailed hawk, Swamp Sparrow, and the Golden-crowned Kinglet, to name a few. If vegetation is your passion, it's reported to have 1,600 species of flowering plants, 100 indigenous tree varieties, and more than 100 local bush species.
Camping is the most favored pastime for guests. There are numerous options with 1,000 locations available. However, rooftop tent camping is regulated to Frontcountry camping at Crosby, Deep Creek, Elkmont, and Smokemont. These sites allow for traditional tents, RV, and motor vehicle camping with no more than six (6) people per position and are pet-friendly within designated areas. They also provide modern amenities like flushable toilets, drinking water, cold running water, fire rings, picnic tables, and grills. Showers, electricity, or water connections are not available within the park. Details below provide a snapshot of each campground:
- Crosby Campground in the park's eastern area is described as "secluded, shaded, and quiet," supplying all the advantages of backcountry camping full of walking trails blanketed in the dewy mist from the thick ancient forest. Sprinkled with colorful mossy creeks, you may see a wild turkey, giant fungi and hear the trickling of calming waterfalls. Twenty miles away is the resort town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where you can enjoy minor league baseball, retail shops, dining, and whitewater rafting.
- Deep Creek Campground is in the southeast part of the park, lush with spring wildflowers or vibrant fall colors depending on the season, with a brilliant mountainscape. Camping is rustic and sits next to a beloved creek prime for water fun like tubing, trout fishing, and miles of hiking trails sprinkled with waterfalls and exceptional weather year-round.
- Elkmont Campground is the busiest campground in the park's northeast section, just a mere eight miles from Gatlinburg. The Little River and Jakes Creek run through it, offering trout fishing, peaceful freshwater soaking, and access to numerous hiking trails for beginners to advanced. Camping is strictly overnight. Fun Fact: Elmont was once a high society resort for Knoxville's wealthy before its designation as a national park.
- Smokemont Campground borders North Carolina and Tennessee. Highlighted by spectacular mountain ranges, clear streams, and a pristine river, the Bradley Fork River runs through the middle allowing for a fishing afternoon or evening. The environment is like the Deep Creek Campground with a kaleidoscope of spring wildflowers or warm fall colors, depending on the time of year. It also offers horseback riding and a green area ideal for sports and sunbathing. Six miles away in Cherokee, NC, is an opportunity to take in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians' history and culture at the oldest Native American Cooperative, the Oconaluftee Indian Village Qualla Arts & Crafts Mutual, and The Museum of the Cherokee Indian.
National parks have strict camping guidelines, especially during the pandemic. You will need to check each campsite for regulations and fees. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park permits only two motor vehicles per site or one vehicle with a trailer. Under current pandemic guidelines, the park has sections closed for Covid-19 safety, in addition to weather condition closures. Again, monitor restrictions in advance of your trip for updates. For more information and to secure your reservation, visit Recreation.gov by clicking HERE.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF @smokymountainoverland