Great Smoky Mountains National Park | PARK AT A GLANCE

Cades Cove

Cades Cove

PARK OVERVIEW

Over twelve million people visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2010, making it the most visited of any park with the “National Park” designation. It gets nearly three times the number of visitors as does Yellowstone, and more than the Grand Canyon and Yosemite combined. Of National Park Service properties, only the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco and the Blue Ridge Parkway get more visitors each year.

Most people think of the Smoky Mountains as a place of scenic beauty and outdoor recreation, and that is certainly no misconception. There are over 800 miles of trails in the park and all are open to hikers, while nearly 500 miles of these are available to horseback riders as well. Mountain biking, on the other hand, is allowed only on four short trails. Road biking is allowed, but discouraged in most places due to narrow, winding roads. In addition to hiking, visitors can fish in the streams and may catch a glimpse of bears, elk, deer, turkey, and other animals.

Another popular activity is camping. There are nine developed, “frontcountry” campgrounds spread throughout the 814 square miles of park land and nearly 100 backcountry campsites for those who want to tackle an overnight hiking and camping trip. There are even campgrounds specifically for groups and for those with horses and other pack animals. Two of the frontcountry campgrounds are open year-round, while the others are only open seasonally, usually from April through November.

Cades Cove area

Cades Cove area

What people do not associate the park with is human history, yet there is plenty of that as well. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the only National Park not created with land already owned by the government or donated by private individuals. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, everyone who once lived here was forced to sell their land so the park could be created (authorized in 1934 and opened in 1940). Many buildings from the mountain homesteads remain in existence. Also, over one hundred cemeteries, some small family plots and others larger church cemeteries, are within the park boundaries. Many can easily be found along the roads and trails, while others can only be found by those who know where to look.

In addition to farming, logging was a big industry at the time, and many remnants have been left behind including wrecked trains, steam engines, rails, spikes, and other equipment. However, most of this is found off of the trails and, again, only by those who know where to look. An old timer even told me where to find junked Model T and A automobiles, though I meet him on my last day in the park and did not have time to check it out.

Unlike smaller parks where National Park Planner brings you details about everything there is to see and do, with a park the size of the Smokies this is not possible. I spent fifteen days at the park, and even so, I was only able to cover a fraction of what the park offers, particularly when it comes to hiking. My coverage of the campgrounds, picnic areas, and historical structures is pretty thorough, but trail reports are limited to one or two hikes in each of the many distinct regions around the park. Pick up a trail map, because there is plenty to explore beyond the coverage found here on National Park Planner.


OPERATING HOURS

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open year round, though certain facilities are only open seasonally and road closures during winter may limit access into areas of the park. Some roads are always closed for the winter season, while snow storms may temporarily close others. For more information, visit the National Park Service’s Seasonal Road Schedule and Temporary Road and Facility Closures web pages.

The Oconaluftee, Sugarlands, and Cades Cove Visitor Centers are open daily except for Christmas. The Clingmans Dome Visitor Center is open April through November. Hours vary for each facility depending on the season, so for the latest schedule be sure to visit the official Visitor Centers web page for the park.

The Cades Cove and Smokemont Campgrounds are open year-round, while the rest are open seasonally. As long as you can get to them, the backcountry campsites are open year-round. As mentioned, roads to the trails may be closed, and at times a trail may be closed for maintenance, so reaching a specific campsite may be difficult, if not impossible. None of the Group Campgrounds or Horse Camps are open year-round. The National Park Service’s Frontcountry Camping web page has the latest schedules and fees for camping in the park.

The Deep Creek, Cades Cove, Greenbrier, and Metcalf Bottoms picnic areas are open year-round. All others are open seasonally. The park’s Picnicking web page has the current schedule for operating hours and seasons.

FEES

There is no fee to enter Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There only fees are for camping, facility rentals, and tours operated by park concessionaires.

Smoky Mountains in the Fall

Smoky Mountains in the Fall

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Last updated on March 17, 2020
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