Great Smokey Mountains National Park

Information about the Great Smokey Mountains National Park or better known as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or just the Smokies. Get the history, hiking information, and other details here.

Is it Smokey or Smoky Mountains?

If you didn’t already notice, the Great Smokey Mountains National Park is actually spelled incorrectly. The correct spelling is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Do you see the difference? Many people misspell Smoky as Smokey with an “e,” some simply call them the Smokies while others spell it Smokeys. If you’re one of the people who spells it incorrectly, don’t worry…more people spell it as Smokey Mountains rather than the correct way! Does that make it wrong? Who knows…the Smoky Mountains are still just as breathtakingly beautiful!

With that out of the way, let’s dig into one of the most amazing places on Earth, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Great Smoky Mountains is in the southern tip of the Appalachian Mountains and creates a natural border between Tennessee and North Carolina. If you have ever been to Gatlinburg, TN or Cherokee, NC then you have been in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many people don’t realize that the Smokey Mountains…I mean Smoky Mountains…is the most visited national park in the United States! This is a testament to the beauty of the park, but it has also become increasingly harmful to the environmental makeup of the Smokies. The increased pollution in the air from vehicle exhaust along with the growing population, increased tourism, etc. has taken a toll on the wildlife and natural habitats. Fortunately, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is working to preserve and even restore as much of the national park as possible.

What Makes the Smoky Mountains Smoky?

So where does the name Smokey Mountains, Smoky Mountains or Smokies come from anyway? If you have ever seen the Smokies, you’d know how it got its name. The higher elevation, humidity, and hydrocarbons produced by trees and plants often put off a hovering, almost eery haze throughout the mountain range giving it the name “Smokies” as it looks like there is smoke all over the mountaintops. It’s an amazing sight if you have never seen it before – almost as if the mountains are on fire – or simply haunted.

About the Fall Leaves in the Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is deciduous, meaning most trees shed their leaves as the weather turns colder. As this happens, the mountains come to life with amazing color! The reds, yellows, oranges, etc look as if buckets of paint fell from the sky onto the mountains. It’s incredible! Knowing when to see this is anybody’s guess, but you’re probably still wondering when the leaves change color in the fall. Well, this depends on two primary things – temperature and moisture. As the weather turns colder, deciduous trees go into “survival” mode and start preserving as much water as possible. The best thing they can do to accomplish this is shed their water-retaining leaves! As the trees zap the water out of the leaves, the result is that the leaves slowly change color, dry up, and fall off. So the trick is to look for a cold, dry snap in weather, which basically means predicting when the leaves will change color in the Smoky Mountains is about as hard as predicting the weather! Statistically, though, the middle and last half of October are usually the safest bets for a colorful visit. Bring your camera!

Synchronous Fireflies at Elkmont in the Smoky Mountains

One last interesting aspect of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that needs to be pointed out is the synchronous fireflies in Elkmont near Gatlinburg. This is an amazing event that happens only once a year for about a week in mid-June and only in two locations in the entire world…the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of them…the other is in Asia. You can pick which one to come to, but I suggest the Smokies!

If you have comments or any interesting facts about the Smokies you’d like to share about the Great Smoky Mountains, please share them in the section at the bottom of this page! We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Two Years Later, Two Major Smoky Mountain Trails Open

While tornadoes are fairly rare in this part of the state, a few that sprang up two years caused quite a bit of damage in the park that was still being felt up until just a few days ago.

Due to the storm that produced those tornadoes, the national park service had to close two major trails in the area. Those two Smoky Mountain hiking trails have now reopened and are ready for heavy hiking boot traffic.

The National Park Service said the Beard Cane and Hatcher Mountain trails – both in the west end of the 500,000-acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park – have been repaired and are again open. They were the last of 10 damaged trails to be reopened.

Thousands of trees were knocked down by an F-4 tornado that struck near Cades Cove in April 2011, forcing the closing of 50 miles of trails. One campsite, Backcountry Site 11, has been permanently closed because damage left it unsuitable for use.

Read more here:

National Park Asking for Volunteer Guides

If you’ve ever wanted to give back to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for all that it has given to its millions of visitors over the years, now could just be the perfect time. And no, they aren’t asking for money or anything like that. Just time and a helping hand. Plus, you get a chance to get up close to some of the park’s magnificent wildlife.

To be more specific, the national park needs volunteers to assist in guiding visitors who come into the park to view Elk on the North Carolina side. Elk are located in the Cataloochee area, which can basically be classified as a remote mountain valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Volunteers will aid park rangers in directing traffic and instructing visitors on responsible elk viewing in the park.

Elk were reintroduced in Cataloochee in 2001 as part of an experimental release to determine if an elk herd could sustain itself in the park after a 200-year absence. Approximately 140 elk now live in the self-sustaining herd. The Cataloochee elk herd can be seen regularly in the fields of the valley, especially in the early morning and evening hours. Other wildlife commonly spotted include bear, deer, and turkeys.

As for the volunteer program, those selected are asked to work at least two scheduled, four-hour shifts per month starting the second week in May and continuing through November. For more information, call Park Ranger Pete Walker at (828) 506-1739.

Celebrate Junior Ranger Day Saturday in the Smokies

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is getting ready to celebrate National Junior Ranger Day with special activities at all three visitor centers.

Children can earn a free Junior Ranger patch by completing three of the specially planned activities. They include ranger guided walks, historic toy making, a talk with a wildland firefighter, a blacksmith shop demonstration and touch tables with animal skins and skulls.

Activities take place from 10 am to 2 pm Saturday, April 27 at Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Cades Cove Visitor Center near Townsend and Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, NC. Contact Lloyd Luketin at 865-436-1292 for additional information on Junior Ranger Day.

“National Junior Ranger Day provides a great opportunity for children and families to spend time together learning about the Park while doing fun activities,” said Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson. “We hope that our local residents will take advantage of this program to interact with our staff and the resources, and, at the same time, plan a full day in the Park.”

Sugarlands will also host a National Park Career Day for middle and high school students who will get a behind-the-scenes look into the careers of the National Park Service.

Students will get a “behind the scenes” look into the careers of the National Park Service. Employees will be demonstrating their jobs with hands-on activities while providing insight for those interested in these types of future careers.

For information and questions about High School Career Day, please contact Emily Guss at 865-736-1713.

Read more here:

Some Smoky Mountain Facilities to Remain Closed This Year

If you’re planning a camping trip in the Smokies this year, make sure the locale you’re looking into is still in operation. This following some recently announced federal budget cuts have some vacationers scrambling to find a new spot to pitch a tent this spring and summer.

These cuts will directly affect a handful of spots in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this year. Included in these federal budget cuts are a 5 percent reduction in staffing and hiring limitations. This cut will not only hinder some parts of the park from opening on time, but could cut into the days that it will be in operation.

Park officials have already announced that a few popular spots will not open at all this year. Those spots include the Look Rock Campground and picnic area, and the Abrams Creek Campground, which are both located in Tennessee. On the North Carolina side of the Smokies, the Balsam Mountain Campground and picnic area and the Tow String Horse Camp will not open during the 2013 season.

National Park officials have reiterated time and again that the park regrets the inconvenience to all their yearly visitors, especially all who love backcountry camping and make that a yearly reason to trip to the Smokies.

Backcountry reservations, schedules, and permits are still available online at at .

Visits to the National Park UP 7.5% in 2012

Think the economy is having an effect on the Smoky Mountain area? Think again. Officials from the National Park services reported that half-million more visitors toured the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2012 than in 2011 – a 7.5 percent jump.

Most officials say that the increase is due primarily to the mild weather experienced during the winter and spring months.

In all, by December 31, 2012, 9,685,828 people had come through the park for various recreational purposes like hiking, mountain biking, camping, swimming, etc. As noted, that’s a 7.5 percent boost from 2011, when numbers totaled 9,008,835. It’s also the largest number the Smokies has recorded since 2000 when 10.1 million people visited the park.

Park officials say the mild weather allowed or convinced more people to travel into the park and be outdoors due to the lack of ice and snow on the roads and trails. The mild weather in the shoulder seasons and warm summer set the tone for visitation as every month of 2012 saw an increase of visitors over those recorded in 2011, they add.

December 2012 visits were 480,527 compared with 471,603 as seen in December 2011. There were nearly 2 percent more visitors in December than in the last month of 2011. Newfound Gap Road between Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Cheorkee, North Carolina, was closed due to ice and snow on all or part of six days during December, but the holiday season brought a large number of visitors to the park during the latter part of the month.

Here’s a breakdown of entrance visitation tallies for 2012:

Gatlinburg: 175,205 visitors

Townsend: 65,156

Cherokee: 111,574

13 Outlying Areas: 128,592

Backcountry Camping Fee Increase for 2013

For anyone planning a camping trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2013, just so you know the backcountry camping fee will increase to $4 person starting in most likely January.

It marks a change in the national park’s backcountry reservation and permitting process.

It’s all for a very worthy and good cause that will benefit all those coming to the national park wanting to stay overnight and observe its majestic beauty up close. All money deriving from the new backcountry fees will go toward improving customer service for backcountry trip planning, making backcountry reservations and applying for permits.

Additional staff will also give the national park the ability to expand backcountry office hours in order to better accommodate all the park’s guests. There will also be greater enforcement of issues such as food storage by park rangers assigned to various portions of the backcountry. These rangers are on patrol each day and look after the well-being of the park and keeping its natural state from harm.

In a move to become more technologically in tune, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will give backcountry campers the ability to make reservations and obtain permits online through a new web site in cooperation with The site is slated to be available within the first few months of 2013.

Backcountry campers may stay at a campsite for a maximum of three consecutive nights. You may not stay more than one night at any individual shelter. The use of tents at shelters is prohibited. The maximum group size is 8 persons, except at the following campsites where parties of 12 are permitted: 17, 20, 46, 60, 86, and 90. Please note that some campsites have a group size limit of fewer than 8 persons.

The park does not allow pets on backcountry trails. Backpackers and hikers are subject to all Backcountry Rules and Regulations. Failure to abide by park regulations may subject you to a fine under Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations. Maximum fine for each violation is $5,000 and/or 6 months in jail.

Please call the reservations office to cancel any nights or spaces that become available because of changes in your plans.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park sees near 10 million visitors come through its entrances in Tennessee and North Carolina every year. It’s home to such popular natural spots as Cades Cove, Cataloochee, and Mount LeConte.

Hiking in Gatlinburg TN and the Great Smoky Mountains

Information on hiking in Gatlinburg Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Discover the beauty, history, and nature of the Smokies along numerous hiking trails in Gatlinburg, TN.


Bridge along the Gatlinburg Sugarlands trail.

One of the best reasons to visit Gatlinburg, TN is for the breathtaking natural surroundings. Just look up from any spot, and you will see picturesque views of the Great Smoky Mountains enveloping you. The heart of Gatlinburg is just paces away from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, home to more than 800 miles of hiking trails, over 500,000 acres of forest, 240-plus species of birds, peaceful waterfalls, beautiful flora and fauna, and plenty of opportunities for you and your family to commune with nature.

Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is available to everyone, from those simply in the mood for a leisurely day hike to more experienced backcountry backpackers looking for a physical challenge. No matter what type of hike you choose to experience, you will be surrounded by soaring vistas, colorful wildflowers, abundant wildlife, and rich history including 77 historic structures. It is a perfect way to experience the mountains for the first time, and to introduce the great outdoors to the kids. Or, simply enjoy revisiting the rugged terrain you have traveled many times before, seeing something new at every turn.

Great Smoky Mountains StreamHiking trails are open all year round in the park. Each season brings its own set of views and experiences, and a hike any time of the year can be both a healthy and educational experience for anyone. Springtime offers copious amounts of blooming trees and flowers. Summertime is the time to splash in a cool mountain stream or picnic alongside a serene waterfall. The fall welcomes amazing colors, not to be missed. And winter is a special time in the Smoky Mountains, with crisp white snowfalls and views that reveal the true scope of the Great Smokies.

When you take a trip to Gatlinburg, you must take the short drive to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Enjoy an unhurried walk through the wilderness, or experience a challenging overnight hike in the unspoiled backcountry. Take the kids to one of the many waterfalls or simply enjoy the serenity of a romantic picnic lunch beside a mountain stream. Your vacation experience in Gatlinburg will not be complete without paying a visit to one of the nation’s most beautiful natural treasures!

Sugarlands Visitor Center

Stop by Sugarlands Visitor Center before heading into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park coming from Gatlinburg.

If you’re traveling through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), one place you’ve likely seen and even stopped at, is the Sugarlands Visitor Center.  It’s located on the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just south of Gatlinburg along US 441. Sugarlands is on your right hand side as you enter the national park from Gatlinburg. Aside from being able to obtain a wealth of information about the park there, Sugarlands offers guest facilities, as well as free programs for kids, hikers, naturalists, and on basically any reason there would be to come to the national park.

Though it is and will always be a popular stop for people looking for a restroom, the bookstore in the visitor center is worth the stop alone. If you need a hiking guide, or a wildlife book, they’ve got it. And after you’ve perused their gift shop, check out the Smoky Mountain wildlife museum. They profile all the mammals, reptiles and birds you’re sure encounter (at least some of them) on any of the hiking the trails in the Smokies. Sugarlands is really a great first stop before going into the park, whether it’s to get a map, check out the wildlife presentation, or just a simple break from the road. One suggestion before leaving – there’s a 20 minute film on the history of the park that can be seen there, it’s worth 20 minutes to watch.

Park rangers also provide the public with educational programs at Sugarlands Visitors Center. You might encounter a ranger talking about some of the park’s first settlers, edible wild plants that grow along the trails, or a simple GSMNP history lesson. All these talks and presentations  are specifically developed for Sugarlands by the Park Service. One good move might be to contact the visitors center before coming to the park to see what programs are running during your specified trip.

Another reason to visit Sugarlands is if you plan staying overnight in the Great Smoky Mountains at a campground or backcountry site. Not only can you make reservations at one of the park’s campgrounds, Sugarlands is an ideal place to make lodging plans for one of the park’s backcountry shelters. Each backcountry shelter must be reserved as they are managed by the park service. For anyone planning an overnight trip on one of the trails, make plans to stay in one of the shelters. Any of the Sugarlands park rangers will be able to help you out with that process.

Due to the amount of visitors that come to the Smokies year after year, Sugarlands has become a destination for many people. Take in the gift shop and the wildlife exhibit, come listen to any of the special programs given each year or check on your backcountry reservation next time you’re coming in from Gatlinburg. Sugarlands is a literal “one stop shop” for all the information you might need on your Smokies trip, Sugarlands’ experienced staff will help make your trip one that you’ll always look back on fondly and with great remembrance.

Sugarlands Visitor Center
2 miles south of Gatlinburg on US 441
Open every day except Christmas Day