Great Smoky Mountains
National Park -
Tennessee, North Carolina
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the ridgeline of
the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains,
which are a division of the larger Appalachian Mountain chain.
The border between Tennessee and North Carolina runs northeast
to southwest through the centerline of the park. It is the most
visited national park in the United States. On its route from
Maine to Georgia, the Appalachian Trail also passes through the
center of the park. The park was chartered by the United States
Congress in 1934 and officially dedicated by President Franklin
Delano Roosevelt in 1940. It encompasses 814 square miles,
making it one of the largest protected areas in the eastern
United States. The main park entrances are located along U.S.
Highway 441 at the towns of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Cherokee,
North Carolina. It was the first national park whose land and
other costs were paid for in part with federal funds; previous
parks were funded wholly with state money or private funds.
Great Smoky Mountains Attendence and Visitor Centers
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a major tourist
attraction in the region. Over 9 million tourists and 11
million non-recreational visitors traveled to the park in
2003, twice as many as visited any other national park.
Surrounding towns, notably Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge,
Sevierville, and Townsend, Tennessee, and Cherokee, Sylva,
Maggie Valley, and Bryson City, North Carolina receive a
significant portion of their income from tourism associated
with the park.
The two main visitors' centers inside the park are
Sugarlands Visitors' Center near the Gatlinburg entrance to
the park and Oconaluftee Visitors' Center near Cherokee,
North Carolina at the eastern entrance to the park. These
ranger stations provide exhibits on wildlife, geology, and
the history of the park. They also sell books, maps, and
souvenirs. Unlike most other national parks, there is no
entry fee to the park.
U.S. Highway 441 bisects the park, providing automobile
access to many trailheads and overlooks, most notably that
of Newfound Gap. At an elevation of 5,048 feet, it is the
lowest gap in the mountains and is situated near the center
of the park, on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line,
halfway between the border towns of Gatlinburg and Cherokee.
It was here that in 1940, from the Rockefeller Memorial,
Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedicated the national park. On
clear days Newfound Gap offers arguably the most spectacular
scenes accessible via highway in the park.
Hiking In Great Smoky Mountains National Park
There are 850 miles of trails and unpaved roads in the park
for hiking, including seventy miles of the Appalachian
Trail. Mount Le Conte is one of the most frequented
destinations in the park. Its elevation is 6,593 feetó the
third highest summit in the park and, measured from its base
to its highest peak, the tallest mountain east of the
Mississippi River. Alum Cave Trail is the most heavily used
of the five paths en route to the summit. It provides many
scenic overlooks and unique natural attractions such as Alum
Cave Bluffs and Arch Rock. Hikers may spend a night at the
LeConte Lodge, located near the summit, which provides
cabins and rooms for rent. Accessible solely by trail, it is
the only private lodging available inside the park.
Another popular hiking trail leads to the pinnacle of the
Chimney Tops, so named because of its unique dual-humped
peaktops. This short but strenuous trek rewards nature
enthusiasts with a spectacular panorama of the surrounding