The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a spectacular place, filled with wonder and adventure across its 522,427 acres. The park was established in 1934, and turns 85 this September, but what else do you know about the park? We’re going to share the most interesting facts.
1. Cherokee Called the Area “Land of the Blue Smoke”
They called it that after the haze that filled the mountain valleys in the early morning. The haze is caused by moisture and organic compounds emitted by the dense vegetation, especially on still summer days.
Cherokee can trace their history to the area more than a thousand years. After Europeans arrived in what is now the United States, war, disease and conflicts arose. Eventually, the Cherokee were forced to sign over their land to the government, first the British, then the U.S.
Although many Cherokee were forced to move west, some of the Oconaluftee Cherokees in Western North Carolina were allowed to stay Today there are about 11,000 members of the Eastern Tribe, most of whom live on the 56,000-acre Cherokee Indian Reservation, or the “Qualla Boundary” as it is often called.
Unlike some reservations in the western United states, this one is entirely open to visitors. Learn more about the Cherokee.
2. A Woman was the White First Settler to the Smoky Mountains
Although William Ogle is credited for building the first home in the area, it was his wife, Martha Jane Huskey Ogle, who first moved there. William passed away before he could settle into the home with his wife and kids.
The Ogle cabin is located in downtown Gatlinburg, having been moved there in 2016 from its original home next to what is now the Arrowmont School for Arts and Crafts. The move was prompted by the construction of Anakeesta Village.
3. Plants and Flowers
The park contains more than 4,000 plants and 140 species of trees. They include more than 1500 flowering plants – more than in any other North American national park – and they are some of the most beautiful in the world.
Right now, in early fall, goldenrod, wide-leaved sunflowers, tall ironweed, mountain gentian, monk’s hood, coneflowers, and numerous varieties of asters begin to bloom. Purple umbels of sweet Joe-Pye-weed stretch towards the sky and can reach heights of ten feet. National Park Service offers suggestions for wildflower walks. And check out our blog on the best summer wildflowers in the mountains.
The park is home to some 65 species of mammals, 200 varieties of birds, 67 native fish species, and more than 80 kinds of reptiles and amphibians.
Among the mammals are about 1,500 bears that call the Smokies home.
A symbol of the Smokies, the American Black Bear, is probably the park’s most famous resident. Great Smoky Mountains National Park provides the largest protected bear habitat in the eastern United States, according to the NPS. They live at all elevations in the park.
As pretty and sometimes cute as bears seem, don’t forget that they are wild animals and should be left alone. Don’t feed the bears and don’t try to get close to them or their cubs.
The white-tailed deer, groundhog, chipmunk, and some squirrel and bat species are the most commonly seen among the mammels.
More than 200 species of birds are regularly sighted in the park
More than 2100 miles of streams in the park support more than 50 native fish. Among them are the brook trout, the Smoky Madtom, Yellowfin Madtom, Spotfin Chub, and Duskytail Darter.
Another famous character in the Smokies is the salamander. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been called the “Salamander Capital of the World.” “Climatic and geologic factors have combined to spur the development of 30 salamander species in five families, making this one of the most diverse areas on earth for this order.
Frogs and toads – 14 species – also make their home in the Smoky Mountains. Check out the Amphibians Checklist for scientific and common names.
Check out more Animals in the smokies to learn about them and their habitat and which ones are endangered.
5. Smoky Mountain land was once privately owned
That’s right – much of the land belonged to 1,200 small property owners. The governments of Tennessee and North Carolina, donations from wealthy conservationists, the U.S. Park Service bought the loggers and landowners in order to restore the Great Smoky Mountains after years of logging had decimated the forest. In fact, some logging companies continued to remove trees until the very minute the land deal was completed.
Tennessee and North Carolina paid to construct Newfound Gap Road and then transferred ownership of the road over to the federal government. At that time, it was stated that “no toll or license fee shall ever be imposed…” to travel the road. This is why it is free to enter the park, unlike many other national parks.
6. Most Visited National Park in the United States
The visitor figures do not include the other 11 million travelers on the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Spur.
The second most heavily visited national park of the 59 is Grand Canyon with 4.6 million visits, third is Yosemite with 3.8 million, fourth is Yellowstone with 3.2 million. Check out visits here.
7. Some of the Oldest Mountains in the World
Some of the rocks in the Smokies were formed during the Proterozoic Era, 800-545 million years ago. Fossils found in limestone rocks in Cades Cove are about 450 million years old. The mountains themselves – as they are formed now – are estimated to be 200 to 300 million years old.
It is an awesome thought.
8. More than 850 Miles of Hiking Trails
The park sees about 400,000 hikers annually. About 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail runs through the park, as well.
Whether you want an easy hike or several days including camping, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has it all.
The Gatlinburg Trail is an easy 3.8-mile round-trip hike runs from the Sugarlands Visitor Center (also a must-see before you do anything else in the Park) to Gatlinburg Tennessee and back. This is one of the few trails in the Park that allows dogs (on a leash) and bicycles.
More challenging is Rainbow Falls Trail. Allow an hour and a half to Rainbow Falls and four hours to Mt LeConte – rising 6,593 feet. Only Clingman’s Dome is higher at 6,643 feet.
Hikers will gain nearly 4,000 feet in elevation by the time they get to Mt. LeConte.
Check out our hiking guide for more information and more hikes.
9. Mountaintop Temperatures Rarely Reach Above 80 F
Elevations in the park range from approximately 875 feet to 6,643 feet and the topography can drastically affect local weather. Temperatures can vary 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit from mountain base to top, and clear skies lower down do not guarantee equally pleasant weather at higher elevations. Rainfall averages 55 inches per year in the lowlands to 85 inches per year at Clingmans Dome.
10. More than 90 Structures Preserved by the Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park holds one of the best collections of log buildings in the eastern United States. “Houses, barns, outbuildings, churches, schools, and grist mills—have been preserved or rehabilitated in the park.”
Some of the best places to see these historic structures are at Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Oconaluftee and along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Self-guiding auto tour booklets are available at each place.
Not All of the historic buildings in Cades Cove are not native; some once were located elsewhere in the park. The Gregg-Cable House for example was once on Forge Creek Road. And the blacksmith shop and the visitor center were both built after the national park was founded, though they were styled to replicate the architecture of the area.
Check out even more Great Smoky Mountain Facts and plan your visit.
Book a Cabin and Explore the Great Smoky Mountains
No matter how you choose to explore the Smoky Mountains, having a beautiful cabin to come and go from, to sit and discuss plans and the days adventures is the best way to stay in mountains. Book now for a future adventure. American Patriot Getaways has you covered with plenty of cabins to choose from in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.
Want to stay near Cades Cove? Book a cabin in Wears Valley and you are right there. Check out our great Wears Valley area cabins and find your perfect vacation destination!
No matter your group size or budget, American Patriot Getaways has a cabin for you!
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We’ll see you in the mountains!