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Happy Birthday to The Great Smoky Mountains – the most visited national park in the United States – turns 89 on June 15, 2023. Celebrate the Smokies with a visit, learn the history of the mountains and experience all they have to offer – we’ll give you some ideas!

Smoky Mountains History

It took decades from conception to completion but on June 15, 1934, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) , AKA The Smokies, was officially established. The U.S. government first approved the creation of a park in 1926, according to NPS.gov,. Now today we say Happy Birthday Smokies!

World renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain-culture,

the Smokies experienced its second busiest year ever in 2022 with 12,937,633 visits. Last year’s visitation was more than 1.5 million above the park’s ten-year average, and more than the visitation of Yellowstone, Yosemite and Grand Canyon national parks combined.

The Story

The story goes that Ann Davis suggested a National Park in the Smokies when she and her husband returned from a trip visiting several Western national parks in 1923. This started discussion of the idea with leaders in the area, especially around Knoxville. Her husband, Willis Davis, began talking about the park idea with anyone who would listen. Ann Davis entered politics and in 1924 was elected the first female from Knox County to serve in the Tennessee State House of Representatives.

The work of the Davises and many others led to a national park that spreads across more than 800 square miles of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to amazing wildlife, breathtaking views, and some of the oldest mountains in the world.

The ultimate decision to establish a national park meant that the scenery, resources and some of the native architecture “would be protected for all people to enjoy into the infinite future.” Here, nature is allowed to run its course.

Facts About The GSMNP

  1. It’s the only national park in the United States that was created using private funds.Local landowners and John D. Rockefeller donated money, with Rockefeller donating about $5 million dollars, creating the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
  2. 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.
  3. A Woman was the first white settler in the park

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.

  1. For the first time in its history, the park has a parking tag fee that started this year. Parking Tag Basic

Parking Tags

Three tag durations are available for purchase for all vehicle sizes and types:

The Mills

  1. Grist Mills

One great way to celebrate and say Happy Birthday Smokies is to visit the mills! Some grist mills are still working! In the pioneer days, people relied heavily on grist mills to grind cornmeal and flour. A popular destination in Pigeon Forge is The Old Mill, an operating grist mill where you can watch the wheel spin on the creek and purchase meal ground by the grist mill. Another is in Cades Cove, named the John P. Cable.

  1. Wildflowers

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.

  1. Highest Point in the Park

At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. Just imagine singing “Happy Birthday Smokies” from over 6000 feet in the air!

More than 90 historic structures—houses, barns, outbuildings, churches, schools, and grist mills—have been preserved or rehabilitated in the park.

The Trails

  1. Hiking

Another way to celebrate and say Happy Birthday to GSMNP is hiking! Great Smoky Mountains National Park is centered around the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, which is a component of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This area is also part of the greater Appalachian Mountain Range.

The park contains more than 150 hiking trails among the more than 800 miles of trails – there are trails for beginners and overnight experts. The trails also feature a 70-mile segment of the Appalachian Trail.

With so many miles of trail available, it’s sometimes difficult deciding where to begin. Check out our best places to hike blog post for some ideas. There also is a post on hiking trails for seniors.

  1. Wildlife

Bears are some of the most popular animals in the Smokies – though fyi, they actually aren’t all black; they can be blue-gray or blue-black, brown, cinnamon or ever sometimes, though rarely, white. Experts say approximately 1,500 of these animals live in and around the Smoky Mountains.

For when and where to look for bear, plus bear safety, check out this blog post.

There are plenty of other animals to see in the Park, too.

There are some 65 other mammal species documented in the park. This includes the white-tailed deer, groundhog, chipmunk, and some squirrel and bat species. More than 200 species of birds are regularly sighted in the park, 85 of those migrate from the neotropics. Some 120 species nest here, according to NPS.

National Park Service

“Surrounded by warm lowlands, the cool, moist, climate of the park’s highest elevations creates islands of habitat suitable for animals commonly found in more northern areas, allowing them to live far south of their present primary ranges. Northern species such as the northern flying squirrel, red squirrel, and rock vole thrive at high elevations, while the Northern Saw-whet Owl, Canada Warbler, Common Raven, and other birds reach their southernmost breeding point in the park” – NPS.

And fish – so many fish. More than 700 miles of streams, boast more than 50 native fish species. These include the brook trout, the Smoky Madtom, Yellowfin Madtom, Spotfin Chub, and Duskytail Darter.

Another curious critter in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the salamander. Lungless salamanders have undergone an extraordinary level of evolutionary diversification in the park – 24 species inhabit the park, making it the center of diversity for the family.

Preserving The Park

According to the National Park Service, “prior to park establishment in 1934, several animals native to the Smoky Mountains were eradicated by hunting, trapping, changing land uses, and other causes. Extirpated species include bison, elk, mountain lion, gray wolf, red wolf, fisher, river otter, Peregrine Falcon, and several species of fish. A primary goal of the National Park Service is to preserve the flora and fauna of the Smokies in a condition similar to that which existed prior to the arrival of modern, technological humans. In accordance with this mission, the National Park Service has helped reintroduce the river otter, elk, and Peregrine Falcon to the Smokies. Learn more about species now missing from the park.”

Must See in The Smokies

Certainly, one sure way to say “Happy Birthday Smokies”, is to enjoy it in person! Some of our favorite places and things to do include visiting Cades Cove, going on a waterfall hike, taking a scenic drive and visiting the Skypark for spectacular views just above town.

Also, beautiful Cades Cove is a popular destination in the Park. It’s known for its stunning views, hiking trails, 11-mile walking and biking loop and the wildlife often playing and hanging out there. Read about the Cades Coves trails here.

Scenic Drives are a wonderful way to spend a hot day or an early morning or a sunset. Check out our recommendations here.

The Skybridge at the Skypark above Gatlinburg is a wonderful and unique way to see the Smokies. Read our blog post here.

Dollywood – Smoky Mountain Summer Celebration runs June 17- Aug. 6 and includes evening drone and fireworks displays and bursts of summer color everywhere. There will also be returning family-favorite shows including Gazillion Bubble Show: Aurora.

Smoky Mountain Fan Fest – Aug. 11-13, 2023, in Sevierville, with special guests from the Twilight movies.

Book your cabin today!

Stay in a cabin the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There’s nothing better than having a base camp to explore from during your trip.

Or maybe you’re planning your next visit and want to coordinate around fun events in the Smoky Mountains region. When it comes to GatlinburgPigeon Forge, and the Smoky Mountains, we’ve got your covered.

If there’s one bad part of our travels to the region it’s this: There’s always so much to do!

From the hottest deals to new restaurants, cabin rentals, and the newest attractions there’s always something new to learn about when it comes to Smoky Mountain travel.

Need A Travel Guide?

You don’t have to plan your next trip alone.  We have so many guides to help!  Give our Reservations staff a call at 800-204-5169 or check out our website to find the best cabin for your family’s trip to the mountains. No matter your group size or budget, American Patriot Getaways has a cabin for you!

So, Happy Birthday Smokies!

And you make sure to follow us on Instagram and Facebook to keep up with everything the area has to offer.

Click here now to find out all about the latest local deals to plan a great getaway.

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