Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park © USchick
Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park boasts many natural assets that have made this one of the most visited national parks in the country. The Smoky Mountains, named for the blue smoke-like mist that frequently hovers in the air (caused by the natural oils and water vapour released into the air by the plants), are thought to be the oldest mountains in the world. The mountainsides are covered in an unparalleled diversity of wildflowers, plants and trees, and the park is renowned for its multitude of birds, fish and mammals, particularly black bears.
Within its vast wilderness are streams, rivers and waterfalls, acres of virgin forest and miles of hiking trails, including part of the Appalachian Trail that runs along the crest of the mountains through the park. Remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture can be discovered in the numerous historic buildings around the park, many of them found in the isolated mountain valley of Cades Cove that features cultural history as well as many recreational opportunities. Barns, churches, farmhouses and a gristmill preserved from the pioneer settlers of the 19th century can be viewed along the one-way loop road that is the most popular way to visit the Cove. The land was once sacred to the Cherokee who were brutally removed from their ancestral home in 1838 to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears, but some remained hidden in the mountains and the Quall Indian Reservation was later formed, sharing part of the park's southern border.
On the edge of the park the towns of Cherokee (North Carolina) and Gatlinburg (Tennessee) offer extensive visitor facilities, and the smaller towns of Bryson City (North Carolina) and Townsend (Tennessee) are arguably more atmospheric but with more limited services. During summer and autumn, accommodation can be booked up for weeks and roads leading to the park become jammed with traffic. The headquarters of the North Carolina side of the park is the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee.