By Darryl Payne
Posted on April 11, 2010
You can see mountains for miles, as ridge after ridge of forest bridges the interstate boundary between North Carolina and Tennessee. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is world renowned for its 520,000 acres of diverse plant and animal life, its preservation of the Southern Appalachian mountain culture, and the ever-changing beauty of its timeless mountains. With more than ten million people visiting annually, this is America's most visited national park.
If the excitement of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg leave you with a longing to get back to nature, then a campsite in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park may be just what the doctor ordered. Pack the kids, hotdogs, potato salad and marshmallows and head to one of the ten Great Smoky Mountains National Park maintained campgrounds. These ten campsites include Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain, Big Creek, Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Cosby, Deep Creek, Elkmont, Look Rock, and Smokemont. Of the ten campgrounds available within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the three most popular ones are Cades Cove, Elkmont and Smokemont. Each campground has restrooms with cold running water and flush toilets, but there are no showers or electrical or water hookups in the park. Reservations can be made by calling 1-800-365-CAMP.
Once you have selected that perfect vacation spot, now is the time to think about planning the perfect outing. Walking even short distances within the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park can put you in a completely different frame of mind. With over eight hundred miles of maintained trails within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, choosing just the right one may seem a little daunting. Fear not, nature lover, for there is a trail for just about every fitness level.
One of the most popular treks within the park is the two-and-one-half mile round trip Laurel Falls Trail. Laurel Falls is a paved, self guiding trail meandering through pine and oak forest with several view overlooks along the way, culminating with the watery sounds of Laurel Falls as the waterfall plummets sixty feet and then continues its journey through the National Park.
If your hiking experience places you beyond the ranks of the beginners, then the five and a half mile round trip hike to Rainbow Falls is sure to please. The eighty feet of cascading water on LeConte Creek is the highest single plunge that water takes inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and is one of the park's most visited waterfalls.
The more experienced hiker may want to tune their sights on the more adventurous climb to the Chimney Tops located off Newfound Gap Road. With astounding views from the summit, the four mile round trip hike will quickly separate out those with weak resolve, once they discover the 150 yards of difficult rock climbing to reach the viewpoint. Nevertheless, kick those hiking boots into four wheel drive! It will be worth it-breathtaking!
If the outing you have in mind is a little less, well, physical, then buckle up. Three of the more popular points of interest inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are either just a short drive, or can be seen from the comfort of your automobile. The isolated valley known as Cades Cove is an eleven-mile, paved one-way loop, where one can see reminders of pioneer life along with a variety of wildlife. Preserved log homes, a few remaining churches, cemeteries and the John Cable Mill are just a few of the historical sites that provide glimpses of how families went about their daily activities all those years ago. Be sure to bring along a blanket, and any leftovers from the night before as many places throughout Cades Cove are just right for a picnic lunch.
The view from Clingman's Dome overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is truly one of a kind. At an elevation of 6,643 feet, it is the highest point both in the state of Tennessee and along the Appalachian Trail. It is the most easily accessible mountain top in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A short one-and-one-half mile hike to the top of the observation tower(just pace yourself), affords one of the most awe-inspiring 360 degree views you will ever see.
For those of you who like your education and entertainment a little closer to sea level, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Sugarlands Visitor Center is a welcome sight. Located just outside Gatlinburg and just inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the visitor center facilities include native flower gardens, a museum, an eleven minute audiovisual program, bookstore, park information, and live programming. In spring, summer, and fall, Ranger-led programs provide a special look and a special opportunity to answer visitor questions and share stories about the Park.
The Cherokee Indians described these mountains as “Shaconage”, meaning “blue, like smoke.” However, the name Great Smoky Mountains means different things to different people. To some it brings back lazy summer nights around the campfire, to others it reminds them of reaching their destination on that favorite hiking trail and for a select few, these words hearken them back to the first time they laid eyes on the many natural wonders of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
About Darryl Payne
Darryl Payne is a native of East Tennessee in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. He is a web developer with a passion for building great websites. As a local, he can offer a unique perspective on where to stay and things to do while on vacation in the Smokies. To read his latest recommendations, please click the Google+ follow button.