The Ultimate Guide To Asheville and the Western North Carolina Mountains
The Ultimate Guide to Asheville & the Western North Carolina Mountains

The Online Version of the Best-selling Regional Guidebook

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Great Smoky Mountains
National Park

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  Susanna Pantas, Artist





   The Great Smoky Mountains National Park which lies along the common border of Tennessee and North Carolina, form a majestic climax to the Appalachian Highlands. With outlines softened by a forest mantle, the mountains stretch away to remote horizons in sweeping troughs that recede to evenness in the distance. And shrouding the peaks is a smokelike mist that rises from the dense plant growth. The mountains get their name from this deep blue mist.
   The park’s boundary wraps around 800 square miles of mountain wilderness, most of it virtually
unspoiled. Many peaks rise above 6,000 feet. A great variety of trees, shrubs, herbs and other plants are nourished by the fertile land and heavy rainfall and rushing streams. The Great Smoky Mountains Park contains more than 700 miles of rivers and streams, over 200,000 acres of virgin forests, and over 850 miles of trails. It is the most visited national park with over 9,000,000 visitors a year.
    From Asheville it will take you a number of hours to get to the border of the park where you will want to check in at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in
Cherokee. Although there are many opportunities to drive through the park, the most rewarding experiences are found along the trails. More than 650 miles of horse and foot trails wind along the crystal clear streams and waterfalls, past forest giants that have been living for hundreds of years, through the wild beauty of flower-filled coves and into high mountain meadows. One of the most popular attractions in the park is Cades Cove,  a lush beautiful valley complete with restored historic buildings.
   The park offers guided nature walks as well as self-guided tours. Copies of maps and schedules are available at Visitors Centers and at all ranger stations. Highly recommended auto tours include the Roaring Fork Auto Tour, the Newfound Gap Road Auto Tour, the Cades Cove Auto Tour and the Cataloochee Auto Tour. Self-guided tour books are available and will enrich your stops at the many historical sites and natural wonders along the way.
    The famed Appalachian Scenic National Trail, which stretches from Maine to Georgia, enters the park near the eastern boundary. Straddling the boundary line of two states, it zigzags a course for 71 miles along the crest of some of the highest peaks and ultimately leaves the park again at Fontana
Dam. If you wish to hike the full distance in the park, you can cover the 71 miles in 6 to 8 days. Trailside shelters and campsites are spaced about a day’s journey apart.
    Many other horse and foot trails are scattered throughout the park. There are short, self-guiding trails that are perfect for beginners. Just pick up a leaflet at the start of each trail. A backcountry-use permit, required for all overnight hiking parties, can be obtained free at ranger stations or visitors centers.
   There are ten developed campgrounds in the park; fees are charged at each. Reservations are recommended at Cades Cove, Elkmont and Smokemont from May 15 to October 31; they can be made by calling 800-365-2267. Sites may be reserved up to three months in advance. All other campgrounds are first-come, first-serve. Cosby and Look Rock campgrounds rarely fill up. Campgrounds have tent sites, limited trailer space, water, fireplaces, tables and restrooms. There are no showers or hookups for trailers.

Wild & Furry Animals of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, by Lee James Pantas

    No more than six people may occupy a campsite. Two tents or one RV and one tent are allowed per site. The camping limit is seven days between May 15 and October 31, and 14 days between November 1 and May 14. Some campgrounds close in winter. Sewage disposal stations are located at Smokemont, Cades Cove, Deep Creek and Cosby campgrounds, and across from the Sugarlands Visitor Center. They are not available for use in the winter. LeConte Lodge (accessible by trail only) provides the only lodging in the park. Call 423-429-5704 for more information on this secluded retreat.
    Saddle horses are available from April 1 to October 31 at
Cades Cove, Smokemont, Deep Creek (near Greenbrier on U.S. 321), and near park headquarters. Bicycles are permitted on park roads but prohibited on all trails except Gatlinburg, Oconaluftee River, and lower Deep Creek. Bicycles may be rented from the Cades Cove Store, near the Cades Cove Campground.
    One of the most biologically diverse regions in all of North America, the Park has been designated an International Biosphere Reserve under the UNESCO “Man in the Biosphere” program. Within its boundaries there are over 1500 species of flowering plants; 100 different types of trees; 600 mosses, lichens and liverworts; 50 species of mammals including black bears, whitetail deer, raccoons, foxes, bobcats, opossum, coyotes, and possibly cougars; more than 80 types of snakes and amphibians; and 70 kinds of fish from small colorful darters to brook, brown and rainbow trout. And over 200 kinds of birds have been observed within the park borders. Bring along your bird book and binoculars; the Great Smokies are a bird-watcher’s paradise.
   The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was formally dedicated on February 6, 1930 by both Tennessee and North Carolina governors. Its mission continues today, to preserve and protect the wild beauty and natural charm of the Great Smoky Mountains for all time.

Website: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Location: West of
Distance: 2-3 hours from Asheville
Address: Headquarters: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 107 Park Headquarters Rd., Gatlinburg, TN 37738. There are three visitor centers that help orient visitors and provide maps and information: Sugarlands (Tennessee side),
Cades Cove (Near the western entrance of the park), and Oconaluftee (in North Carolina). Oconaluftee is the nearest entrance to Asheville. Oconaluftee Visitor Center: 150 Hwy. 441 N., Cherokee, NC 28719.
Telephone: General Information 423-436-1200
                   Back Country Information 423-436-1297
                   Oconaluftee Visitor Center: 423-497-1900
                   Park Headquarters: 423-436-1294
                   Campground Reservations: 800-365-2267
Hours: Visitor Centers open daily except Christmas. Winter: 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Summer: 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Hours vary depending on time of year.
Fees: None to enter park. Fees are charged at developed campgrounds and for certain special programs.
Camping: There are ten developed campgrounds in the park including Cades Cove in Tennessee and Smokemont in North Carolina, which are open year-round. The other developed campgrounds are generally open from late March or April to early November. Fees range from $10-$15 per night. Backcountry camping, on the other hand, is free but requires a permit. Most campsites use self-registration at visitor centers or ranger stations, but shelters and rationed sites require reservations. Reservations can be made 30 days in advance by calling 423-436-1231 or 800-365-2267 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. any day of the week.
Lodging: LeConte Lodge, which is accessible only by foot or horseback, sits atop 6,593-foot tall Mt. LeConte. This is the Park’s third highest peak. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 423-429-5704. The lodge is open mid-March to mid-November. A variety of lodging facilities are available in the outlying communities.
Of Note: The most visited National Park in America. Hosts the International Biosphere Reserve and the World Heritage Site. Elevations in the park range from 800-6643 feet and topography affects local weather. Temperatures are 10-20 degrees cooler on the mountaintops. Annual precipitation averages 65 inches in lowlands to 88 inches in high country. Spring often brings unpredictable weather, particularly in higher elevations. Summer is hot and humid, but more pleasant in higher elevations. Fall has warm days and cool nights and is the driest period. Frosts occur starting in late September and continue into April. Winter is generally moderate, but extreme conditions become more likely as elevation increases.
Tips: In summer time the park is heavily visited. Expect long lines during this season. Late spring is a great time to visit because of the wildflowers, pleasant weather, and absence of crowds. The Great Smoky Mountains are vast. Plan your trip carefully. Write or call ahead for information to help in planning. During the summer and fall, the park provides regularly scheduled ranger-led interpretive walks and talks, slide presentations, and campfire programs at campgrounds and visitor centers.
Nearby: Cherokee Indian Reservation, Nantahala National Forest.
Friends of the Smokies 160 South Main Street, Waynesville NC 28786, 828-452-0720
                 Great Smoky Mountains National Park 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg TN 37778; 865-435-1200
                  National Park Service, Department of the Interior National Park Service, 1849 C Street NW, Washington DC 20240; 202-208-6843
                  Appalachian Scenic National Trail (National Park Service)  Appalachian National Scenic Trail, PO Box 50, Harpers Ferry WV 25425; 304-535-6278
Directions: From Asheville, take I-40 West to Exit 27. Follow Hwy. 19 South to Cherokee. In Cherokee, take 441 North and follow signs to the park entrance.


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