The Smoky Mountains National Park is the Most Visited Park in America!
Sunday, April 15, 2007, 10:11 PM - Tennessee
While visiting Pigeon Forge, you must make a trip to the Smoky Mountains National Park. As the most visited national park in America, the Smokies receive over 9 million visitors a year. There is so much to do and see in the park including overlooks that give you a view of the beautiful mountain ranges, hiking trails, camping, fishing, historic sites and wildlife. There are five different forest types throughout the Smoky Mountains and over 4,000 plant species. Some sections of the park are actually classified as rain forests. The park totals over 500,000 acres in size.
Most visitors to the Smoky Mountains National Park are there for a one day visit. However, if you love the outdoors and enjoy camping, there is no better place in the country to camp than the Smoky Mountains. The campgrounds in the park are primitive on purpose. There are ten campgrounds and all of them have running water, flush toilets and fire grills. There is a charge for staying at these campgrounds but they are nominal. There are no hookups available at these campgrounds.
Hiking is another enjoyable thing to do in the park. Not only does it give you a chance to see the the great outdoors but also is a great way to exercise. There are over 850 miles of hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains. The trails range from less difficult half hour walks to more difficult trips. Many provide beautiful views, historic landmarks and waterfalls. The Appalachian Trail stretches 70 miles along the top ridge of the Smokies.
Wildlife viewing is excellent in the Smoky Mountains. Early morning and late evening are the optimal times to see wildlife. There are over 65 mammals living in the park with the red wolf and bear being the favorite of tourists. Coyote and Bobcats are skittish and their sightings are rare while the Deer are easily viewed in the park. Other animals that you will see are red and gray squirrels, chipmunks, woodchucks, raccoons, opossums, red and gray foxes, skunks, and bats. Elk, river otters, beavers, wild hogs and of course snakes also live in the Smoky Mountains.
There are over 230 species of birds in the Smoky Mountains and 110 that reproduce in the mountains. As far as snakes, the Copperhead and the Timbler Rattler are the only poisonous snakes in the Smokies but neither have lethal poison. The most common non-poisonous snakes are black rat, garter, and the common water snake. Other reptiles include frogs, toads and salamanders. The Smokies 27 species of salamanders make the Smokies the salamander capital of the world.
Fishing is another thing to do in the park. Anglers 13 and over need a valid fishing license to fish in the Smokies which needs to be purchased before visiting the park. The national park does not sell licenses. Fishing is allowed year round and there are over 40 species of fish including darters, dace, suckers, bass, shiners, and trout. Brook trout are the only trout native to the Smoky Mountains. Stop by a visitors center for fishing regulations.
The weather in the Smoky Mountains can change quickly. The climate is moderate but because of the higher elevations, you can experience changes in the weather quickly. Elevations in the Park range from 800 feet to 6,643 feet and the temperature can drop from 10 20 degrees from the lower elevations to the higher ones. Also just because it is a beautiful day when you leave for the park, doesnt mean it will remain nice weather through your entire trip. There is an average of 55 inches of rain a year in the lowlands compared to 85 inches of precipitation in the higher elevations of the Smoky Mountains. If you have wondered why the Smoky Mountains are Smoky it is a result of the rain and evaporation from the trees. The upper elevations of the Smoky Mountains are classified as rain forest.
If there is one reason why the Smoky Mountains should be classified as a national park it would be because of its plants. The vegetation is what makes these mountains so unique. Because of the many elevation levels, rainfall and temperature, these mountains provide a great habitat for over 1,600 different types of flowering plants, 100 types of trees and over 100 species of shrubs. The park is sometimes referred to as the Wildflower National Park. There are more types of flowering plants in the Smoky Mountains than any other park in the United States. And the beautiful Fall leaves in the national park are spectacular!
Entrance to the Smoky Mountains is free. Due to deed restrictions imposed when the Smokies were established it was decided that entrance charges would never be allowed. There is limited food and supplies available in the park so it is best to bring along a picnic and drinks and rest at one of the several picnic spots in the Smokies. Pets must be on leashes at all times and are not allowed on the trails. Horseback riding and bike riding are also available in the Smokies.
There are many visitors centers in the Smokies to assist you about the park and offer ideas on experiencing the most out of your visit to the park. Many offer exhibits about the history and culture of the Smoky Mountains. Many tours with guides are offered and most have facilities and shops. The Sugarlands Visitor Center offers a free 20 minute Dolby Digital Surround Sound film about the Smokies which is very interesting. There are many places to go in the Smokies to show you the extraordinary nature and cultural history of the Smokies. If you want to learn more about the culture of the early mountain settlers, then make a visit to the Mountain Farm Museum, Cades Cove, Cataloochee, or the Roaring Fork area. At these stops you can tour homes, farms, churches and other structures built by the early settlers. The best places to view wildlife because of the wide open areas are Cades Cove and Cataloochee. For the most beautiful views of the Smoky Mountain range, head for the tops of the mountains at Clingmans Dome or Newfound Gap. For a stop in a cool shady forest location, you may want to visit Deep Creek or Roaring Fork.
No matter what you want to do or see while visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you will experience a fun filled day. Plan your visit and be ready to experience the beauty of the mountains!
By: Terry Burns
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