Great Smoky Mountains
The Smokies are the most popular national park in the United States, and it is no wonder why. The park’s iconic vistas of blue-green mountains topped by the namesake smoky mists are awesome, yet somehow comforting. These are ancient mountains, whose hills and valleys have secrets to keep.
The scenery in the Smokies is unrivaled. Mountaintops such as Clingmans Dome and Mount LeConte offer panoramic vistas of soft-edge mountains. Balds—clearings high up in the mountains—are enchanted places, where wild blueberries and rhododendron grow, and where the sunshine is pure and warm.
Valleys such as Cades Cove are ideal for wildlife-viewing—here you’ll see lovely creatures like elk and deer. Mountain streams and rivers offer a kaleidoscope of sights, both under the cold, rushing water and around the water’s edge. Within the 800 square miles of parkland, scientists have documented some 10,000 species of plants, animals, and invertebrates, but they believe that as many as 90,000 more live in this remarkably diverse natural wilderness.
You won’t be bored in the Smokies. There are some 800 miles of hiking trails within the park, and traveling them brings you face-to-face with wildlife, waterfalls, and breathtaking viewpoints. Once you start hiking the trails of the Smokies, you will never want to stop. Cool mountain streams are ideal for wading and offer some of the best mountain fishing in the country. Visitors also enjoy picnicking and driving along the parks windy, quiet roads.
Some 9.2 million people visit Great Smoky Mountains every year, and they need places to stay and to eat. The gateway communities in Tennessee—Cosby, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Townsend—offer the necessities of life and so much more. If the Smokies soothe the spirit and revive your mind, then Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, with theme parks, mini-golf, dinner theaters, and every type of retail store you can imagine, send you crashing right back down to the real world. It’s the yin and the yang of East Tennessee. The quieter sides of Cosby and Townsend offer a middle road for those who want it.
© Susanna Henighan Potter from Moon Tennessee, 5th Edition