GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
Since its dedication in 1940, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has endured as one of East Tennessee’s most valuable assets. Its high, rugged mountains and lush timberlands continue to draw more than 9 million visitors annually, each in search of peaceful recreation in an unspoiled corner of the world.
Park guests have 800 square miles of nature’s best handiwork at their disposal. And unlike some locations within the national park system, Great Smoky Mountains doesn’t charge entry fees.
Hiking has long been one of the most popular activities in the park. Some 150 trails cover more than 900 miles of territory. Hikes range from short, easy nature walks to 12-mile round-trip treks to the summit of Mt. LeConte. Popular hiking destinations include waterfalls, fire towers, scenic balds and observation towers like the one at Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the national park.
Campers may pitch tents at any of 10 campgrounds located throughout the park. Nominal fees are charged, and three of the campgrounds—Cades Cove, Smokemont and Elkmont—require reservations. Non-primitive campsites usually come with charcoal grills and access to bathroom and shower facilities.
For a change of pace, many enjoy taking in the sights of the national park by car. Motor tours through the historic Cades Cove and Roaring Fork communities offer a winning combination of picture-postcard views and historic structures like Smoky Mountain log cabins.
Cades Cove in particular is one of the single most popular places to visit in the park. This was a thriving mountain community prior to the establishment of the national park, and today, a journey down the 11-mile, one-way road that loops its way around the cove should be added to your list of things to do when visiting the Smokies.
As you travel the loop, you’ll see the homesteads of early settlers like Elijah Oliver and John Cable as well as some of the churches that were so important in the lives of the cove’s residents. Of particular interest is the Cable Mill area; there, you’ll find the Cades Cove visitor center and several remaining vestiges of pioneer life, such as a corn mill, sorghum mill and blacksmith shop.
Even if it weren’t an historical treasure, Cades Cove would be worth visiting for its scenic beauty alone. Rolling green pastures are framed on all sides by foothills or towering peaks. Grazing cattle, frolicking deer and blooming flowers paint a picture of pastoral Smoky Mountains beauty.