Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an American National Park located in the two states of North Carolina and Tennessee. The Great Smoky Mountains, from which the park received its name, are part of a small section of the Appalachian Mountain chain known as the Blue Ridge Mountains. The park holds 522,419 acres of federally protected land and was established in 1934, although Congress had sanctioned the development of the park in 1926. It is known as the first park to be funded in part with federal funds, although many private land owners donated land in order to develop the park.

The land within Great Smoky Mountains National Park was once inhabited by the Cherokee people. European settlers did not enter the area until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and by 1830, the Indian Removal Act had been signed by President Andrew Jackson, beginning the process of removing Native Americans from this area and many others. Some members of the Cherokee tribe managed to escape and hid within an area now encompassed by the park.

After European settlers arrived, logging became a booming industry in the area, and a railway was constructed in order to move lumber out of the forests. The practice of clear cutting was destroying the natural appeal of the land, so concerned citizens grouped together in order to provide funds to protect the land and its forests. Although the United States Government wished to create a park in that area, there was not enough concentrated land owned by the government to establish one, so two million dollars of federal money was allotted for the purchase of land. J. D. Rockefeller Jr. donated five million dollars to the development of the park and private landowners and citizens donated what land they could. There was much support for the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but it would not be established as an official park until 1934. It was designated as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976 and UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

The elevations within Great Smoky Mountains National Park from 876 feet to 6,643 feet at the top of Clingmans Dome and sixteen mountains reach and elevation of over 6,000 feet. The varying elevations support a rich environment with many different habitats and coupled with the annual average rainfall of fifty-five inches per year, the area supports about ten thousand species of animals and plants. The majority of the habitat within the park can be labeled as humid continental and almost ninety-five percent of the area is forested with many types of trees including old growth, deciduous, and temperate.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States, with over nine million visitors entering the park each year. The park offers two visitor centers that provide visitors with geological information and information of wildlife, as well as maps, souvenirs, and books. Visitors can participate in a number of activities including hiking, fishing, backpacking, camping, horseback riding, bicycling, and nature viewing. Many historical sites are located within the park including Cades Cove, an area that holds buildings used by previous inhabitants, Elkmont Historic District, and Oconaluftee Baptist Church, as well as a popular outlook site called Clingmans Dome Observation Tower. The main entrances of the park begin in the towns of Gatlinburg, Tennessee and Cherokee, North Carolina and visitors can enter the area for free.

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Image Caption: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park woodlands. Credit: USchick/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)