History of The Great Smoky Mountains

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The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States with over 10 million visitors each year. There’s over 800 square miles of beautiful wooded forestry, hiking trails and driving routes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With so much to see in the park, you can spend an endless number of hours exploring and hiking to see all of the historical areas, old cabins and majestic wildlife.

The national park is covered in hiking trails, from one end to the other. When you make your way into the mountains, you won’t have trouble finding a trail. We recommend researching some of the popular hiking trails before your visit, so you know the difficulty level of each trail.

Family visiting the Great Smoky Mountains
Sleeping black bear in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Historic homestead with working mill in Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Deer in Smoky Mountain field

The History of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known for its rich Southern Appalachian history.

Before the land became a national park, Indians and settlers occupied the area. The land that is now referred to as Cades Cove was once the area where Cherokee Indians would hunt. During this time, there were no known settlers in the area.

It wasn’t until approximately 1820 that settlers made their way to Cades Cove. Within about 10 years, there were over 250 people living there!  Then, by 1850, over 700 were settled in the Cove! These families made a life on this land, building cabins, mills, churches and horse pastures.

In 1927, Tennessee and North Carolina began purchasing land to create a national park. Once the land was purchased, settlers in the area were forced to leave their homes and settle elsewhere. Some of the settlers were willing to allow officials to purchase their land while others fought in court for the rights to their land. There were exceptions made for some of the settlers. Settlers who were ill or elderly were allowed to stay at the Cove even after the land was purchased, but had to follow the rules set by the National Park Service.

Today, Cades Cove is one of the most popular destinations for visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The National Park Service does a wonderful job of keeping Cades Cove in the best condition, just as it would have looked when the original settlers made their home there.

Popular Areas in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

There are so many areas in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that it’s hard to choose exactly which ones are more popular than others. Here’s a few of the places you should definitely visit when you stay in one of our Gatlinburg cabin rentals:

  • Clingmans Dome
  • Mount LeConte
  • Cades Cove
  • Elkmont
  • Tremont
  • Sugarlands Visitor Center

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Driving Tours

If you want to spend an afternoon enjoying the park, but don’t want to hike, take one of these driving tours. You can purchase a $1 booklet at any of the national park visitor centers that will give you a guide to the road, pointing you toward all of the landmarks.

  • Cades Cove Loop Road Auto Tour
  • Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
  • Newfound Gap Road & Auto Tour

To learn more about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the surrounding areas, take a look at our Smoky Mountain information blog.