The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is a true American treasure. It is the most visited of all of the national parks, receiving more than 10 million visitors every year. Located on the border of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee, the park was opened in 1940 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Its area is just over 800 square miles, and the nearest towns are Cherokee, North Carolina and Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Before the arrival of Europeans, the Smoky Mountains were home to the Cherokee Indians. Their forced relocation on the Trail of Tears through the Indian Removal Act signed by President Andrew Jackson is one of the truly tragic chapters in American history. However, some of the Cherokees hid in what is now the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and there ancestors still populate the area today.
After the Cherokees were removed, the loggers came in and started clearcutting the Smoky Mountains like there was no tomorrow. This rapidly destroyed the natural beauty of the area, so cries began to ring out to preserve the area. In 1926 Congress authorized the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but it took eight years for the park to be established and another 6 for it to be opened.
The park is a wonderland of diversity. The climate changes as the elevation increases, and visitors to the top of the park will be in roughly the same climate as Canada. The park gets more than 55 inches of rain a year, qualifying it as a rainforest. 95 percent of the land in the park is forest, and more than a third of that is old growth forest. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has one of the highest concentrations of plant and animal diversity of anywhere in the world. There are over 10,000 different species catalogued in the park, with estimates of 90,000 more yet to be discovered.
There are many attractions that draw visitors to the Smoky Mountains. US Highway 441 runs through the center of the park, and there are many stops where people can get out and enjoy the spectacular views. Fall in particular is a popular time for people to drive through the park, as the fall foliage is breathtaking.
Hiking is one of the biggest attractions in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are more than 850 miles of hiking trails for visitors to explore. This total included seventy miles of the world-famous Appalachian Trail, which summits the 6,593 ft .high Mt. LeConte in the park. The LeConte Lodge provides cabins and rooms for rent to reward visitors who summit the mountain.
Another of the very popular activities in the Smoky Mountains is fishing. The fly fishing in the park is simply spectacular. There are brook trout in the streams that are native to the park, as well as rainbow and brown trout that have been introduced.
Other popular activities for visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park include horseback riding and water tubing along the many streams in the park.