Top 10 Reasons to Visit The Great Smoky Mountain National Park Wondering why you should pack up the family and head to The Great Smoky Mountain National Park? Besides the incredible landscapes, roaring cascades, huge rocks and chance to have a family adventure? Here are the Top 10 reasons to visit the Great Smoky Mountain National Park:
- To go hiking. With 150 “official” hiking trails, that’s a lot of hiking choices. Popular trails include Laurel Falls- you can get the trolley from Gatlinburg to the trailhead, Grotto Falls and Clingmans Dome. Head out early to these hikes, as the parking areas fill up fast, but don’t disregard the “Quiet Walks” signs though, they will take you on more peaceful short walks along the river. Which brings us to #2.
- To play in a creek. Who doesn’t like skipping stones across the water? Or wading through ice cool fresh running streams? Try Metcalf Bottoms picnic area for wading (they have toilet facilities there too!) There are smaller off-shoots of the main river, where the currents aren’t as strong, for smaller kids to play. Bring a change of clothes incase you fall in, or on purpose, as in our case- The rocks can be slippery! We only did wading on our visit. Currents in the rivers and creeks can be strong, so proceed with caution & check with the visitors center for official places to swim in the area. Fishing is permitted throughout the park, but you must have a Tennessee or North Carolina fishing permit. Get one before you come.
- To go around the backside of a waterfall. Or the front side for that matter. Grotto Falls trail allows you to see the back side of a waterfall, but we liked the front sides just as well. Check out the cascades at Chimney Tops trail- you don’t even have to climb to the top of the mountain to see them. However if you want to, that brings us to #3…
- To climb to the top of a mountain. Okay it was always my wish to sit on top of the mountain, I did that in Nepal, but you don’t have to go that far. Chimney Tops trail lets you rock climb to the top. How cool is that? However, this extremely strenuous climb is not for small kids.
- To trek on the Appalachian Trail. With 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail winding through the park, you might just end up walking some of it, or all of it. You can pick up the trail at the top by the Newfound Gap parking area (There are toilets there but no hand washing facilities!). We also found it again during our Chimney Tops hike.
- To be in two places at once. Seriously! The Tennessee/North Carolina State line runs through the parking lot at Newfound Gap. Stand in two states at once!
- To visit an Appalachin farm. There are over 90 historic buildings in the 520,000+ acreage that comprises the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Take advantage of the opportunity to visit the Mountain Farm Museum, a 1800’s pioneer homestead adjacent to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center by the park entrance near Cherokee. Alternatively, take the Cades Cove loop near Townsend to view the historic pioneer homes, schoolhouse and church. Mingus Mill, a working grist mill, is near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
- To see a bear. And while you are exploring the 4,000 acres that makes up Cades Cove, you might even see a bear. The National Park has over 1,500 black bears roaming through its wild lands. I must confess, though we saw many a bear in Townsend, Gatlinburg and even Pigeon Forge, they were all carved from wood. The only bear we happened to see was at the museum in the Sugarland’s Visitor Center by the Gatlinburg entrance. (They had a cool fox there too). But not seeing a bear is not a bad thing, as the park website has warnings about the bears being particularly active this time of the year. So if you plan to stay the night, hang the food or lock it in the trunk of your car and check out #9.
- To go camping. With 10 campsites throughout the park, you can bring the camper, the pop up tent and camp near your car or even hoof it to the back country. It’s a good idea to reserve your campsite before you arrive, as this one of the most visited National parks in the United States, with 10 million visitors a year! Backcountry camping requires a permit obtainable through the National Park website.
- Because it’s free. Saving the best for last, this might be why they have so many visitors, also because it is incredibly accessible from so many places and unbelievably beautiful.
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