National Park Week
It’s National Park Week and this week you can gain 1-day free entry to the national park of your choice. There are 60 national parks across the United States and US Virgin Islands, from Florida’s Everglades to California’s Yellowstone all the way to Denali National Park & Preserve in Alaska. Unfortunately, prices are rising for these parks, so be sure to take advantage of your free-day admission this week. But in case this week is just bad-timing, or the thought of battling everyone else for that free day doesn’t sound appealing, there is a place…a national park in the Eastern United States that has some cool and unique things about it that most people don’t even know. It’s the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
7 Cool Facts You Should Know About the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
1. It’s Free
There’s no need to limit yourself and family to enjoying national parks only during this one week of National Park Week. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located in Tennessee and North Carolina and is free to the public year-round. Yes- free- no matter what your age! You can enter the park via Cherokee in North Carolina or Gatlinburg or Townsend in Tennessee, without removing your wallet. Now that is something to smile about!
2. You Can Walk Behind A Waterfall
There are over 2,000 miles of streams & creeks within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and with them roaring cascading water and waterfalls. Some are easily accessible- right by the road like the Place of a Thousand Drips, while others require more strenuous activity. There’s even a waterfall with a trail behind it. Yes, head out on the Trillium Gap Trail from Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and check out the backside of a waterfall right on the trail. The path to Grotto Falls is a 3-mile trek- round trip, and provides you with the opportunity to check out the cool backside of this 25-foot waterfall.
3. You Can Explore Beneath the Smokies
Sure anyone can hike the trails through the forest and beside the creeks, but there’s one path that follows another river- right beneath the Smoky Mountains. Few people realize this mile trek through the underside of the park exists. This Smoky Mountain underworld is filled with stalagmites & stalactites, calcium rich rock formations, an enormous room- bigger than a football stadium, and even an underground waterfall- said to be the tallest waterfall in the Appalachians. You can find the entrance to Tuckaleechee Caverns in a small barn in Townsend. Bring sturdy shoes. This is the hike you’ll never forget.
4. The Lodge is Accessible Only by Foot
There are 10 campgrounds scattered throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, primitive & back country campsites & shelters available (with permit), but there is a cooler overnight option that not everyone knows about- Le Conte Lodge. Located in the heart of the Smoky Mountains National Park at an elevation of 6,400-ft, by Mount Le Conte, it is the highest guest lodge in the Eastern U.S. But that’s not what makes it so unique. Le Conte Lodge is only accessible by foot. There are 5 different trails varying from 5.5 miles to 8 miles that will take you to Le Conte Lodge. Because of the remote location, there’s no electricity either. But that doesn’t dampen- or darken their fun. Everything at the lodge is run on kerosene or propane gas.
Hiking to the lodge can take 4 or more hours- it’s the Smoky Mountains, so there’s no rush when you get side-tracked by a waterfall or creek to wade in- so advanced reservations are required (865.429.5704) to let them know you are on your way. Oh yes, dinner is served family-style at 6pm. Don’t be late!
5. You May See a Llama
So, you are hiking Trillium Gap Trail and you get the whiff of a feral critter- wet fur maybe? A horse? You haven’t gone loopy- No, chances are you are smelling the llamas. These pack animals are responsible for carrying supplies up to Le Conte Lodge thrice weekly. That food has to arrive somehow, and llamas were found to have the least amount of impact on the trail- so don’t be surprised if you see a llama-train headed for the backside of Grotto Falls on their way to the lodge.
6. You Can Take Public Transport to Trails
If driving the winding roads in the Smoky Mountains puts you on edge, yet you really want to hike those cool trails, hop a trolley. Gatlinburg trolleys run from Gatlinburg to Pigeon Forge and all the way into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and they are inexpensive. Take the tan route trolley (sign posted on front & side of trolley) to reach the national park. These trolleys make stops at Sugarlands Visitor Center, Laurel Falls Trailhead and Elkmont Campground- all sites where you can access hiking trails of the Smoky Mountains.
7. You Can Witness Synchronous Fireflies in Action
Synchronous Fireflies are the only species in America that actually synchronize their light flashing patterns, which is their mating dance that lasts only two weeks a year- usually from late May to mid-June. And the only place in America this happens is…you guessed it, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! This makes for rare and unusual treat and Elkmont Campground is where all the action happens. This event has become so popular that visitors vie for their parking pass for this event via a lottery- and this years’ lottery starts this week! 1,800 parking permits will be awarded this year via their lottery. Will you be one of the lucky ones?
From hike-in lodges to llamas in the woods, bio-luminescent bugs to underground trails. There’s so much of the the Smokies to enjoy and explore. Grab the family and get out there!