Our National Parks Series: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

For our National Parks Series, we’ve featured locations off the beaten path and in exotic locations to help inspire others to get outdoors. This month, we’re visiting a classic American favorite – Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Named for the plumes of fog that hang amidst its mountain peaks, Great Smoky Mountains is both the most visited park in the United States and a favorite from our Million Moment Mission. The park’s 521,000 biologically diverse acres span the southern Appalachians, cresting the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. And while visitors range from 9-10 million annually, much of Great Smoky’s vast beauty remains peaceful throughout the year.

Check out some of our favorite spots below:

The expansive views and abundant wildlife of Great Smoky Mountains National Park make it impossible not to snap a few photos. Flickr (clockwise from top left): Timothy Wildey, Jim Leistman, Matthew Paulson, Lee Edwin Coursey.

Cades Cove

The mountain community of Cades Cove is incredibly picturesque, and is a great spot for family trips. Various wildlife and historical buildings can be seen while driving the scenic Cades Cove Loop, but we prefer to bike the trail to truly enjoy the views. Be sure to stop by the visitor’s center to grab a self-guided tour booklet. It’ll give plenty of backstory to the churches, gristmill and cabins seen along the way.


Prefer to venture off the beaten path? Visit Cosby, a small community with trails and campgrounds less frequented by visitors. Hikers can enjoy the Hen Wallow Falls trail (4.4 miles) or the Low Gap Trail – Appalachian Trail – Snake Den Trail loop (11 miles).

Cataloochee Valley

The North Carolina side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park has many sites for backcountry camping, fishing and hiking. And though summer and fall are the high seasons for the park, a visit to Cataloochee Valley during the winter is not to be missed. Make a trip to the Cataloochee Ski Area for beginner to advanced Appalachian ski trails.

Visitors can summit Mount LeConte via the Alum Cave Bluffs Trail. A little over 11 miles long, the trail reaches an elevation of over 6,500 feet. Flickr credit (clockwise from top): jjjj56cp, Michael Hicks.

Clingmans Dome

At 6,644 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Tennessee. The half-mile hike to the top can be steep at points, but the 100+ mile visibility at the top makes the trek worth it.

During the winter months, Clingmans Dome Road closes to vehicles. However, locals have adopted the road for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Hikers can enjoy the Alum Cave Bluffs Trail, with an option to summit Mount LeConte for breaktaking panoramic views. Just be sure to bring a pair of crampons for added safety on icy trails!

The Altapass Orchard and Walker sisters’ cabin are two great examples of life in Appalachia. Flickr credit (clockwise from top): Mountain Photo Gallery, Frank Kehren, JChapewsky.

Of the many historical sites in the park, the Walker Sisters’ Cabin and the Alta Pass Orchard are highly recommended stops. The cabin can be found west of Gatlinburg in Greenbriar, along the Little Brier Gap Trail. The five Walker sisters were the last family to inhabit the park, and their home has since been included in the National Register of Historic Places.

Along the Blue Ridge Parkway on the crest of the Eastern Continental Divide is the historic Altapass Orchard. Over a century old, the orchard now serves as an Appalachian cultural and historical center, with hayrides, live mountain music and plenty of heirloom apples to enjoy.

Did we miss any of your favorite spots in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Let us know in the comments!

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