Great Smoky Mountains, Hiking, History, Parks

History of the Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited national park in the United States, and it’s no wonder! It’s stunning views and rich, cultural history make it a must-visit attraction! Here are a few more things you’ll want to know about the history of the Smoky Mountain National Park.

1. The Smokies are estimated to be anywhere from 200 to 300 million years old!

This makes them one of the oldest mountain ranges on Earth! Prehistoric people also occupied these mountains, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that human activity started to affect the natural course of events.

2. Many branches of the AAA were interested in developing roads so they could drive through the beautiful scenery.

3. The Land Wasn’t Easy to Buy

Joining the National Park System was far from easy for Great Smoky Mountains. Even with the money for the park in hand, the land for the park was still difficult to buy. This was mainly because it was owned by hundreds of small farmers, and a handful of large timber and paper companies.

4. Former Political Boosters Helped Raise Funds

The government was not allowed to buy land for national park use, so former political boosters stepped in to raise funds. By 1928, a total of $5 million had been raised, and The Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Fund matched that amount.

5. The Civilian Conservation Corps Developed the Park

Many of the roads, hiking trails, and other structures, were developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC was established as a federal work program in 1933. It provided employment and education to young men from all over the country during the Great Depression. The CCC worked until 1942, when World War II shut the program down. Learn more about the CCC and the history and culture of the Smokies on the National Park Service website.

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Great Smoky Mountains, Hiking, Parks

Black Bears in and around the Great Smoky Mountains

Everyone wants to see a black bear while they are visiting the Great Smoky Mountains. Here are some interesting things about these beautiful creatures!

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it is estimate there are about 1,500 black bears. That’s about two bears per square mile. Bears can live at any elevation in the park, so you could see them near cabins in the woods or as you hike.

Within the national park, it is illegal to approach black bears within 50 yards or 150 feet. You should use binoculars, cameras, or spotting scope to look at bears up close instead of trying to physically get near them. Keeping your distance prevents the bears from becoming disturbed, and keeps you and the bears safe. If you notice the bear change his/her bahavior, you are too close.

Black bears are omnivores! About 85 percent of their diet is berries, plants, and nuts. For protein, black bears will eat Insects and animal carrion.

Bears do not truly hibernate, but enter long periods of sleep. black bears located in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park tend to choose a “denning” site – like a hollowed out tree stump – in the winter where they enjoy long periods of sleep and low to minimal activity. They may leave the den for short periods if disturbed or during brief warming trends. Black bears can also change their hibernation patterns if they experience an unusually cold, or an unusually hot winter. Before their hibernation, bears can double their body weight! Male black bears can weigh about 250 pounds on average, while a female black bear weighs about 100 pounds. Record weight for black bears is up to 600 pounds! Bears eat extra to double their weight by the fall since they sleep for so many months so they don’t have to wake up and try to find food in the winter. Pregnant mothers often give birth to their cubs during the winter months. The bear cubs sleep next to their mother and nurse until mom is ready to leave her den. Baby bears never hibernate. By the time the bear cubs emerge from their dens for the first time, they are generally about three months of age, weigh about 4-8 pounds and are able to follow their mother around in search of food.

There are many black bears wondering around the Smokies in the winter months. Everyone wants to know where you are likely to see black bears in the Smoky Mountains. While seeing these creatures is never guaranteed, there are places where you are more likely to see them. Cades Cove is a popular place where many people see black bears. You can drive around on the loop and possibly see them passing through fields or even see them near the historic buildings or along the creek. If you love to hike, you might even see black bears along the trails. The best time to get a glimpse of the black bears is early in the morning or after dinner.

Not all black bears are black! In the Smoky Mountains, almost all of the bears are black, but in other regions, the bears can be brown or even cinnamon. You may notice some brown fur around the black fur, too.

Black bears in the park are wild and their behavior is sometimes unpredictable. Although extremely rare, attacks on humans have occurred, inflicting serious injuries and death. Treat bear encounters with extreme caution and follow these guidelines:

• If you see a bear, remain watchful. Do not approach it. If your presence causes the bear to change its behavior (stops feeding, changes its travel direction, watches you, etc.), YOU ARE TOO CLOSE. Being too close may promote aggressive behavior from the bear such as running toward you, making loud noises, or swatting the ground. The bear is demanding more space. Don’t run, but slowly back away, watching the bear. Try to increase the distance between you and the bear. The bear will probably do the same.
• If a bear persistently follows or approaches you without vocalizing or paw swatting, try changing your direction. If the bear continues to follow you, stand your ground. If the bear gets closer, talk loudly or shout at it. Act aggressively and try to intimidate the bear. Act together as a group if you have companions. Make yourselves look as large as possible (for example, move to higher ground). Throw non-food objects such as rocks at the bear. Use a deterrent such as a stout stick. Don’t run and don’t turn away from the bear. Don’t leave food for the bear; this encourages further problems.
• Most injuries from black bear attacks are minor and result from a bear attempting to get at people’s food. If the bear’s behavior indicates that it is after your food and you’re physically attacked, separate yourself from the food and slowly back away.
• If the bear shows no interest in your food and you’re physically attacked, fight back aggressively with any available object – the bear might consider you prey! Help protect others. Report all bear incidents to a park ranger immediately. Above all, keep your distance from bears!

Approaching any wild animal may disturb it. Wildlife harassment is punishable by fines of up to $5,000 and /or imprisonment of up to six months.

To report a bear incident, call (865) 436-1230.
Bear safety copied from National Park Service pamphlet


Roosevelt’s “Grand Trip” to the Smokies

Many people are aware that President Roosevelt visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1940 to dedicate the park. But few realize that this was his second trip to the Smokies; his first trip occurred in 1936.

“For thirty years I have been wanting to get to the Great Smoky Mountains. I have planned at least a half dozen trips to this section, but each time something happened to prevent my coming. Today I finally made it. I am not disappointed. I am delighted and thrilled. It was a grand trip.” So spoke Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the occasion of the first visit of a sitting president to the new national park.

The presidential party left Washington DC on the evening of September 8, traveling overnight by special train to Knoxville. Waiting for the president in Knoxville was his customized automobile, bearing the presidential seal. The car—a convertible designed to allow the president to see and be seen—had been driven to Knoxville the evening before by White House chauffeur Monte Snyder. After the stop in Knoxville, the train was to continue on to Asheville to meet up with the president and his party after their trip across the Smokies.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedication speech was Sept. 2, 1940 – Labor Day – at the new Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The dedication date came at a point when the nation’s attention was turning from the Great Depression to what would become World War II. Pearl Harbor was still 15 months away, but the rumble of war could be heard in the distance.

Indeed, a great deal of Roosevelt’s park dedication speech dealt not with soaring rhetoric about nature and its beauty but about external threats to the American way of life, what he said were “dangers far more deadly than were those that the frontiersmen had to face.”

Here in the Great Smokies, we meet today to dedicate these mountains, streams and forests to the service of the millions of American people. …

There are trees here that stood before our forefathers came to this continent; there are brooks that will run as clear as on the day the first pioneer cupped his hand and drank from them. In this park, we shall conserve the pine, the redwood, the dogwood, the azalea, the rhododendron, the trout and the brush for the happiness of the American people.

The old frontier that put the hard fibre in the American spirit, and the long muscles on the Americana back, lives and will live in these untamed mountains to give future generations a sense of the land from which their forefathers hewed their homes.

Attractions, Great Smoky Mountains, Hiking, Parks

Quieter areas of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

The timing of your Great Smoky Vacations determines how many other visitors you will encounter.  Week days are always less crowded than the weekends.  January, February, May, Early November and Early December are also less traveled months in the Smokies.

However, there are many places in the National Park that you can still enjoy without encountering large groups of people.

Cades Cove is a very popular attraction in the Smokies.  If you get there early in the morning, you can avoid the crowds.  Many of the trails are not utilized.  Many travelers just stay in their car and only get out at the historic structures.  You can encounter the wildlife and not even have to get out of your vehicle.

Rich Mountain Road is a scenic drive located on the loop road at Cades Cove at the halfway point, across from the Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church. You’ll pass by waterfalls, streams and cliff sides as you drive up Rich Mountain and down the other side toward Townsend. Rich Mountain Road is about 7 miles long — be prepared for a winding mountain drive with plenty of curves and turns!  There is an overlook that has one of the best views of the Primitive Baptist Church and the Valley below.  Rich Mountain Road is only open April through November.

Parsons Branch Road offers another way to leave Cades Cove. The entrance to this gravel road is located right at the halfway point of the Cades Cove Loop Road. Parsons Branch Road is an 8 mile, one-way road, along which you’ll cross 18 creeks and see plenty of beautiful scenery. This road ends at US 129, which is also known as the Tail of the Dragon, a popular motorcycle drive just outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Newfound Gap Road is surrounded by trails that are much less traveled.  Yet, just as beautiful as other trails.

To visit the Jump Off, hikers will follow the Appalachian Trail northbound from the Newfound Gap Parking area.  After a short hike on a gorgeous mountain ridge, you’ll be treated to a stunning drop-off with views of some of the most rugged parts of the mountains.

Charlies Bunion is another highlight on the Appalachian Trail near Newfound Gap. This challenging hike yields great rewards. The impressive mountain views and sense of seclusion are well worth some hard work on the trail.

Cataloochee Valley is another peaceful valley at the other end of the park that boasts historic sites, hiking trails, and wildlife. This peaceful mountain valley is famously home to a large elk herd and is one of the only places you can see wild elk in the Eastern US.  Warning, the road is quite squirley on the way in.  It is also a hike from the TN side of the Great Smoky Mountains.

The Little Cataloochee Church was built in 1889 and served about 1,200 people who lived in Cataloochee Valley at the time. It is a white painted church surrounded by the Smoky Mountains and was a popular place for community gatherings. The well-maintained cemetery that is close to the church became the final resting place for many of its members. On Memorial Day, many descendants of the early Cataloochee families return to the church to decorate the graves of their relatives.

Tremont is home to some of the most scenic sections of river in the national park. Tremont is a trout fisherman’s paradise and has some gorgeous waterfalls and hiking trails.

Upper Tremont Road is one of the best Smoky Mountain scenic drives that still remains a hidden gem. Located near Wears Valley, this drive is more popular in the fall and is perfect for those looking for a peaceful drive. It’s about 3 miles in length and follows a mountain stream with several waterfalls. At the end of the road, you’ll reach the Middle Prong Trailhead, which offers an easy waterfall hike. If you want to stretch your legs some more, hike to Spruce Flats Falls at the Tremont Institute while you’re in the area!

The Middle Prong Trail in Tremont is a waterfall hike that’s well-known for being quite easy. After only 1 mile of hiking, you’ll be treated to several cascading waterfalls.

The Greenbrier Road follows along a stretch of the Little Pigeon River. You can stop to fish or even go for a swim!  The scenic drive is about 6 miles long and offers views of large hemlock trees, maple trees and historic structures. Some of the structures you can see along the road are the John Messer Barn and the Tyson McCarter Place. The Greenbrier section is also home to Ramsey Cascades, the tallest waterfall in the Smoky Mountains!

Attractions, Parks

The Busiest Highpoint: Clingmans Dome, Tennessee (11/50)

Clingman’s Dome is steep, but the view from the parking lot is almost as good as the view at the top.

A Blind Shot at Reaching 50 State Highpoints

Photos from Clingmans Dome

When it comes to highpoints, none receive more visitors than Clingmans Dome, the highpoint of Tennessee.  Standing at 6644 feet, the mountain, which sits on the Tennessee and North Carolina border, is the third highest point east of the Mississippi River behind only Mt. Mitchell and Mt. Craig in North Carolina.

Clingmans Dome sits in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and it is just one of many places worthy of a visit while spending time in the park. For those looking to avoid a long hike, a trip during the warmer months of the year (April-December) allows one to have the opportunity to drive near the top of the mountain and take the half-mile trail to the summit.  If you go during the winter months, the Clingmans Dome road is closed, making the journey a bit longer.

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