Did you know that on August 25, 2016, the National Park Service (NPS) will celebrate its centennial? That’s 100 years of serving Americans and visitors to America by maintaining its national parks and engaging communities in a variety of conservation and preservation efforts throughout the past 10 decades.
Did you also know that one of those national parks—the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP)—can be found right in the heart of East Tennessee? Established in 1934, the Great Smoky Mountains comprise the largest national park east of the Rocky Mountains, and the park itself is the most visited within the U.S. national park system.
Fun Facts about the GSMNP
- The park extends into North Carolina, encompassing more than 800 square miles between the 2 states.
- The park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, certain roads, campgrounds, and visitor facilities do close for the winter.
- The park is one of the few national parks in the U.S. that does not charge an entrance fee.
- More than 9 million people visit the GSMNP each year. (Compare that to about 5 million people who visit the Grand Canyons National Park in a year.)
- There are more than 800 miles of trails within the park, about 70 miles of which are part of the Appalachian Trail.
- The highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains is Clingmans Dome (6,643 feet) followed by Mount Guyot (6,621 feet) and Mount LeConte (6,593 feet).
- Clingmans Dome is the 3rd-highest mountain east of the Mississippi River.
- The Great Smoky Mountains are home to about 1,500 species of wildflowers—more than any other national park in the U.S.
- The most popular times to visit the GSMNP are the summer months and the month of October, which is peak season for enjoying the fall foliage.
- You will find 90 historic structures in 5 historic districts within the park, including barns, churches, grist mills, and schools.
“Airport Park” in Knoxville
This year, to celebrate the National Park Service Centennial and draw attention to the beauty of the park systems throughout the state of Tennessee, the GSMNP Superintendent worked with the Knoxville Mayor to transform the McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville into a national park phenomenon!
According to a news release by the Great Smoky Mountains Association, “Over 18,000 square feet of wall space in this airport is now wrapped with innovative, original artwork introducing visitors to these special places”—one of which includes the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Other National Park Service units that are honored by the airport display include Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Obed Wild and Scenic River, Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Stones River National Battlefield, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Manhattan Project National Historical Park, and Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.
The large murals found throughout the airport are all hand-painted originals, created by local designer Whitney Sanders. This project was supported by each of the 9 National Park Service units, with the Great Smoky Mountains Association providing most of the funding for the project.
Now that the official ribbon-cutting ceremony is over, you are welcome to take your time viewing the beautiful displays during your next visit to East Tennessee. We hope that visit is very soon!
Recreation in the GSMNP
If you read through all the fun facts we posted above, you already know that one of the busiest times to visit the Great Smoky Mountains is during the summer months—and that’s for good reason! There’s so much to do in the Smokies once the weather is warm and the sun is shining. With the busy season fast approaching, don’t miss your opportunity to book your favorite cabin and enjoy the beauty of the Smoky Mountains for yourself. Once you arrive, here are some of the fun summertime activities you should put on your bucket list:
- Swim in a natural swimming hole. Places like the Townsend Y, the Sinks, and the Chimney Tops Trail are great places to beat the heat with the cleanest, clearest water you’ll find in all of East Tennessee.
- Take a scenic drive. The most popular roads for a summertime drive include Cades Cove Loop Road, Newfound Gap Road, and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. You’ll see flowers and lush trees, rolling hills and dazzling peaks. And, who knows, you might even see some wildlife like the symbol of the Smokies—the American black bear!
- Go for a picnic. There are dozens of picnic areas within the GSMNP. You can rent a pavilion for a large group or just use one of the single-family picnic tables with a charcoal grill for a cookout with your crew.
- Go for a hike. One of the most popular ways to enjoy the grandeur of the Great Smoky Mountains continues to be soaking in that natural beauty on your own two feet. Again, this park offers more than 800 miles of hiking—including waterfall hikes and hikes to historic buildings—so you’ll have plenty of options to suit your group.