GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

Stretching across the borders of Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains form the highest peaks of the Appalachian Ranges- an expanse of land so breathtakingly beautiful that it has few parallels anywhere in the world. This is a land of chestnut, black cherry and spruce forests; of gushing streams and crystal brooks; of waterfalls and towering peaks.

Visitors to the Smokies are rewarded by spectacular views of the countryside- swathed in wildflowers during the spring, turning to a heady riot of red, gold and brown during the fall. Hike along a mountain trail; go trout fishing, white-water rafting or canoeing down one of the rivers of this area. Walk your way through, and you'll see foaming waterfalls- the Abrams Falls and the Laurel Falls are the most popular, while the Ramsay Cascades are the tallest. You'll feast your eyes on the mountains themselves- Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in Tennessee; Mt LeConte, and a host of lesser-known but equally picturesque peaks. Nestled within these mountains are many reminders, too, of days gone by. Farmhouses and homesteads built in the early 19th and 20th century still offer, two centuries down the line, a good insight into the life of the early settlers in the Smokies.

And that's not all; you're also likely to see some of the forest life of the Smokies: black bear, white-tailed deer, elk, red wolf, raccoon, opossum, bobcat, fox, weasel, mink, and a wide variety of rodents. Snakes- including the deadly rattlesnake- and birds such as grouse and wild turkey are also fairly common.

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Entry Permits

Entry is free for visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The only charges levied are for the use of lodging facilities, for tours, and special licences for fishing or other outdoor activities.

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Access

The town of Gatlinburg is the headquarters, and the best base to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Gatlinburg has good road connections to the rest of the US, and is linked to the park by a trolley which runs several times daily to and fro.

The airport closest to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Tennessee's McGhee-Tyson, in Alcoa, about 72 km from Gatlinburg. On the North Carolina side, the nearest airport is Asheville, about 97 km from the park. Both Asheville and McGhee-Tyson are linked by bus to the park, although you'll have to get off at the entrance to the park- no commercial transport is allowed inside.

Easily the best way of seeing the park is to take a walk down one of Great Smoky Mountains' approximately 1300 km of hiking and cycling trails. Winding through grassy glens and along brooks, the trails lead through some of the most gorgeous parts of the park. If you're not quite up to the strain of doing a trek yourself, go along on a llama hike- these animals may look surly, but they're great when it comes to carrying tourists to the highest points of the area!

There are motorable roads in the park too, so you can drive your car through. One major road- the Newfound Gap Road- traverses a distance of 53 km between Cherokee (North Carolina) and Gatlinburg, and is the best route for a good view of the park.

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Best time to visit

The National Park is open throughout the year, and except for deep winter, any time is a good time to visit the Smokies. Late April and early May see the mountains cloaked in colourful wildflowers, while October is a great time to see the stunning beauty of an Appalachian autumn. Whenever you go, keep in mind that the weather in the Smokies is thoroughly unpredictable, and a warm day can turn into a squally, wet or even snowy one without a minute's notice! Wear sufficient clothing- preferably in layers- and carry protection against rain.

Note that accommodation within the park is available only between March and November.

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Accommodation

Accommodation facilities within the park are limited. Besides ten campgrounds, the only other accommodation is a tourist lodge which is open between March and November. Reservations at the lodge can be made by phoning the park at 423-429-5704. The lodge offers very basic facilities, and getting to it involves a trek of about 10 km. Despite these deterrents, the lodge is very much in demand, so you'd best make reservations well in advance.

The other option- especially if you can't do without the creature comforts- is to stay in one of the nearby towns, where a range of hotels, motels, condominiums and homestay facilities is available. Gatlinburg is definitely the most convenient option; other easy-to-access towns in the vicinity include Cherokee, Sevierville, Rockford, Townsend, Kodak, Pigeon Forge and Newport, all in Tennessee.

Further information on Great Smoky Mountains National Park is available from the National Park Service (Tel: 1-800-365-2267). Bookings for accommodation and tours can also be made at the same phone number. Alternatively, you could contact the park authorities at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN (Tel: 865-436-1200). 
Within the park are three visitor centres: the Oconaluftee Visitor Centre, the Sugarlands Visitor Centre and the Cades Cove Visitor Centre. All three offer a range of services, including orientation programmes and tourist literature.


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National Parks

- Acadia National Park
- Denali National Park
- Everglades National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Mammoth Cave National Park
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Olympic National Park
- Redwood National Park
- Shenandoah National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
 
State Parks
- Adirondack Park

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