Introducing Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Cherokee called this territory Shaconage (shah-cone-ah-jey), meaning roughly ‘land of the blue smoke, ’ for the heather-colored mist that hangs over the ancient peaks. The Southern Appalachians are the world’s oldest mountain range, with mile upon mile of cool, humid deciduous forest.
The 815-sq-mile park is the country’s most visited, and while the main arteries and attractions can get crowded, studies have shown that 95% of visitors never venture further than 100yd from their cars, so it’s easy to leave the teeming masses behind.
Popular sites include the former settlement of Cades Cove, the majestic peaks of Mount Le Conte, the dizzying heights of Clingmans Dome and numerous waterfalls, coves and trails, as well as nearly 2000 black bears (lock up your food).
Unlike most other national parks, Great Smoky charges no admission fee, nor will it ever; this proviso was written into the park’s original charter as a stipulation for a $5 million Rockefeller family grant. Stop by a visitor center to pick up a park map and the free park newspaper, Smokies Guide.