by Chip Bennett
Part of the Appalachian Highlands, the Great Smokey Mountains National Park in Tennessee covers more than a half a million acres and its lush forests are home to thousands of species of wildlife.
The park includes several mountains which top 6,000 feet including Mount Le Conte which comes up just short of 6,600 feet and is the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi and a favorite with visitors to the park. However elevations throughout the park vary from a mere 900 feet to 6,600 feet which provides a mixture of both easy hiking trails and some quite difficult trails for the more experienced climbers. Indeed, the very hardy can enjoy a super hike along the Alum Cave trail up to the highest peak in the park at Clingman’s Dome. From this vantage point, which includes a 50 foot high observation tower, you can have a truly breathtaking and unobstructed view across thousands of acres of forest.
With a total of more than 850 miles of unpaved roads and trails the park provides some excellent hiking, including no fewer than 70 miles of hiking along the famous Appalachian Trail. One of my favorite trails takes you up to Chimney Tops where, atop these twin peaks, you get a fabulous view over the land below. Another firm favorite is the trail up to Laurel Falls which, with a drop of some 80 feet, is on a par with the falls to be found in Yosemite National Park.
But some great hiking is just one of the reasons for visiting this lovely national park and many visitors also enjoy cycling, especially in the area of Cades Cove, and also horseback riding from the park’s four rental stables. And do not forget the fishing either, with some wonderful rainbow and brook trout fishing along more than 700 miles of streams.
The park enjoys a fairly good annual rainfall varying from about 50 to 60 inches a year in the valleys and 80 to 90 inches a year on the peaks so that no matter where you travel in the park you will always find lush vegetation and, with it, a wide variety of birds and other wildlife. Indeed, there are reported to be over 200 species of bird to be seen in the park as well as dozens of mammals including black bears, white tailed deer and raccoons.
For those who like getting out for a hike all year around, hot or cold, wet or dry, then the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the perfect hiking venue with temperatures averaging in the mid 60s during the summer and dropping down to around 20 degrees in the winter.