A Family Affair: Vacationing in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in Tennessee and North Carolina, is an accessible wilderness that welcomes adventurers of all ages and abilities. Our guide to planning a family outing in the Smokies includes info on how to get there and around, where to stay, and what to do.
By Deborah R. Huso
  |  Gorp.com
Dawn breaks over Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Dawn breaks over Great Smoky Mountains National Park (iStockphoto)

Covering more than half a million acres, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the "great park" of the East, drawing some ten million visitors annually. It is, in fact, the most-visited national park in the country. And while many perceive the Smokies as a "drive-through" destination, because the park features many attractions along one major highway, this vast wilderness area is actually home to hundreds of miles of quiet back roads (paved and unpaved), some 800 miles of hiking trails, and 16 mountain peaks higher than 6,000 feet—which makes it an ideal place to introduce your little ones to the great outdoors.

One of the park’s biggest attractions, besides its mountain peaks, is its wildlife. The Smokies are home to more than 1,800 black bears, 80 Canadian elk, and some 100,000 living organisms, making it one of the most diverse collections of flora and fauna in the southern Appalachians. Its biological diversity is the major reason the park was named an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site.

Nature isn’t the only draw here. From residences and churches to old schools and mills, the park’s historic buildings number more than 90. Between 1925 and 1944, the states of North Carolina and Tennessee purchased more than 6,600 tracts of land to create the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While some of that land belonged to logging companies, many tracts were the farms, homes, and businesses of hundreds of mountain families. Almost since the park’s establishment, the National Park Service began making extensive efforts to preserve some of the historic buildings to interpret the lives of the people who once lived here. Two of the best places to see these historic structures are in Cades Cove on the Tennessee side of the park and in the Cataloochee Valley on the North Carolina side.

Published: 16 Mar 2012 | Last Updated: 24 Oct 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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