The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a national park located in the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, within the larger Appalachian Mountain chain. The centerline of the park runs through the borders of North Carolina and Tennessee. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited national park in the United States and has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Appalachian Trail also passes through the center of the park on its route from Maine to Georgia.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was chartered in 1934 by the US Congress. It is one of the largest protected areas in the Eastern US, covering 522,419 acres of land. The two main entrances are located along U.S. Highway 441 or Newfound Gap Road, in the town of Cherokee, North Carolina and in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The park was the first national park whose major funding contributions came from federal funds; most parks are funded with private funds or are funded through the state.
The national park is a major tourist destination for the region, hosting more than 9 million visitors each year. In 2010, more than 11 million non-recreational visitors traveled to the park, which is twice the amount of people that the Grand Canyon received. The small towns that surround the park earn a significant portion of their incomes from the tourism associated with the park. These towns include: Cherokee, Maggie Valley, Bryson City, and Sylvia, North Carolina and Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, Townsend, and Sevierville, Tennessee.
The Oconaluftee Visitor Center, near the eastern entrance of the park in Cherokee and the Sugarlands Visitors’ Center near the park’s Gatlinburg entrance are the two main visitor centers within the parks boundaries. These particular ranger stations provide numerous exhibits on the parks history, its wildlife, and its geology. They also sell a variety of souvenirs, books, and maps. There are no entry fees to the park, which is uncommon for most national parks.
Known as Newfound Gap Road, the US highway 441 is a road that bisects the park, allowing for automobile access to many of trails and lookout points, including Newfound Gap. Newfound Gap is the lowest gap in the mountains, at 5,048 feet or 1,539 m, and is located near the park’s center. On a clear day, the Newfound Gap offers some of the best views that are accessible via the park’s highway.
There are quite a few notable attractions in the park, including Cades Cove, which is a valley that features a number of historic buildings including, churches, log cabins, and barns. Cades Cove is the most visited area of the national park. Sightseers are able to go on bicycle and automobile tours that provide guests with a glimpse of the way of life in olden times southern Appalachia. Other notable tourist destinations within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park include the Mountain Farm Museum, Roaring Fork, and Mingus Mill at Ocunaluftee, Elkmont, and Cataloochee.