The mountains of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are home to an unparalleled variety of flora and fauna. The forest of the national park, half of which is located in North Carolina and half in Tennessee, is one of the oldest forests on earth and the largest area of primeval forest in the eastern United States. Due to the diversity of species, the park was declared a biosphere reserve in 1976. In 1983 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
According to allcitycodes, the Smoky Mountains are among the oldest mountain ranges on earth. Ice Age glaciers stopped at the mountains of the Smokies on their southward expansion. Rhododendrons and mountain laurels grow out of the weathered rocks. Amidst the forests and rugged peaks, more than 1,600 species of flowering plants thrive, including some endemic species. Prior to the arrival of European settlers at the end of the 18th century, the area was part of the homeland of the Cherokee Indians, who named the area “Shalonage”, “Place of the Blue Mist” because of the frequent occurrence of fog.
Location and Size
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located in the Appalachian Mountains between the states of North Carolina and Tennessee. The park covers an area of 2,114 km² and was declared a national park on June 15, 1934. In 1976 it was declared an international biosphere reserve, and in 1983 it was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
from Gatlinburg, TN
From Interstate Highway I-40, take Exit 407 (Sevierville) onto TN-66 South. At the Sevierville intersection, go straight onto US-441 South. Enter the park on US-441 via Sevierville and Pigeon Forge.
by car from Cherokee, NC
from the north: Take Interstate Highway I-40 to Exit 27 onto US-74 West toward Waynesville. Turn onto US-19 and continue through Maggie Valley to Cherokee. From there, turn onto US-441 North in Cherokee and follow the road into the park.
From the South: Follow US-441/US-23 North. At Dillsboro merge onto US-74 West/US-441 North. Take exit 74 onto US-441. Follow US-441 through Cherokee and it will take you directly into the park.
Hours of Operation
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, some back roads, campgrounds, and facilities are closed during the winter.
There are four visitor centers within the National Park.
Cades Cove Visitor Center: Open daily except Christmas Day from 9am to 4.30pm. It is open until 7:30 p.m. from May to July, until 7 p.m. in August, and until 6:30 p.m. in September and October. The Visitor Center is located within the park, halfway along the 18km Cades Cove Loop Road.
Oconaluftee Visitor Center: Open daily except Christmas Day from 9am to 4:30pm. In the summer months there are extended opening hours. Located right in the park 3.2 km (2 miles) north of Cherokke, NC on US-441.
Sugarlands Visitor Center: Open daily except Christmas Day from 9am to 4:30pm. In the summer months there are extended opening hours. Located right in the park 3.2 km (2 miles) south of Gatlinburg on US-441.
Clingmans Dome Visitor Contact Station: open from April to October from 10am to 6pm, in November from 9.30am to 5pm.
Admission to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is free. The park is one of the few national parks where there are no entrance fees.
The National Park Service manages campgrounds in 10 locations in the park: Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain, Big Creek, Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Cosby, Deep Creek, Elkmont, Look Rock, and Smokemont. Each campsite has toilets with cold running water. Each individual campsite has a fire grate and picnic table. There are no showers and no connections for electricity and water. Fees range from USD 15-35 per night.
The only accommodation option within the park is LeConte Lodge, otherwise there are no motels or lodges. All other accommodation is outside the park. LeConte Lodge is only accessible on foot. It is located on the highest peak, Mount Le Conte, at 2,119 meters. The hiking trails to the lodge are between 8 km and 13 km long. The lodge is open from mid-March to mid-November. Advance reservations are required: Tel: (865) 429-5704.
March to May: Spring brings unpredictable weather. Within a few hours it can go from sunny skies to snowfall and snow flurries. March is the most volatile month. From mid-April the weather becomes milder. Temperatures below freezing are rare at lower elevations, and nothing unusual at higher elevations. It gets warmer in May.
June to August: Summer in the Smokies means heat, haze and humidity. Afternoon showers and thunderstorms are common. In July and August it gets up to 32°C in the lower elevations. Evening temperatures reach a comfortable 15° to 21° C. The weather is much more pleasant at higher altitudes. On Mount Le Conte (2,119 metres), temperatures above 27°C are extremely rare.
September to mid-November: Clear skies and cooler weather signal the onset of the fall color change. Warm days alternate with cool nights. Daytime temperatures in September are between 21° and 27° C and fall to 10° to 16° C by the beginning of November. Expect the first frost in late September. In November – the driest season with only occasional rain showers – it can start to freeze. In the higher elevations there can be snowfall as early as November.
Mid-November to February: Winter is generally temperate in the Smokies. However, extreme weather can occur, especially at higher altitudes. It’s not uncommon for it to be warm in the lower elevations and snowy in the higher elevations. About half of the winter days are 10°C or more. Temperatures usually drop below freezing at night.
|Average temperatures in Gatlinburg*, Tennessee in °C|
*Gatlinburg is in the lower elevations
|Average temperatures in Clingmans Dome**, NC/TN in °C|
**Clingmans Dome is located at the higher elevations