Ah, the Great Smoky Mountains- so beautiful, so majestic. No trip to this part of Tennessee is complete without a visit to this historic park. Great Smoky Mountain National Park encompasses 522,419 acres across Tennessee and North Carolina and is a part of the greater Appalachian Mountains that carry on through to the north part of the country.
We came into the park from the Gatlinburg side and began our visit with a trip to the Sugarlands Visitor Center. This park could easily be a couple week vacation just hiking around the many trails. Sadly, we didn’t have a couple of weeks we just had a few hours before we would need to hit the road towards home. So we settled for a walk from the visitor center along an easy trail to Cataract Falls.
This area was officially designated as a national park by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. But the process to reach that point was a slow one. The government had wanted to establish a national park in the east part of the country but they didn’t have the necessary funds to do it. The government provided what they could but it was because of local citizens and visitors who all donated money that they were able to raise the funds to establish the park. Because of this, there was an agreement made that there would not be a fee to enter the park and that agreement holds true today. This is one of the few national parks that has no entrance fee. With over 14 million visitors every year, this is the most visited national park in the country surpassing Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon by twice the numbers of people.
The trail to Cataract Fall is about a mile of level ground making it an easy trail for anyone. We particularly loved an old hollowed out tree next to a bridge crossing the stream. All along the trail you could see buds of flowers that were just about ready to pop out. Had we come a week or so later we would have had a visual treat of millions of blossoms everywhere. Among its other titles, this park is also an International Biosphere Reserve since 1976.
The Smoky Mountains has been home to many people and groups in its history. These mountains were the homeland of the Cherokee people. Then in the late 17th century European traders began coming through this area from Virginia. Later on settlers would begin to establish homes and communities throughout the mountains. The park has preserved numerous historical structures and artifacts from all the different groups of people that have lived here. Because of this, the national park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
We reached the end of the trail and happily sat on a bench just gazing at the falls and the lush green surrounding it. We had a few peaceful minutes to ourselves just enjoying this small beautiful spot in the park. Then a big family arrived so we took that as a sign it was time to go. We walked back along the beautiful trail towards the visitor center.
Any time spent in the Smoky Mountains is a good time. Even though this trip didn’t include more of the trails or more of the park, what time we had there was good for the soul. Little by little we will see all of this incredible national park.
Need more of the wonderous beauty of the Smoky Mountains? Then you may be interested in these other areas of the park:
Thanks for coming along through Great Smoky Mountain National Park. May your path bring you to the mountains of Tennessee.