The Ultimate Great Smoky Mountains Travel Guide

Even if you haven’t been to our most visited national park yet, you can probably picture those blue ridgelines blurred across a southern Appalachian sky by that perpetual, namesake haze. In the spring, the sight is often the backdrop for a field of colorful wildflowers; in the fall, a rich palette of changing leaves.

I’m lucky to call the 500,000-acre Great Smoky Mountains my backyard, and they call images to mind that captures their character. There’s the black bear sprawling over a low branch, paw dangling; the silhouette of an elk bugling against the fog in a valley; and countless 19th-century log cabins, barns, and springhouses that sit at the edges of wildflower-filled meadows just off of roads and trails, like pioneer exhibits in a museum.

While you’ll count yourself among 11 million people on average who visit the mountain range every year, you can still find something personal and deeply profound in its lush valleys, ridgeline paths, and panoramic lookouts. For some this happens while exploring the more than 300 historic sites the park service maintains, while others are captivated by the slanted headstones, crumbling chimneys, and buckling walls in the backcountry.

Many find solitude in the 800 miles of trails, ranging from scenic day hikes to multi-day treks along 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail—do them all and you can join the 900 Miler Club. Just off the paths, and often running parallel, are streams home to one of the last wild-trout habitats in the region, including the distinct southern Appalachian brook trout. But for most, what makes the Great Smoky Mountains special is how each season has its own distinct character and reasons to visit, from spring’s colorful blooms to winter’s unobstructed peak views.

Here is the ultimate Great Smoky Mountains travel guide…

 

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