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Dense, old-growth forest in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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  • States:
    North Carolina
    Tennessee

One of the most epic swaths of pure wilderness in the eastern United States straddles the border of the southeastern states of North Carolina and Tennessee.

It consists of mountains and lush forest within Great Smoky Mountains National Park, more than 211,000 hectares of nature explorable by car, foot and bicycle. The park features 16 peaks measuring more than 1,800 meters high. A blue-gray haze that often cloaks them gives the park its name. Dense, old-growth forests carpet the mountains, and the lush peaks and hills appear to roll endlessly into the distance when viewed from pullouts along the park's byways.

How to Get to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park sits 314 kilometers east of Nashville, Tennessee, and 60 kilometers west from Asheville, North Carolina. Travelers can enter the park in Gatlinburg and Townsend, Tennessee, or Cherokee, North Carolina. With up to 10 million annual visitors, Great Smoky is consistently one of the most-visited national parks in the U.S., but it's still possible to find solitude there.

Nature and History Collide in the Great Smoky Mountains

Thanks to a temperate climate and varied topography, the park is one of earth’s most biologically diverse regions. More than 17,000 plant and animal species have been documented within the Smokies, including elk, black bear and deer. A rich history steeped in Appalachian Mountain culture is also woven throughout the park at Cades Cove, the Mountain Farm Museum and other sites.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park features incredible biological diversity, with more than 17,000 documented species of plants and animals.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park features incredible biological diversity, with more than 17,000 documented species of plants and animals.
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Hit the (Park) Roads

The park's most well-traveled route, the nearly 18-kilometer Cades Cove Loop Road, winds through the Cades Cove Valley. Surrounded by mountains, this verdant valley is a prime area for wildlife spotting. Many 19th- and early 20th-century buildings lie scattered throughout the valley, including barns, churches and a grist mill.

Ascend more than 900 meters to the crest of the park's mountains while driving the 53-kilometer Newfound Gap Road. Highlights of the route include sweeping valley vistas and glimpses of pine oak and spruce fir forests, all of which can be admired from pullouts alongside the road.