Located high in the Appalachian Mountains, Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. These mountains are quite different than their western cousins. The Smokies are covered with dense forests. They are also lower in elevation, with very few extending above the tree line. However, as in the west, there is abundant wildlife, including big horn sheep and bears.
Hiking is one of the main activities in the park. The Appalachian Trail, the iconic backpacker’s route, cuts through the park, following the ridge line along the state border. There are also other, less strenuous hikes in the area. Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Smokies at 6,643 feet, features a steep but paved and accessible trail to the lookout tower on top. On a clear day the tower provides spectacular 100 mile views.
For a little more thrilling adventure there’s whitewater rafting nearby on the Big and Little Pigeon Rivers. Several outfitters take visitors out for half and full day excursions on the water. The rivers feature everything from easy paddles to Class 4 rapids.
All that water rushing through the mountains creates an abundance of waterfalls. The National Park and surrounding area offer many hikes that end up with beautiful views of falling water. A few even have swimming holes at the bottom to cool off in after a hot summer hike.
It’s easy to see why Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most visited parks in the whole National Park system. Its mix of pleasant weather, natural beauty and high adventure make it an ideal get away spot.