While visiting Pigeon Forge, you must make a trip to the Smoky Mountains National Park. As the most visited national park in America, the Smokies receive over 9 million visitors a year. There is so much to do and see in the park including overlooks that give you a view of the beautiful mountain ranges, hiking trails, camping, fishing, historic sites and wildlife. There are five different forest types throughout the Smoky Mountains and over 4,000 plant species. Some sections of the park are actually classified as rain forests. The park totals over 500,000 acres in size.
Most visitors to the Smokies are there for a one day visit. However, if you enjoy the outdoors and enjoy camping, there is no better place in the country to camp than the Smoky Mountains. The campgrounds in the park are primitive on purpose. There are ten campgrounds and all of them have running water, flush toilets and charcoal grills. There are fees for staying at these campgrounds but they are low cost. There are no camper hookups available at these campgrounds.
Hiking is another enjoyable thing to do in the park. Not only does it give you a chance to see the the great outdoors but also is a great way to exercise. There are over 850 miles of hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains. The trails range from less difficult half hour walks to more difficult trips. Many provide beautiful views, historic landmarks and waterfalls. The Appalachian Trail stretches 70 miles along the top ridge of the Smokies.
Wildlife sightings are excellent in the Smoky Mountains. Early morning and late evening are the best times to view wildlife. There are over 65 mammals living in the park with the Bear and Red Wolf being the favorite of visitors. Coyote and Bobcats are the shy ones and their sightings are rare while the Deer are easily viewed in the park. Other animals that you will see are red and gray squirrels, chipmunks, woodchucks, raccoons, opossums, red and gray foxes, skunks, and bats. Elk, river otters, beavers, wild hogs and of course snakes also reside in the Smoky Mountains.
There are over 230 species of birds in the Smoky Mountains and 110 that reproduce in the mountains. As far as snakes, the Copperhead and the Timbler Rattler are the only poisonous snakes in the park but neither have lethal poison. The most common non-poisonous snakes are black rat, garter, and the common water snake. Other reptiles include frogs, toads and salamanders. The Smokies 27 types of salamanders make this area the salamander capital of the world.
Fishing is another thing to do in the park. Anglers 13 and over need a valid fishing license to fish in the Smokies which needs to be purchased before visiting the Smokies. The national park does not sell licenses. Fishing is allowed year round and there are more than 40 species of fish including darters, dace, suckers, bass, shiners, and trout. Brook trout are the only trout native to the Smoky Mountains. Stop by a visitors center for fishing regulations.
The weather in the Smokies can change quickly. The climate is moderate but because of the higher elevations, you can experience changes in the weather quickly. Elevations in the Park range from 800 feet to 6,643 feet and the temperature can change from 10 20 degrees from the lower elevations to the higher ones. Also just because it is a beautiful day when you leave for the park, doesn’t mean it will remain nice weather through your whole day. There is an average of 55 inches of precipitation a year in the lowlands compared to 85 inches of precipitation in the higher elevations of the Smokies. If you have wondered why the Smoky Mountains are Smoky it is a result of the precipitation and evaporation from the trees. The higher elevations of the Smokies are classified as rain forest.
The beautiful plants in the Smoky Mountains is one of the main reasons why it has been classified as a national park. The vegetation is what makes these mountains so unique. Because of the various elevation levels, precipitation and temperature, these mountains provide a great habitat for over 1,600 different types of flowering plants, 100 types of trees and over 100 species of shrubs. The park is sometimes referred to as the Wildflower National Park. There are more types of flowering plants in the Smoky Mountains than any other North American park. And the beautiful Fall leaves in the national park are spectacular!
There is no cost to enter the Smoky Mountains National Park. Due to deed restrictions imposed when the Smokies were established it was decided that entrance charges would never be permitted. There is limited food and supplies available in the national park so it is best to bring along a picnic and drinks and stop by one of the many picnic areas in the Smokies. Pets must be on leashes at all times and are not permitted on the hiking trails. Horseback riding and bike riding are also available in the Smokies.
There are several visitors centers in the area to assist you about the park and offer tips on experiencing the most out of your visit to the park. Many offer exhibits about the history and culture of the Smoky Mountains. Many tours with guides are offered and most have restrooms and shops. The Sugarlands Visitor Center offers a free 20 minute Dolby Digital Surround Sound movie about the Smoky Mountains which is very interesting. There are several places to go in the Smoky Mountains to present to you the extraordinary nature and cultural history of the park. If you want to learn more about the culture of the early mountain settlers, then make a visit to the Mountain Farm Museum, Cades Cove, Cataloochee, or the Roaring Fork area. At these places you can tour homes, farms, churches and other buildings built by the early settlers. The best places to view wildlife because of the wide open spaces are Cades Cove and Cataloochee. For the most beautiful views of the Smoky Mountain range, head for the tops of the mountains at Clingmans Dome or Newfound Gap. For a stop in a cool shady forest location, you may want to stop by Deep Creek or Roaring Fork.
No matter what you want to do or see while visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you will be guaranteed a fun filled day. Plan your visit and be prepared to enjoy the majestic views of the mountains!