Great Smoky Mountains National Park – 10 Reasons to Visit this Ancient Wonder

Great Smoky Mountains National Park – 10 Reasons to Visit this Ancient Wonder

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of those places where you don’t really need a reason to visit – you just do! It is one of the ancient wonders of the world which will transport you to a whole new world of experiences. For a city girl like me, a visit here has not only been a memorable one but it is one of those places that has earned a spot on the “Return” list.

Come along with me and share my experiences.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a place where there are no real words can be found to describe it accurately. It was established in 1934 and has been referred to as a living mountain range. It is continuously shaped by the forces of nature – wind, water and erosion. The natural beauty of the mountains, the tranquillity of the woods and the wildlife here makes this, one of the most visited natural parks in America, drawing over 200,000 visitors per year – a Park that continues to ‘live’ in a time capsule of the 1800s.

Where is Great Smoky Mountains located

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park sits on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee.

map of the smokies on USA map
The Smokies on USA map – sits on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee

There are major entrances to the Smokies from either of the States. More information is listed below on Useful information.

For now, join me on our journey.

The Foothills Parkway – Gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Foothills Parkway gives you easy access to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from a road corridor that is outside the Park, providing you with magnificent views of the mountains and wildflowers.

Foothills Parkway
Foothills Parkway – the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains Natural Park

Our visit here was before the New Leg of the Parkway was open, in early autumn. (The New Leg takes you from Townsend, TN, to Wears Valley, with a short ride into Pigeon Forge, TN, and Gatlinburg, TN – from US 129 to US 321 in Walland).

Have a look at the following scenic guide offered by google.my.maps

Crisscrossing of the Ancient Mountains is a sight to behold…

The beauty of the mountains comes through as you drive up…when you see, as far as you can, ridge upon ridge of endless forest. It was one of the prettiest sights, that I had ever witnessed – the crisscrossing of the mountains in the distance as it blends into the blues of the skies, which makes it particularly picturesque.

The Smokies.
The Smokies: The beauty of the mountains comes through as you drive up…when you see, as far as you can, ridge upon ridge of endless forest. It was one of the prettiest sights, that I had ever witnessed – the crisscrossing of the mountains in the distance as it blends into the blues of the skies, which makes it particularly picturesque

No two views are the same…

There are many ‘pull-over’ areas throughout the drive that gives you breath-taking views of the mountains. Stop as many times as you can – we, stopped at every pull-over site, because no two sites were the same and it afforded great photo opportunities.

Capture the sights of the Wildflowers – The Great Smoky Mountains Natural Park is home to approximately 1600 species of flowering plants.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to 1600 species of plants.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to 1600 species of plants.

The Great Smoky Mountains are not just mountains…there is an air of tranquillity here which you must simply experience yourself.

This mountain range is also covered with the ever-present morning fog which gives it the name, “Smokies”.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park: This mountain range is covered with the ever-present morning fog which gives it the name, “Smokies”
Great Smoky Mountain National Park: This mountain range is covered with the ever-present morning fog which gives it the name, “Smokies”

The importance of the Great Smoky Mountains was aptly described by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was quoted as saying:

“There are trees here that stood before our forefathers ever came to this continent; there are brooks that still run as clear as on the day the first pioneer cupped his hand and drank from them.”

Activities to do at Great Smoky Mountains

This ancient mountains with its ancient wonders provide a myriad of activities for both young and old. There are many reasons why one would visit this ancient wonder and I have listed my top 10 reasons below.

10 Reasons Why you should Visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park aka The Smokies

1 | History of Mountain Culture at the Great Smoky Mountains

The Smokies has a long history of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, specifically a community of native Americans called, Cherokee. It is a small community that is preserving its 18th century way of life. 

We visited Oconaluftee Indian Village, in Cherokee, a town on the reservation in western North Carolina. We had a taste of their 18th century lifestyle. A guided tour of Cherokee dwellings, a look at how their ancient jewellery and beads were crafted, their primitive tools – all with live demonstrations. The highlight was the cultural dance that tells the tribal story. 

If you are visiting this part of the world, pay the Cherokee Village a visit, it takes you to a different dimension.

Oconaluftee Indian Village | Cherokee Historical Experience

Below is a picture of a Native American, one of the elders of the Cherokee tribe, from the Oconaluftee Indian Village.

Great Smoky Mountains: A visit to the nearby town of Cherokee where the 18th century lifestyle is preserved.
Great Smoky Mountains: A visit to the nearby town of Cherokee where the 18th century lifestyle is preserved.

2 | A natural habitat of Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains is a natural habitat to a huge diversity of wildflowers, plants and animal life which are not found elsewhere. It was a wonderful experience to see the varieties in various colours, all in one place.

3 | Wildlife of Great Smoky Mountains

3.1 | The Great Smoky Mountains is home to approximately 1500 black bears

We did not see a bear on our visit, however, it is said that the chances of seeing a bear is highly likely in Cades Cove, (on the western side of the park) and Cataloochee Valley, (on the park’s east side).

3.2 | Best time to see black bears

Spring and Summer are the best months to see the bears, especially in the early             morning and at dusk.

3.3 | Federal Law Requirements

The bears live throughout the Park and federal law requires all visitors to properly      store their food in the trunk of their vehicles and place all garbage and food scraps            in bear-proof trash cans.

3.4 | Elks

An animal associated with the American West. Sightings of these are rare. We were fortunate to see them on our way to Cherokee, North Carolina. 

Great Smoky Mountains: Rare sightings of Elks in Cherokee
Great Smoky Mountains: Rare sightings of Elks in Cherokee

4 | Wildflowers of Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains is home to approximately 1600 species of flowering                plants.

During the spring months (mid-April to mid-May) and early summer (late May to          mid-July), are the best times to see wildflowers here such as rhododendron and                flame azalea.

The Mountains are also covered with healthy shrub flowers on higher elevation              which we were able to capture on our visit.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to 1600 species of plants.
The Smokies is home to 1600 species of plants.
Great Smoky Mountains Wildflowers
Wildflower shrubs at the Smokies.

Wet and humid climates, as well as a broad elevation range, are two of the most               important reasons for the park’s renowned diversity.

5 | Fishing in Great Smoky Mountains

For the fishing enthusiasts, there is about 700 plus miles of fishable streams in the Park which offers a selection of brook, brown, or rainbow trout.

6 | Waterfalls of Great Smoky Mountains

There are many waterfalls throughout the Park with larger falls such as Grotto, Laurel and Rainbow which are well worth a visit.

7 | Hiking Trails in Great Smoky Mountains

For the hiking enthusiasts, there are several hiking trails to explore – part of the Appalachian Trail is here. 

The Great Smoky Mountains is home to many hiking trails such as the Appalachian Trail
The Smokies is home to many hiking trails such as the Appalachian Trail

8 | Highest point of elevation of the Appalachian Trail

The Smoky Mountains has the highest point of elevation of the entire Appalachian Trail at 2019 metres (6625 feet) – near Clingman’s Dome.

Official Great Smoky Mountains National Park map – courtesy of mysmokymountainpark.com

9 | Camping in Great Smoky Mountains

There are many camping sites available, from backcountry to horse campgrounds. Backcountry camping requires a permit and reservations in advance. Backcountry campers are also advised to check weather conditions against their itinerary before arrival.

Bear activity, in addition to weather, can cause sites, roads, trails and shelters to close. The park can accommodate large groups of campers (minimum party size of 7) at several sites. Group campers must use tents only and they must reserve a spot in advance. 

10 | Historic Buildings in Great Smoky Mountains

There are about 90 historic buildings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A collection of log buildings, houses, barns, churches, schools and grist mills have been preserved. Best places to experience these are at Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Oconaluftee and along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.

My conclusion of the Great Smoky Mountains

Being in the midst of nature, the Smokies was truly an experience for a city girl like me. I enjoyed waking up to the sounds of the birds, the freshness of the morning dew, a walk in the trails looking for the footprints of black bears, and the sighting of elks were experiences that I would never forget. These are also experiences that encourages me to revisit this ancient wonder and is on my “return” list.

Travel tips and Useful Information on Great Smoky Mountains

Getting to Great Smoky Mountains

The Park sits on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park,

107 Park Headquarters Road

Gatlinburg, TN

As the Park sits on the borders of two states, it offers various possibilities of access. The most popular entrance to the Park is via Sugarlands, the north side of the Park. I accessed the following from the official website of the mysmokymountain:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance map
The entrance via Sugarlands, through Gatlinburg, TN

Access via Foothills Parkway

The Foothills Parkway gives you easy access to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from a road corridor that is outside the Park. The New Leg of the Parkway takes you from Townsend, TN, to Wears Valley, with a short ride into Pigeon Forge, TN, and Gatlinburg, TN – from US 129 to US 321 in Walland.

Visitor Centres

There are four Visitor Centres:

Cades Cove, Clingmans Dome, Oconaluftee, and Sugarlands

You can check the official website of the visitor centres by clicking: https://www.mysmokymountainpark.com/park/visitor-centers

What you need to know about the Weather in Great Smoky Mountains

  1. Weather at The Great Smoky Mountains:
  • It has four distinct seasons.
  • March through May – Spring;
  • June through August – Summer;
  • September through November – Fall;
  • Mid-November through February – Winter.

**The weather here includes severe storms—tornadoes, strong winds, and hail—that can occur especially during the spring and summer months with March having the widest temperature swings. You can expect snowfall at any time during this month.

**Great Smoky Mountains National Park weather is also dependent on elevation. The base of a mountain can be 10 – 20 degrees warmer than temperatures at higher elevations, so prepare accordingly.

Safety tips to think about when at Great Smoky Mountains

If you are hiking, riding or camping, it is a good idea for you to have the following considerations in mind:

i) Map of the Great Smoky Mountains

Bring a Great Smoky Mountains National Park Map.  Even better if you can get one that has the hiking trails, and camping sites dotted. You can purchase one from the Visitor Centre.

ii) Park Rangers of the Great Smoky Mountains

Ask Great Smoky Mountains Park Rangers for additional safety tips when hiking or camping.

iii) Compass and network

Ensure you have a compass with you and you have a hand-phone that is fully charged. Take a charging device as a precaution.

More ways to experience Smoky Mountains

In and around the Smokies are attractions and activities which one could explore for experiences that will last a lifetime!

Gatlinburg is one of the busiest towns that has a great selection from accommodation to restaurants and souvenir shops plus loads of attractions to choose from. Visit the Titanic Museum, Anakeesta Theme Park or Dollywood. If you are seeking adventurous activities, you could always do a helicopter tour, a 3-hour jeep tour from Foothills Parkway or a mountain zip lining activity. There are more choices available here for you to peruse and purchase an Adventure Pass giving you money saving options to 30 attractions and more.

If you prefer a quiet getaway, exploring on your own terms, like us, you could do that too. Whichever way you would like your adventure to be, there is always something for everyone seeking a memorable vacation at The Smokies.

Notes:

This is not a sponsored post and all opinions expressed are my own. All photos are my own and are all rights reserved. Please do not reproduce them. All prints are available upon requests.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading this article and my adventure here will inspire you to travel to this ancient wonder.

Is this post valuable to you in planning your visits to The Smoky Mountains National Park? If so, let me know in comments below or via Contact Form, I would love to hear from you.

Have a splendid adventure!

January 2021, Update.

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[https://www.nationalparks.org/explore-parks/great-smoky-mountains-national-park]

[https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/historicbuildings.htm]


“There are trees here that stood before our forefathers ever came to this continent; there are brooks that still run as clear as on the day the first pioneer cupped his hand and drank from them.”

Franklin Roosevelt

Best 10 in Chicago not to be missed

Best 10 in the beautiful City of Chicago not to be missed

Chicago, Illinois

The best 10 in Chicago not to be missed is only a short list of experiences compared to the variety of activities that one can do here. Chicago, popularly known as the Windy City although not exactly named for the weather, is a beautiful city with skyscrapers, amazing architecture, world class museums, beautiful parks and food from around the world for you to immerse in when you visit.

This city is the third most populous city in the United States and is situated on a huge lakefront, on the southwestern shores of Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan is so huge that it feels like an ocean rather than a lake because you cannot see the other side.

Lake Michigan in Chicago: Absolutely beautiful! Cannot see the other side! View from Oak Street Beach
Lake Michigan in Chicago: Absolutely beautiful! Cannot see the other side! View from Oak Street Beach

In addition, as I am sure most of you are familiar with Route 66, known as “America’s Highway”.  Route 66 begins (or ends, depends where you begin your journey) at Grant Park. However, for now, come along with me and discover what my top 10 are.

My top 10 on Chicago are:

1 | The Lakefront

The Lakefront is one of my favourite parts of Chicago. It is perfect for a morning jog or cycling, play beach volleyball and you can even go rollerblading. When the sunsets, its perfect to walk along the shores and get your feet into the cool water. It is absolutely beautiful when you see the sun just setting behind the skyscrapers and glimpses of sunlight coming through in between the buildings. In the summer months, the shores come alive with activities and music and food.

The Lakefront in Chicago: Sunset over the skyscrapers
The Lakefront in Chicago: Sunset over the skyscrapers
The evenings at Lakefront, still a very busy place.
The evenings at Lakefront, Chicago, still a very busy place.
Sunset, Lake Michigan
Sunset, Lake Michigan, Chicago

2 | The Riverwalk

The Chicago Riverwalk is a beautiful pedestrian walkway along the Chicago River, spanning from Lake Shore Drive to Franklin Street. You will enjoy the many showcase of art, restaurants and bars where you can stop and enjoy a pint or two and resume sightseeing.

Chicago Riverwalk: Be spoilt with skyscrapers, architectural designs and the many restaurants here during a Riverwalk
Chicago Riverwalk: Be spoilt with skyscrapers, architectural designs and the many restaurants here during a Riverwalk

3 | Shop till you drop!

Michigan Avenue or as it’s often referred to as the Magnificent Mile is a mile-long street of shops and is the most popular shopping street in Chicago, just like 5th Avenue in New York! At the north end of Michigan Avenue is Oak Street, where you will find designer and luxury goods and high-end brand names such as Gucci and Prada. From the south of the River, there is State Street where you will find affordable shopping at Macy’s, and more shops such as Forever21.

In winter, these shop windows sparkle with pretty Christmas decorations and in the spring/summer months, the parkways are filled with colourful blooms.

Christmas in Chicago
Chicago by Night

4 | The Loop in Chicago

The Loop is the heart of the business district and it is here that you will find the great architecture that Chicago is famous for, such as the Willis (Sears) Tower, the Cultural Centre and many more. The Loop is a vibrant area for eateries and theatres.

Alongside these, in a prime waterside location, there is Marina City towers in Chicago. The bottom 20 storeys of the twin towers of this iconic building consist of continuous spirals of parking and the top floors dedicated to apartments.

The iconic Marina City towers in Chicago, where the bottom 20 storey of the twin towers consist of continuous spirals of parking.
The iconic Marina City towers in Chicago, where the bottom 20 storey of the twin towers consist of continuous spirals of parking.

5 | Millennium Park

Millennium Park is in downtown Chicago and it is here where you will find the popular Chicago Bean sculpture, also known as “Cloud Gate”  by Sir Anish Kapoor . It is a huge park where you can run, picnic or just hangout.

6 | The Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago is home to more than 5000 years of human expression depicted in sculptures, photography and textiles representing cultures from around the world. This is definitely a “Must See” for any art or history enthusiast.

7 | The Navy Pier

The Navy Pier is a popular attraction. It has ferries wheel, carousel and lots of restaurants and beer gardens. Suitable for anyone – family with children, couples, singles, young and old.

8 | Chicago’s Deep Dish Pizza

One of my favourite pizza and I am sure many of you pizza lovers out there, is the Chicago-style “deep-dish” pizza. So, when in Chicago, head over to Pizzeria Uno where this pizza was invented in 1943.

Although the pizza is known as “deep-dish”, the crust itself is thin, but deep! Of course, mine was pepperoni.

To know more of Pizzeria Uno or to make a reservation, click on the link below:

https://www.pizzeriaunodue.com

9 | Dining in Chicago

Chicago is renowned for its world class cuisines, from steakhouses, Cantonese stir-fry and chicken pot pie. There are many diners and eateries around the City, from high-end dining to casual open-air experiences.

Chicago's dining experiences are unique and are all around the city - from steakhouses, Cantonese stir-fry and chicken pot pie. You just need to choose what you like.
Chicago’s dining experiences are unique and are all around the city – from steakhouses, Cantonese stir-fry and chicken pot pie. You just need to choose what you like.

10 | Fly into O’Hare Airport!

Although it is one of the busiest airports in the world, I would highly recommend that you fly into O’Hare at least once in your lifetime. Besides the crowd, the long queues at security, you will be rewarded with one of the most colourful sight.

The colours of the neon lights in the 744-foot tunnel that connects United Airline’s Concourse B and C is an amazingly beautiful experience and for some, it may transport you back to your late teen disco days. It is full of colour and is the longest neon sculpture in the world.

This piece of art is called “The Sky’s the Limit”, by Michael Hayden. If you are interested in knowing more about this artwork, click here.

Conclusion

Chicago has plenty more attractions than what I have listed here. It is a City to visit and experience because of its skyscrapers, world-class food and a fun nightlife. It has something for everyone.

Travel tips on Chicago

Airports – There are two airports here – O’Hare International and Midway. Both are easily accessible and connected to the city by the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority).

Local transport – the transport system here is good. Take the CTA line around the Loop and change where necessary to get to your destination or further out of Chicago. It’s good to familiarise yourself with the colours, for example it is the Blue Line from O’Hare International which will extend through the Loop.

Best time to visit: May – September/October.


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Is this post valuable to you in planning your visits to Chicago? If so please let me know in comments below or via Contact Form, I would love to hear from you.

Happy adventures! xx


I look forward to connecting with each of you.