The Great Smoky Mountains, the majestic climax of the Appalachian Highlands, are a wildlands sanctuary preserving the world’s finest examples of temperate deciduous forest. The name Smokycomes from the smoke like haze enveloping the mountains, which stretch in sweeping troughs and mighty billows to the horizon. The park boasts unspoiled forests similar to those early pioneers found. Restored log cabins and barns stand as reminders of those who carved a living from this wilderness. Fertile soils and abundant rain have encouraged the development of a world-renowned variety of flora, including more than 1,500 kinds of flowering plants. In the coves, broadleaf trees predominate. Along the crest — at more than 6,000 feet elevations — are conifer forests like those of central Canada. Wildflowers and migrating birds abound in late April and early May. During June and July rhododendrons bloom in spectacular profusion. Autumn’s pageantry of color usually peaks in mid-October. For many, this is the finest time of year, with cool, clear days ideal for hiking. In winter, an unpredictable season, a peace pervades the park. Fog rolling over the mountains may blanket the conifers in frost.
A scenic, high mountain road wind up through Newfound Gap, with a spur out to Clingmans Dome and its observation tower. Along the road are superb views, and those from the tower are truly panoramic. But roads offer only an introduction to the Smokies. Some 800 miles of trails thread the whole of the Smokies’ natural fabric — and its waterfalls, coves, balds and rushing streams. Each trail invites you into the intimacy and richness of these highlands. The Smokies, a wild landscape rich with traces of its human past, calls people back year after year.
The park is a delightful mix of forest wildlands and outdoor museum of pioneer life. Try to experience both aspects, by hiking and by visiting its restored structures.
From mid-June through August evening programs and nature walks are offered at most developed campgrounds. Spring and fall activities are limited. Check schedules at a visitor center or ranger station.
Horse and foot trails wind along streams and through forests into the wild stillness of the Smokies. For “do-it-yourself” naturalists there are short, self-guiding nature trails. Pick up a leaflet at the start of each trail. A backcountry use permit, required for all overnight hiking parties, can be obtained free at ranger stations or visitor centers (except Cades Cove Visitor Center). Overnight use of some shelters and backcountry campsites is rationed.
There are 10 developed campgrounds in the park; fees are charged at each. Reservations are recommended at Cades Cove, Elkmont and Smokemont from May 15 to October 31: they can be made by calling 1-800-365-CAMP. Campgrounds have tent sites, limited trailer space, water, fireplaces, tables and restrooms. No shelters are provided. There are no showers or hookups for trailers. The camping limit is 7 days between May 15 and October 31, 14 days between November 1 and May 14. Sewage disposal stations are located at Smokemont, Cades Cove, deep Creek and Cosby campground, and across the road from Sugarlands Visitor Center. They are not available for use in the winter.
Many park streams provide fishing for rainbow and brown trout all year long. Tennessee or North Carolina fishing licenses are required, but not trout stamps. Check park regulations at a ranger station or visitor center before you fish. Possession of any brook trout is prohibited.
Most neighboring towns have gasoline, food, lodging, showers and camping supplies. Many private campgrounds operate outside the park. LeConte Lodge, accessible only by trail, offers accommodations in the park from mid-March to mid-November. Allow a half day for hiking up a mountain trail to reach this secluded retreat. Reservations are necessary; call or write LeConte Lodge, Gatlinburg, TN 37738. Saddle horses are available from about April 1 to October 31 at Cades Cove, Smokemont, Cosby, near Greenbrier on U. S. 321 and near park headquarters.
Bears are wild and potentially dangerous. If one approaches your car, stay inside with the windows closed. Feeding bears and other wildlife encourages the animals to behave unnaturally and violates regulations.
The park is managed as a natural and wild environment. Motorists must drive defensively. Hikers must meet nature on its own terms. If you hike alone, let someone know your plans and schedule and have proper clothing and gear. In winter, gear and clothing should be suitable for survival in deep snow and extreme cold not characteristic of the mid-south. To prevent accidents please stay on trails, stay off cliff faces, be careful around water and watch and control children. Pets, permitted in the park if on a leash or under other constant physical control, are prohibited on trails or cross-country hikes.
ABOUT CADES COVE NEAR TOWNSEND, TENNESSEE:
A little over two hundred years ago the Smoky Mountain area wasn’t a destination for very many people. The Smokies were a rugged threatening place and best avoided during journeys. The wildlife including bears, mountain lions and snakes were to be feared as much as the terrain. Crossing the mountains was no easy chore. Areas around the Smokies were settled easily enough, but a few hardy souls delved into this wilderness to make a home. What kind of person would risk life and limb to live in this hellacious country?
These were the Highlanders of Appalachia. God fearing people who were unique. Unique in that they chose to live in the wilds of the Smokies. Like other Christian folk, they built Churches and their belief in the Bible was the source of their strength in such a challenging environment. In particular, the Cades Cove settlement provides proof of the abilities and determination of this Early American Scotch-Irish culture.
Today one of the only hand-me-downs available left by these early settlers is Bluegrass Music. Bluegrass music and “fiddlin’ musicians” were the entertainers and some of the only good times in the memories of the early settlers. It was music from their familiar homeland where they had fond memories and long lost relatives.
There are descendants living today in the Smoky Mountain area who keep alive the skills and crafts handed down by these Scotch-Irish ancestors. Some play the Bluegrass style music and others build the ancient musical instruments. The dulcimer, fiddle, banjo and mandolin are a few of the names of the instruments still hand-crafted in this region.
The Museum of Appalachia located in Norris, Tennessee, preserves the heritage and keeps alive the spirit of the old way. A visit to this magnificent display is well worth it. The owner has spent most of his life traveling around Appalachia and collecting treasures sometimes considered trash by the previous owners. A wealth of information is available to the visitor as well as live musicians performing the music handed down by the Smoky Mountain early white settlers. Situated on about 60 acres the Museum will take you back and make you wonder what it was like to live in the old days. It is definitely an eye opening experience and fun for the whole family.
Cades Cove located on the west side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Townsend, Tennessee, displays the actual living environment of the era. The photos on the left accompanying the article were taken at Cades Cove. The village is almost authentic and takes about a day to absorb thoroughly. Don’t forget your camera when you visit either of these places and explore the culture of the past that has shaped our future.