The Smoky Mountain Park, or more formally called The Great Smoky Mountain Park, encompasses 800 square miles with half each in Tennessee and North Carolina. The large park contains the Appalachian Mountains with 16 mountain peaks exceeding 6,000 feet and 2,115 miles of streams. Seventy-eight historic structures such as schools, churches and houses dot the park. Around 8 million to 10 million people visit each year.
More than 800 miles of hiking trails in the park offer different levels of difficulty. Seventy of the 800 miles belong to the historic East Coast Appalachian Trail. The variations in season equal differences in trail conditions and scenery, so hiking a trail a second or third time changes the experience. More than 100 species of trees thrive in the park and most of them change leaf color in the fall. As the leaves fall, remnants of the past, such as portions of buildings, appear. The park recommends no more than a five-mile hike for beginners and advises them to plan to be back by dark.
The abundance of waterfalls in the park stems from the combination of elevation variations and an average rainfall of 85 inches per year. Nearly every river or stream in the park has a waterfall, with some more spectacular than others. A few of the waterfalls such as Meigs Falls and Place of a Thousand Drips can be accessed by car. The majority requires a hike of varying lengths.
The 100-foot Ramsey Cascades is a four-mile trek in and out for a total of eight miles with a 2,000-foot rise in elevation. For beginner hikers, the Indian Creek and Toms Branch Falls hike is under a two-mile roundtrip to view both waterfalls.
Smoky Mountain Park offers plenty of opportunities to view the 66 mammalian species, 200 bird species and 50 native fish species. More than 80 species of reptiles and amphibians live in the park.
According to the National Park Service, "Open areas like Cataloochee and Cades Cove offer some of the best opportunities to see white-tailed deer, black bear, raccoon, turkeys, woodchucks and other animals." The American Black Bear is a famous resident and estimates place 1,500 black bears in the park. The best time to view wildlife is early morning or late evening.
More than 100 camping sites exist out in the back country, some with shelters. These sites get 77,000 overnight visits per year and require reservations. The 10 tamer campgrounds in the park possess 1,000 sites, which receive 350,000 visits per year. Each of the campsites has a fire grate and a picnic table. Restroom facilities do not have showers. These campgrounds do not need reservations.