Straddling the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most popular park in the U.S. In 2010, 9.4 million visitors enjoyed the beautiful scenery and abundant activities offered by this park. It is unique among the largest and most popular national parks in that there is no entrance fee charged.
Among the activities offered in the park are bicycling, fishing, hiking, and horseback riding. Ten developed campgrounds provide 1,000 sites for overnight stays. Reservations are available at the four largest campgrounds and are required for Cataloochee Campground due to its remote location. RV length restrictions vary by campground, as do opening and closing dates every year. There are no hookups for RVs, but there are six dump stations in the park.
Backpackers have a choice of 100 overnight campsites including several shelters. Advance reservations are required for all shelters and selected campsites, and all backpackers are required to carry permits, which are available at 15 locations within the park.
Among the park's natural attractions is Clingmans Dome. At 6,643 feet, this is the highest point in the park and in Tennessee. A ½-mile trail leads to the summit from the parking lot at the end of the road up the mountain. At the summit, an observation tower offers 360-degree views of the surrounding terrain. Visitors might see as far as 100 miles when the air is clear, but 20 miles is more often the limit of visibility.
Cades Cove is a broad valley that is the best area in the park to spot wildlife. This valley was settled by early immigrants and had a population of 271 in 1830. Today, many historic buildings are still preserved in the cove and can be seen along the 11-mile one-way loop road.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has the perfect combination of terrain and rainfall to create waterfalls, and 10 of them are accessible by hike-in trails of varying length and difficulty. Two additional waterfalls, Meigs Falls and Place of a Thousand Drips, are more easily visited from roadside stops.
The park is open all year, although some areas are closed during the winter. Crowds can be a problem in some locations from June 15 to August 15 and during October, when the leaves are changing color. However, many quiet secluded spots are relatively unknown and allow visitors a chance to explore without the crowds.