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The Great Smoky Mountains National Park celebrated its 75th Anniversary in 2009. Over 9 million people visit the park each year, making it the most visited park in the United States. There are 78 historic buildings in the Park, which is open year round. Spanning the borders of North Carolina and Tennessee, the Park is a popular destination for hikers. The Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
People have lived in the area which makes up the park since prehistoric times. By the late 1700s, white settlers found the area inhabited by Cherokee Indians. The Cherokee were forcibly removed from the area in the 1830s. The park was created when the land was purchased from money raised by individuals, private groups, school children and from trust funds. Over 1,200 land owners had to leave the Park when it was purchased. Elk once roamed free in the Smokies but were over-hunted in the 1800s. In 2001 a program started to re-introduce elk and other animals and birds to the Park.
On high peaks, up to 2,500 mm of rain can fall in a year. The average rainfall over a year is around 1,400 mm. In winter, snow blocks a number of the roads which are closed for the season. The summer season brings heat, haze and humidity with temperatures in the 30-35 °C range during the day, dropping to around 15-20 °C at night.
The peak season for visitors is mid June to mid August and all of October. At these times, the Park can be crowded in places.
There are three visitor centres, at Cades Cove, Oconaluftee and Sugarlands. Free maps of the park are available and the centres are open daily. Each centre has an exhibition area, public telephones and restrooms.
The park is home to 1,500 black bears who can often been seen in open areas such as Catalooche Valley and Cades Cove. Deer, wild turkeys and foxes are found at Cades Cove. Over 10,000 species have been identified as living in the Park, with the expectation that another 90,000 remain to be found.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Access to some roads will be restricted by weather conditions and in the winter.
Entry to the Park is free.
There are activity fees, including $14-23 per night for a camping permit.
There are over 380 miles (600 kilometres) of roads in the Park. Most roads are paved, but there are a number which are gravel. Roads tend to be narrow and there is a 35mph (55 kilometres) speed limit in place, sometimes less. Road conditions change quickly with the weather, which can sometimes close certain roads for a short period. Some roads are closed in the winter and others require snow chains or four wheel drive vehicles. There are no gas stations inside the park, the nearest being in Cherokee, Gatlinburg and Townsend.
There are no trains within easy reach of the Park.
There are three main road entrances to the Park.
Cherokee, North Carolina entrance
Gatlinburg, Tennessee entrance
From Interstate I-40, take exit 407 to SN-66 signposted Sevierville. Continue to US-441 south through Sevierville and Pigeon Forge to the park.
Townsend, Tennessee entrance
The park is not served by public transport. There are several commercial services from Knoxville TN and Ashville NC which serve the park.
McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) in Tennessee close to Knoxville is around 45 miles (70 kilometres) from the Gatlinburg entrance. Ashville Regional Airport (AVL) is around 60 miles (100 kilometres) to the east of the Gatlinburg entrance.
Limited food and drinks are available in the park. The Cades Cove Campground Store has a snack bar which serves hot and cold food. There are vending machines at the three visitor centres and at the Elkmont Campground and the Smokeridge Riding Centre. There are limited camping supplies and groceries at some of these locations.
There are no hotels or motels in the park. There is a lodge site with cabins. It is only approachable by foot/hiking in. Reservations required. fee
There are ten separate developed campgrounds in the park designed for trailers and motorhomes. The campgrounds at Cades Cove and Smokemount are open year round, with the other having different seasons.
Hikers and backpackers can camp can choose from a campground, an approved shelter or finding a place on the trail. Any form of camping requires a permit purchased in advance of setting up camp. There are significant fines imposed for camping without a valid permit.
These small camps are available for up to six people and four horses. There are eight locations and advance booking is essential.
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