The Smoky Mountains is the most-visited park in the U.S. and when you look at all it has to offer, it's no surprise why. This park is absolutely tremendous and is so expansive that it even holds a significant portion of the Appalachian Trail within it, bringing both thru-hikers and day hikers to its gorgeous trails. There's no shortage of routes to take to experience all this park has to offer whether it's a casual lake along the park's prettiest streams, or getting views from the surrounding summits of the treetops.
While many hikers do appreciate this park and all it has to offer, not many people know about its more lesser-known features. The things that aren't visible to the human eye or that aren't common knowledge are all part of what makes this park such an amazing experience and once you know all there is to know about it, it just feels that much more exciting when you have the chance to visit.
There's One Creature That Thrives Here More Than Anywhere Else In The U.S.
Most people might keep on the lookout for large creatures such as bears and mountain big cats but the animal we're talking about is much smaller than that. In fact, were it not for its tremendous numbers throughout this park, it's unlikely that anyone would ever see it, it's so small and quick!
The animal in question is the salamander and the Smoky Mountains have often been called the 'Salamander Captial of the World' because of this tiny guy. These mountains are home to 30 different kinds of salamander and it's estimated that on any day during the year, there will be more of these animals in the park than any other, including humans.
Some Of The Oldest Mountains In The World
While not the oldest, the Smoky Mountains are definitely up there. Scientists have estimated that the mountain range that lies between Tennessee and North Carolina is anywhere between 200 and 300 million years old, which makes it one of the oldest in the world. That also means it comes with a history and prior to the English settling in America, the land was once home to Native Americans, with the Cherokee making up a majority of the tribes who lived on the land.
This is partially where the name of the Smoky Mountains comes from, as they once called it 'Shaconage,' which means 'place of blue smoke.' The 'smoke' that hovers above the top of the mountains is actually a mist (or fog) that appears blue due to the scattering of light amongst the gases that rise up from the vegetation in the mountains. Being able to see it on a day when the entire range is covered with this mist is truly something spectacular.
The Atmosphere Is Always Chill... Literally
Normally, hiking in the summer and the early fall means dealing with temperatures that are less than desirable, especially in the south. However, this rule doesn't apply to the Smoky Mountains as the mountain summits rarely breach a temperature of 80-degrees Fahrenheit, if they reach anywhere close to that at all.
The reason for this is the elevation range in the park, and a total of 16 mountain peaks are higher than 6,000 feet, which alters the temperature from the base of the mountain to the top drastically.
Streams, Hiking Trails, And Lakes, Oh My!
Most people know that the Smoky Mountains cover a large area but not many know that area consists of 522,427 acres of land. With that being said, about 70 miles of this is the Appalachian Trail with the rest of the park being home to more than 800 miles of regular hiking trails.
Around the year, these trails are open for people to explore all the mountains have to offer, including roughly 2,900 miles of streams, which are open for fishing. And if you're not keen on trout, they're also just serene places to laze the day away or bring a packed lunch (remember - carry in, carry out!).
The Park Has Its (Historic) Secrets
A total of 90 buildings and structures can be found throughout the park which is quite a lot considering how few parks have anything buildings remaining from eras as far back as the Smoky Mountains do.
Churches, barns, houses, grist mills, and schools can be found on the park's grounds, each of which has been meticulously rehabilitated by the park. Those interested should stick to either the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail or Cades Cove.