GSMNP is a fantastic destination for hiking. There are 150 official trails within the park that provide over 800 miles of hiking opportunities. The Appalachian Trail also traverses the park.
We spent four days at the park. The mornings tended to be cloudy and foggy in the hollows and valleys so we auto toured in the mornings (after finding coffee) and hiked in the afternoon.
Hikes at GSMNP range from short and easy to full on backcountry. There are many connector trails allowing hikers to elongate or shorten hikes, or to create loop hikes.
Because of the park’s topography, there are a multitude of creeks, streams, and rivers which make for many water crossings and provide the sound of rushing water as an accompaniment to the beautiful scenery. Additionally, waterfalls abound (especially in spring) providing hikers with plenty of ooh and ahh moments.
GSMNP provides plentiful opportunities to take in vistas and view wildlife while touring the park by auto. There are a number of designated tour loops and routes throughout the park. There are almost 400 miles of paved and gravel roads suitable for ordinary passenger vehicles. There are also a number of primitive roads for those equipped with 4wd vehicles with high clearance.
GSMNP opened in 1940 about six years after being chartered by Congress. Much of the land within the park was previously privately owned. Many of the advocates for the park were attempting to stop the massive clear cutting by timber companies that was destroying the forest, and believed a national park was the best way to acquire and protect such a large tract of land (523,000 acres).
Of course, in addition to the land owned by the timber companies, there were a number of small communities located within the proposed boundaries. Most of the residents were farmers.
Over a period of years the residents were forced off of their properties and the communities ceased to exist. Amazingly, many of the homes and other structures were not destroyed when the famlies relocated outside of the park.
When we toured Mammoth Cave NP during OTR 7.0 we found the more typical situation – all the building and structures had been razed (except several churches and cemetaries) in order to erase the evidence of the communities and restore the land to its state prior to the creation of the park. We thought that practice was disrespectful and, fortunately, that was not the case at GSMNP.
We will skip the discussion of the displacement of the Cherokee Indians as we all know that story. Today, the Eastern Cherokees reside in a reservation just south of the park’s border in Cherokee, North Carolina.
There are over 80 structures still standing and maintained by the park service. The structures include, cabins, schoolhouses, barns, churches and a grist mill.
Pictured above and below is a replica of the original cantilever barn that was part of the homestead of William ”Fighting Billy” Tipton. The homestead still boasts the original two story cabin, blacksmith shop and corn cribs.
The origins of the cantilever barn are unknown but they are prevalent in this part of Tennessee. Historians generally agree that this type of barn was favored because it provided cover for the livestock from Tennessee’s abundant rainfall.
We enjoyed our first visit to GSMNP and definitely recommend the park if you are hikers. Our caveats would be to avoid peak season – from talking with local folks, we understand that the roads into and within the park are jammed in high season. GSMNP recorded over 14 million visitors last year.
Also, we did drive through Gaitlinberg to find coffee – as a result we highly recommend entering the park through Townsend as we did. Gaitlinberg is crowded and uber touristy; it is the antithesis of the park. In our opinion there is no reason to visit Gaitlinberg unless you just cannot get enough of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museums!
Be seeing you.