bears in the smoky mountains

11 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Great Smoky Mountains National Park

With roughly 10 million visitors coming to its over half-million acres in two states, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is well-known to many travelers. But there are probably a few facts that even the most ardent park visitors may not have been aware of.

Check out these Great Smoky Mountains facts that just might surprise you about the country’s most popular National Park destination.

Fall Colors View from Chimney Tops Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, USA

The Smoky Mountains were originally called the Great Iron Mountains…

… and the Cherokee called the area “Land of the Blue Smoke”. The smokiness is a fog created by the plants that are native to the mountains.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park in the United States…

…with approximately 60,000 unique visitors every weekend during the peak season. The Smoky Mountains are a day’s drive from 60% of the nation, making it a popular vacation destination.

There is no fee to enter GSMNP…

… and it was the first national park to be partially federally funded.

black bear in smoky mountains

About 1,500 black bears (two per square mile) reside within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park boundaries.

This species of bear lives all over the park, but you can find them mostly in the Cataloochee Valley and the Cades Cove areas. Black bears in the Smokies are actually that color, while in the other parts of the country, they are different shades of brown.

They are smaller in size and not as humpbacked as grizzlies or browns. These magnificent creatures live about 12 to 15 years and average in size from 100 to 250 lbs., but some have been estimated at 600 lbs.

The Park has more than 240 species of birds.

If you’re a birder of any kind, you’ve come to the right place. With a great diversity in microclimates, vegetation, and elevations, a stunning variety of aviary species are in the Park at one time or another.

About five dozen remain all year in the Smokies, while twice as many breed in the area. You will probably hear more birds than see them, due to the thickness of the forest, so try to learn their songs, especially during breeding season.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the salamander capital of the world.

Probably because of its humid and misty climate, salamanders thrive here. About 30 species of them can be found in the park boundaries, with 24 of those are classified as “lungless”. They breathe through the blood vessels in their skin and mouth and throat linings.

Often mistaken for lizards, salamanders are amphibians, with moist scale-less skin. If you’re in the upper elevations above 3,000, look for the ruby-colored black-chinned red salamander.

Primitive Buildings Smoky Mountains

Nearly 100 log structures have been preserved throughout GSMNP.

Because the park was once owned by homesteaders as late as the 1930s, you will find many historic buildings constructed from the trees in the forest. Most of these former residences, businesses, barns, churches, and other types of structures look almost as if people still use and occupy them.

They can primarily be found in Cades Cove, the Cataloochee and Oconaluftee Valleys, and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Not all of the historic buildings in Cades Cove are native – some of them have been relocated.

There are 19 species of fireflies in the national park – including Synchronous Fireflies.

One of the great events of the Smokies in June is the Synchronous Fireflies – the only species in America that can synchronize their flashing lights. But did you know that there are 19 species of fireflies in the park?

Horses can travel on 550 miles of hiking trails.

Horse riders will love the nearly endless possibilities to take their four-legged companions out on some of the Park’s hiking trails.

Be sure that you have a map of the designated routes you can take your horse on and follow all rules about riding in the backcountry. You can obtain these maps at the visitors’ center, or download them from the site.

Horseback Riding in the Smoky Mountains

The Smokies are some of the oldest mountains in the world.

The National Park estimates the Smoky Mountains to be from the Proterozoic Era. With time and erosion, they’re not quite as tall as the Rockies or the Himalayas, but they are certainly more blessed with a varied ecosystem and more flora and fauna for you to enjoy.

The Smoky Mountains are home to more native trees than all of Europe…

… and a third of the trees in the Park are over 100 years old!

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