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Something for Everyone

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Most people come to the Great Smokies for the mountains, but they return for other reasons. Unlike many parks and destinations that have one sight to see or one main story to tell, the Great Smoky Mountains are vast, rich, and complex. GSMNP encompasses more than 800 square miles of mountains, valleys, and rushing streams. It is the largest terrestrial national park in the East and contains many of the highest summits and ridges east of the Black Hills.

There is such a “wondrous diversity of life” in the Smokies that no one knows exactly how many different types of plants and animals live here, but scientists estimate figures upwards of 50,000. There are 100 species of native trees, 65 different mammals, 30 species of salamanders, 76 fish, and over 240 different birds. Over 1,500 kinds of flowering plants have been recorded here. The Smokies are a sanctuary for such magnificent animals as black bear, elk, white-tailed deer, bobcat, great blue heron, red-tailed hawk, and wild turkey. Some species, such as the red-cheeked salamander, are found nowhere else on earth.

In terms of history, the Smokies are equally intriguing. Roaming bands of hunters and gatherers passed through the Smokies more than 12,000 years ago. This was part of the homeland of the Cherokee who nurtured complex systems of agriculture, government, and trade during their more than 1,000 years of habitation. When Euro-American settlers pressed into the mountains in the late 1700s, they had the opportunity to build a new life, wrestling from the forest farms, homes, and communities like no others. Remnants of this past, preserved by the National Park Service, include the largest collection of historic log buildings in the East.

Established in 1934, mostly from privately-owned lands, Great Smoky Mountains has since become the most-visited national park in the nation. Some 10 million visits are recorded in the Smokies each year, bringing more than $800 million in economic activity to the area.

An endless array of recreational activities are available in the park, from fishing for wild native brook trout to hiking one of the Smokies 150 challenging trails. Other opportunities include wildlife watching, wildflower photography, exploring historic buildings, horseback riding, and bicycling.

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