The Great Smoky Mountains were the first stop on our Carolinas Road Trip. PQ had a workshop in North Carolina so I flew out with him to make a vacation of it after his talk. We saw the Great Smokies, Congaree National Park, and ended the trip by watching a Duke basketball game in Cameron Indoor. It was a great trip!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Location: On the North Carolina-Tennessee border
Size: 522,419 acres (map)
Visited: November 2016
Type of visit: Driving, Day trip
Our visit was about two weeks after “prime leaf color-changing” season, which meant the park was rather empty. We could tell the leaves were just a bit less vibrant, but it was still crisp and gorgeous.
We got to the park early in the morning and jogged along a river. Then, we drove towards the center of the park and stopped many times to take in the picturesque Smoky Mountains. PQ was recovering from a minor foot injury and we had another park to go to the next day so we tried to take it easy. We still made it to Clingman’s Dome, which was great because along the way, Phil ran into a couple from his Iowa hometown! What a small world.
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited park in the nation.
In 2017, more than 11 million people visited the Great Smokies, which is almost more than double the number of visitors than visited the second most popular park (Grand Canyon). This park might be the most popular because of the variety it offers, but most likely it’s because it’s free and is the largest park on the east coast, within driving distance of many large cities (e.g., Chicago, Atlanta, and DC).
2. The “smoke” is (mostly) VOCs.
The trees, bushes, and plants emit Volatile Organic Compounds. VOCs are a harmless chemical with a high vapor pressure, meaning they form vapors at room temperature. The blueish tint in the park is simply because the specific VOCs emitted by the pine trees scatter blue light.
3. The highest peak in the park is Clingman’s Dome (6,643 ft.)
Clingman’s Dome is a popular place for amateur radio hobbyists (HAM radio). While there, we struck up conversation with two guys who had a large antennae set up. They once made contact with someone in Africa!
4. There are more than 800 miles of trails.
Including part of the Appalachian Trail!
5. The nearby Blue Ridge Parkway is one of America’s most scenic routes.
I slept through this drive, which was at the very end of our day. However, it was gorgeous at sunset and I would love to drive all 470 miles of it someday!