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

Nestled on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a natural treasure and haven for national park lovers. It was the most visited national park in the world last year, with 12 million visitors. Ethereal mists and dramatic landscapes call to all who go there, and visitors uncover historical landmarks and magical wildlife.  

Let’s embark on a journey to the heart of what this park offers and discover why it captures the hearts of millions of nature lovers every year. 

5. It’s Free Because It Has to Be

Image by Dean Fikar

Unlike many other national parks that charge an entrance fee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is free to enter. Most national parks in the U.S. cost somewhere between $20 and $35 for just a day pass, so perhaps its accessibility is one reason for the park’s popularity. The park isn’t just being generous by making entry free—it’s actually a law. When Tennessee gave up ownership of the roads leading to the park in 1951, the deed restricted tolls on those roads, so that meant no park entry fee could be charged. In 1994, federal law prevented entry fees on toll-free roads, so it’s literally illegal for the park to have an entry free. However, they do charge for parking, so be prepared to pay for your spot.

4. There’s a Hotspot—Not for Wi-fi But for Biodiversity

Image by Darrell Guilin

The park is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a designated International Biosphere Reserve due to its exceptional biodiversity. It’s home to over 17,000 documented species, including a variety of plants, animals, and insects. Researchers believe an additional 30,000-80,000 species live in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park includes the largest remnant of the diverse Arcto-Tertiary geoflora era left in the world.

3. It Has a Ghost Town

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When the land surrounding the town of Elkmont was acquired by the National Park Service and designated a national park in 1934, residents were given the option to stay. When their leases ran out and residents left, the park didn’t know what to do with the more than 70 buildings left behind, and Elkmont slowly became a ghost town. Many buildings were left alone, and visitors can still explore 19 historic buildings preserved for public visitation.

2. There Are Magical Synchronous Fireflies

Image by Hoaxiang Yang

At the end of May and start of June, tens of thousands of fireflies dance around Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The fireflies move in chorus as part of their mating ritual, blinking and moving together as one. Crowds flock to view this natural phenomenon—a sort of choreographed dance of fireflies. This light show requires a special lottery to be able to view, and over 20,000 people enter it each year. Only 120 vehicle passes are issued each night, so viewing this mesmerizing display is truly a rare treat.

1. It’s Actually a Rainforest

Image by Howard Grill

The Great Smoky Mountains may not be near Florida or the Amazon, but it is considered a temperate rainforest. The high rainfall, high humidity, and lush forests of the Great Smoky Mountains collide to create a playground for ecologists. Averaging over 60 inches of rainfall each year and an average temperature of 45 degrees Fahrenheit, the cool air, humidity, and high altitude cause volatile organic compounds to be released, creating the foggy or “smoky” appearance that the Great Smoky Mountains are famous for.

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  1. Last year they found a way to make it not free. They charge for parking passes. If you park for longer than 15 minutes you require a pass. $40 for a yearly pass. There are daily and weekly passes available. It really was needed to hire more people to clean up after all the slobs who disrespect our park.

  2. There are also two species of scorpions in the Smokies….as I found out while staying in a cabin. There was one on my bedroom floor 😳

  3. The park isn’t free. We just went there and there is a daily or weekly park pass you have to buy.

  4. The Vanderbilt family of Asheville donated 80,000 acres in the Pisgah forest, starting the National Park, and an additional 420,000 access were added later.

  5. I live in East Tennessee and have not heard anything about having to buy parking pass. Was just up there a week ago and didn’t see anything about a daily pass. A lot of places you just pull off and park beside the road.
    We love all visitors to come and enjoy what’s in our backyard.

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