The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located in the Swain and Haywood counties of North Carolina and the Cocke, Sevier and Blount counties of Tennessee, United States. Its total land area is 522,419 acres which makes it among the largest protected areas of the eastern US as well as the country’s most visited natural park. The park boasts over sixteen mountains with elevations of higher than 6,000 feet. Spectacular rivers, magnificent waterfalls, enchanting forests and exciting hiking trails are all part of the park’s numerous attractions. It experiences abundant rainfall throughout the year with most of its areas having a humid continental climate. Its other areas have humid subtropical climates, especially in the lowlands.
Tens of millions of guests visited the park in 2010, with 9 million tourists from all over the world and 11 million non-recreational guests. The majority of the park's tourist attractions can be appreciated within the convenience of the guests’ vehicles and from programs and amenities offered by the park. The Asheville Regional Airport in North Carolina is roughly 60 miles east of the Cherokee park entrance while the McGhee-Tyson Airport is about 45 miles west of the Gatlinburg park entrance. Public transport is not available from major cities near the park although there are commercial operators that can be hired in Asheville, NC and Knoxville, TN. The park has three main entrances – the Cherokee, NC entrance, the Townsend, TN entrance and the Gatlinburg, TN entrance.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open the whole year round except on Christmas Day. Guests are advised to start their tour of the park by visiting the Sugarland Visitor Center or Oconaluftee Visitor Center where books, maps and souvenirs can be found along with interesting exhibits on the history, wildlife and geology of the entire facility. There is no entrance fee to the park so anyone with an adventurous spirit can go there. Amphitheaters, camping sites, horseback riding stables, rugged hiking trails and auto tours are offered in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park along with nature exploration activities like fishing, wildlife viewing, night walking, guided hiking and a variety of workshops and classes.
Nearly 10,000 species of animals and plants can be found thriving in the park along with more than 90,000 undocumented species. This abundance is attributed to the park’s different elevations and numerous old-growth forests. 65 mammal species, 67 native fish species, 80 reptiles and amphibians and 200 bird types are protected in the area as well, with the American Black Bear as its most famous inhabitant. Examples of animals that await the park’s tourists are the white tailed deer, chipmunk, squirrel, bat, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Common Raven and Canada Warbler. Additionally, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been called the “Salamander Capital of the World” where 30 species of the animals can be found.
Air and water pollution, invasion of devastating non-native species and destructive human activities remain as significant threats to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Additionally, the park’s more than 20 million annual visitors greatly affect its ecosystem thereby pushing scientists and park rangers to monitor them closely in an effort to preserve the park’s natural resources.