Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Facts about The Great Smoky Mountain National Park ( GSMNP )

Formed roughly 200-300 million years ago, the Great Smoky Mountains are among the oldest mountains in the world. Today, the park bearing the name of these mountains encompasses more than 541,000 acres (more than 800 + square miles). Just over half of this landmass lies within the state of North Carolina, with the rest in Tennessee.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park receives more than 9.5 million visitors a year, making it the most visited national park in the country. The Grand Canyon, the second most visited national park, receives roughly 4.4 million visitors per year!

June, July, August and October are the most popular months for visitors. The park sees more than a million visitors during each of these months.
Although the Smokies may seem overcrowded with these kinds of numbers, it's still easy to escape civilization. The park boasts more than 800 miles of trails, including roughly 74.5 miles of the Appalachian Trail which runs along the crest of the Smokies. Yes, there are a few trails with extreme crowds during the summer, but these are usually the shorter trails near Gatlinburg, Cades Cove or along Newfound Gap Road. Go to the more remote sections of the park, or take a longer trail, and you're likely to find virtual solitude.

Hikers will find that trails in the Smokies offer a great amount of diversity. For one, elevation in the park ranges from 840 feet at the mouth of Abrams Creek on the western edge of the park, to 6643 feet at the summit of Clingmans Dome. There are also more than 2100 miles of streams in the park, making for numerous fishing opportunities, picnic spots, or even a swimming hole during a hot summer afternoon.

The Smokies are home to more than 1600 species of flowering plants. During the spring, wildflowers explode during the brief window prior to trees leafing out and shading the forest floor (from about mid-April thru mid-May). During the early summer period (from about mid-June to mid-July), awesome displays of mountain laurel, rhododendron, flame azalea, and other heath family shrub flowers can be enjoyed, especially on the higher elevation balds. For Catawba rhododendron, take the relatively short hike to Andrews Bald. Although somewhat of a long trek, hikers going to Gregory Bald will be amply rewarded by the exceptional displays of flame azalea at the summit. Finally, Spence Field is by far the best place for mountain laurel.
There are 66 species of mammals, including black bears, elk, fox, bobcats, coyotes, and river otter that live within the park borders. Based on a study conducted in 2006, biologists estimate that approximately 1,500 black bears live in the park, a density of approximately two bears per square mile. This National Park link will provide you with a better understanding of bear behavior and what to do if you see one on the trail.
Additionally, there are over 245 varieties of birds, 83 native fish species, and more than 80 types of reptiles and amphibians (data is from the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory).

Other key facts about Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
* Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established in 1934.

* The Great Smoky Mountains is one of the only major national parks that doesn't charge an entrance fee.
* There are three visitors centers located within the park: Sugarlands (Gatlinburg), Cades Cove, and Oconaluftee (Cherokee, NC).
* There are 10 campgrounds with a total of 1000 sites within the park boundaries. Additionally, there are more than 100 backcountry campsites, including shelters.

* The park maintains 78 historic structures located in five historic districts.

* The park was designated as an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations on October 26, 1976. It was also designated a World Heritage Site on December 6, 1983.

* In the Smokies, the average annual rainfall varies from approximately 55 inches in the valleys, to over 85 inches on some peaks, more than anywhere else in the country except the Pacific Northwest. During the wettest years, over eight feet of rain can fall in the high country.

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