Happy Birthday, Smoky Mountain National Park!
On June 15, Smoky Mountain National Park celebrated its 87th birthday. In honor of my "home" national park's big day, I thought I'd share some basic fun facts about it!
1. Smoky Mountain National Park was established on June 15, 1934...
but it was originally approved back in 1926! The park's opening was delayed by several years because of difficulties raising money to purchase the land that the park would sit on. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. contributed $5 million for the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which certainly helped progress the creation of the park.
2. Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited national park in the United States
If you thought that the Grand Canyon or Yosemite would be the most visited national park, think again! When it comes to visitation numbers, Smoky Mountain National Park surpasses all other national parks. In 2020, the park saw approximately 12.1 million visitors- and it was closed for more than 40 days due to COVID-19! The all-time record for visitors was set in 2019, when the park saw 12.5 million visitors in a single year.
3. Park entrance is FREE!
It is unusual for a national park to have (and maintain!) free admission. It is guaranteed in the Smokies, however, because the deed for part of the park's land states that there is not to be an entry fee. The park is free to anyone who wants to enjoy its tremendous natural beauty!
4. Black bears are the unofficial park mascot
Many animals call the Smokies home, but the most popular animal in the park is debatably the black bear. An estimated 1500 black bears call the national park home- that means there's roughly 2 bears per square mile! It's no wonder that, driving through Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, you'll notice all sorts of representations of bears. Statues, art work, and sweatshirts all depict the iconic creatures.
Visitors love spotting black bears in the wild. If you want to increase your odds of spotting one, check out my guide to seeing bears in the Smokies!
5. Smoky Mountain National Park is the salamander capital of the world
The Smokies are home to 30 species of salamanders, giving them the official title of "Salamander Capital of the World." On any given day, the salamanders in the park out number all other animals present (including humans)! Check out the national park service's page on salamanders and other amphibians for more information on Smoky Mountain salamanders!
6. The wildlife is incredibly diverse
Beyond the bears and salamanders, there are tons of plants and animals present in the park. More than 10,000 species of plants and animals have been identified so far, with the possibility of there being another 90,000 undocumented species.
Wildlife includes elk, rabbits, red wolves, groundhogs, red foxes, gray foxes, coyotes, bobcats, otters, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and wild boar. There are over 100 species of trees within the park, and there are at least 1500 species of wildflowers.
7. The Smokies boast over 800 miles of trails
If you wanted to hike all of the Smokies, it would take you quite a while! There are approximately 850 miles of trails and unpaved roads that visitors can use to hike. This includes 70 miles of the Appalachian trail!
The park itself is 522,419 acres, and includes 2115 miles of streams, 12 waterfalls, and sixteen mountains that surpass 6000 feet in height.
8. 2/3 of the U.S. population lives within a day's drive of Smoky Mountain National Park
It is easy to get to the Smokies! 2/3 of people living in the United States live less than 24 hours from the national park, making it a lot more accessible than other national parks.
There is so much to explore in the Smokies! If you haven't visited yet, then you absolutely must come see what you've been missing!