Straddling the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to an astounding abundance of plant and animal life and is a good place to go to get away from humans. The 800 square miles of the park are inhabited by an estimated:
- 1500 species of flowering plants
- 130 species of trees
- 50 species of ferns
- 330 species of mosses and liverworts
- 230 species of lichens
- 1800 species of fungi
- 50 species of mammals
- 200 species of birds
- 80 species of reptiles and amphibians
- 70 species of fish
- 25 species of salamanders.
More people visit the Smoky Mountains each year than any other National Park in the US, yet few ever venture farther than one half mile from their car. The seasoned hiker will take to the trails, and in so doing, experience a small fraction of the marvellous diversity of fauna and flora that reside in Smoky Mountains. The well-travelled Appalachian Trail follows the crest of the range for some 60 miles, through hardwood forests, across open grassy summits, and through dark spruce-fir forests. The spectacular vistas along this trail make it a popular destination for hikers of all kinds. Those seeking more solitude can easily escape the crowds by hiking for an hour or two on one of the less popular trails.
By day the high country can offer up spectacular views of distant mountain ranges, or envelop one in cool, dense clouds, directing one's attention to the plants and animals along the trail. The weather can give you a nasty sunburn, soak you to the bone with cold mists and torrential rains, bombard you with lightning and hail, or all of the above.
By night you must carry a permit and all camping is by permit only. The merely adventurous traveller will choose primitive trails and back-country campsites, while the truly brave will spend their nights in the shelters along the Appalachian Trail. The fitful nights and strenuous hikes are likely to leave any visitors tired and sore, but with a new sense of perspective, and appreciation for their old mattress.