Tips on Great Smoky Mountains park

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of March 6-13, 1996
Tips on Great Smoky Mountains park
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Tips on Great Smoky Mountains park
Q: I am planning to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park in May, but I have no idea about accommodations and activities allowed in the park. Can you help me on that?

Nuna Horta
Lisbon, Portugal
[email protected]

Off the beaten path in the nation's
busiest national park

A: First off, let me be frank: Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the nation's busiest park, with more than ten million wilderness-seeking, RV-driving visitors a year. The upside is that while this means there'll be crowds to dodge--and plenty of them--there are also the facilities to handle them, including ten drive-in campgrounds, two park lodges, and a whole slew of motels bordering the park.

Most campgrounds open for the season in mid-May but book well in advance, so it's smart to call ahead to reserve a site ($5-$10 per night, 800-365-2267). If you're tentless, try the LeConte Lodge, a cluster of seven walk-in cabins and three small lodges on the summit of 6,593-foot Mount LeConte. There's no electricity or indoor plumbing and access is by a five-mile hiking trail only, which does a lot to deter the masses ($53 per person per night, including two meals; call 423-429-5704).

As for activities, you'll have your pick of more than 900 miles of hiking trails. If you're coming from Bryson City, North Carolina, take the often overlooked 4.5-mile Forney Creek Trail to the Bear Creek Campsite and north to the lookout tower at 5,190-foot High Rocks for sweeping views of rhododendron forests and nearby peaks. From there, it's an eight-mile trek along trout-filled Hazel Creek to the intersection with the 2,000-plus-mile-long Appalachian Trail, which cuts a 70-mile diagonal through the park en route to Maine some 1,500 miles away. If you go, bring your fishing rod; permits are available at park headquarters.

Other options to consider: canoeing on Fontana Lake (rentals at Fontana Lake Village Resort, about $22 per day; 704-498-2211); mountain biking along unpaved Round Bottom Road; cycling on Balsam Mountain Road; and horseback riding at Smokemont Riding Stables in nearby Smokemont (704-497-2373). Home to more than 200 species of birds, 28 species of salamanders, and 2,230 kinds of mushrooms, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a naturalist's paradise: After an exhausting day of bird-watching, fire up your skillet, consult your mushroom guide, and sautè some of those edible fungi for dinner.

For more information, call the park headquarters at 423-436-1200, and check out the relevant section of "Our National Parks" in our June 1992 issue.

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