Tips on Great Smoky Mountains park


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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

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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