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Exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

When you rent a cabin from stayNantahala, you're staying a short distance from one of the most popular national parks in the country. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is about an hour from Nantahala Lake. In 2020, it drew in the most visitors among all national parks and third most among all national recreation areas. Great Smoky Mountains hosted 12.1 million visitors in 2020, almost four times as many as the second place national park. So what makes Great Smoky Mountains National Park such a popular attraction? Our guide will help you plan a visit to the national park, further connecting you with the beauty of western North Carolina when you visit Nantahala Lake.

What Make the Great Smoky Mountains Special?

Great Smoky Mountains National Park showcases the best North Carolina mountains have to offer. The land, which has portions in both North Carolina and Tennessee, is blanketed in forests.

It also features a diverse array of animal and plant life as well as plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation. It is the only national park in North Carolina.

Why the Great Smoky Mountains Smoky?

The Smoky Mountains are an offshoot of the Appalachian Mountains that spans across eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. The mountains feature a distinct fog that drapes over the mountains. The fog derives from plants emitting volatile organic compounds, also called VOCs.

Since this chemical has a high vapor pressure, it can form vapors at room temperature. Since there is such a wide array of trees and other plant life, there is an immense amount of fog, giving the illusion of the Smoky Mountains.

Getting to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

There are multiple ways to get to Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Nantahala Lake. Depending on what you want to do and see will determine how you get there.

The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is near Cherokee, North Carolina and serves as a good entrance point. The park's headquarters are in the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  

Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains

The natural beauty of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is truly a sight to behold. Hiking is a great way to take in some of this natural beauty. There are plenty of trails on both the Tennessee and North Carolina side of the park.

Popular hiking trails on the North Carolina side include Oconaluftee River Trail; Mingus Creek Trail; and Smokemont Nature Trail. Other popular trails in the park include Chimney Tops, Charlies Bunion and Alum Cave Bluffs. There are also plenty of waterfalls to visit such as Mingo Falls, Indian Creek Falls and Chasteen Creek Falls on the North Carolina side.

Biking in the Great Smoky Mountains

On the North Carolina side, there are two bike trails available: Oconaluftee River Trail and Lower Deep Creek Trail. If you're looking to venture into Tennessee, try riding the Gatlinburg Trail.

These trails are not biking-specific routes but they are paths that allow bikes on them.

More Information

Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a lot to offer. The North Carolina side will likely be the best opportunity for Nantahala Lake visitors to enjoy the majestic park. Regardless of your tastes, there is an activity for you.

The park offers some great places to see elk herds and other wildlife. There's also plenty of historic buildings in the Cataloochee Valley as well as the Mingus Mill and Mountain Farm Museum. There are plenty of spots to go fishing in the national park but a North Carolina or Tennessee fishing license is required to fish.

If you're looking for a chance to enjoy an outdoor meal with your family, consider stopping off at the Deep Creek picnic area. To better plan your Great Smoky Mountains North Carolina adventure, visit the Oconaluftee Visitors Center.

To learn more about the many activities and the Tennessee side of the park, check out the park's website.

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