General Information Regarding Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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AUTHORITY for the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee is contained in the act of Congress approved May 22, 1926. That act in effect provided that lands within the exterior boundaries of the park as described and approved by the Secretary of the Interior could be accepted by him, in his discretion, if tendered to the United States in fee simple for park purposes; furthermore that, when a minimum of 150,000 acres of such land had been so accepted, administration and protection could be undertaken, but that no general development could be undertaken until a minimum of 427,000 acres had been tendered and accepted. At this writing 297,000 acres are under the administration and protection of the National Park Service of the Department of the Interior.

Mountain slopes blaze with color when the flame azalea is in bloom. Masa photograph

It was estimated that $10,000,000 would be needed to acquire all the land within the area. All of this land was privately owned. A great portion, practically primitive in character, was in the hands of lumber companies. About one-half of the purchase price was pledged by the States of North Carolina and Tennessee and their citizens, and the other half contributed on a basis of matching dollar for dollar by the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial in memory of Laura Spelman Rockefeller. Both States are actively engaged in acquiring the land still needed to complete the park, and it is hoped that this work may be finished within a comparatively short time. As the United States is prohibited by law from undertaking any development of the park until the minimum of 427,000 acres has been turned over to it for that purpose, visitors will not find the conveniences and interesting activities they are used to in the other national parks of the system. However, on account of its convenient location and its great popularity among those seeking recreation and enjoyment in the open, numerous comfortable accommodations are available at hotels and inns located near the park boundaries, and a few carried on under temporary permit within the park area itself. A list of these is given on pages 12 and 13.


The Great Smoky Mountains, the most massive mountain uplift in the East, run the entire length of the park. The following is quoted from the writings of the late Horace Kephart: "Nearly always there hovers over the high tops and around them, a tenuous mist, a dreamy blue haze, like that of Indian summer, or deeper. Often it grows so dense as almost to shut out the distant view, as smoke does that has spread from a far-off forest fire. Then it is a 'great smoke' that covers all the outlying world; the rim of the earth is but a few miles away; beyond is mystery, enchantment.

"Mysterious, indeed, this Smoky Mountain region has been ever since the first white explorer, De Soto, heard of it, nearly four centuries ago. At intervals of many years a few adventurous botanists and geologists have roamed through its great forest — Bartram, Michaux, Gray, Buckley, Mitchell, Guyot, and others — but their reports reached none but scientific circles. *** The wildest and most picturesque highland east of the Rockies remained virtually unknown until about ten years ago. Even today there are gulfs in the Smokies that no man is known to have penetrated.***"

The axis of the park runs nearly east and west. The greatest length is 71 miles and the greatest breadth is 19 miles. More than 200,000 acres of the park is virgin forest. This includes the largest and finest virgin hardwood forest in the United States, also the largest virgin forest of red spruce. Much of the remainder is a very fine forest of second growth which within a few years will closely approximate virgin forest conditions. Nowhere in the world is there such a variety of plant life in an equal area. There are 152 varieties of trees alone.

Rainbow Falls Copyright by Thompson

The highest mountains are covered with unusually dense forests consisting of spruce, balsam, and some hemlock. Wind falls and dense brush make them difficult to penetrate. Mountains of intermediate height are covered with hardwood growths in which beech predominates. These beech forests are open with a clean forest floor and they somewhat resemble a well-kept country estate. Still another contrast is formed by mountain tops that are covered only with grass. These are called locally "balds." So far scientists have been unable to explain them. They offer unobstructed views in all directions and are one of the finest attractions of the park.

The mountain streams are bordered with rhododendrons and laurel and the mountain slopes are thick with flame azalea and wild honeysuckle beneath the dense stand of trees. The bold mountain summits and knife-like ridges have a dense covering of rhododendrons and sand myrtle which make them appear from a distance less rugged and precipitous. There are two species of rose-flower rhododendrons on these mountain summits. One is the large Rhododendron catawbiense which sometimes grows three times as high as one's head and has large clusters of rose-purple flowers that beautify the mountains from June to September. It is also to be appreciated when the flowers are gone because of its leaves — gracefully drooping, glossy, green, and almost white beneath. The other rose-flower rhododendron, Rhododendron punctatum, is a short shrub rarely over waist-high, with dense clusters of smaller rose-colored flowers. The leaves are small and tend to stand erect rather than to droop. They are also characterized by a slight scaliness and small dots on the under surfaces and petioles which fact suggested the specific name punctatum. Since the flowers of this rhododendron are so numerous and the bushes are uniform in height, the end of a mountain often appears as a solid sheet of rose color. Rhododendron maximum, whose flowers range from white to a delicate pink, grows profusely throughout the park. Mountain laurel, known to the mountaineer as "ivy," reaches its maximum development in the Smokies. It is not unusual to find arborescent laurel one foot or more in diameter and 30 feet high.

Little Bald Mountain as seen from the trail to Gregory Bald Thompson photograph

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Last Updated: 30-Nov-2009