With roughly 10 million visitors coming to its over half-million acres in two states, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is well-known to many travelers. But there are probably a few facts that even the most ardent park visitors may not have been aware of.
Check out these seven details that just might surprise you about the country’s most popular National Park destination.
1.) About 1,500 black bears (two per square mile) reside in the park’s boundaries
This species of bear lives all over the park, but you can find them mostly in the Cataloochee Valley and the Cades Cove areas. Black bears in the Smokies are actually that color, while in the other parts of the country, they are different shades of brown. They are smaller in size and not as humpbacked as grizzlies or browns. These magnificent creatures live about 12 to 15 years and average in size from 100 to 250 lbs., but some have been estimated at 600 lbs.
2.) The Park has more than 240 species of birds
If you’re a birder of any kind, you’ve come to the right place. With a great diversity in microclimates, vegetation and elevations, a stunning variety of aviary species are in the Park at one time or another. About five dozen remain all year in the Smokies, while twice as many breed in the area. You will probably hear more birds than see them, due to the thickness of the forest, so try to learn their songs especially during breeding season.
3.) It’s the salamander capital of the world
Probably because of its humid and misty climate, salamanders thrive here. About 30 species of them can be found in the park boundaries, with 24 of those are classified as “lungless”. They breathe through the blood vessels in their skin and mouth and throat linings. Often mistaken for lizards, salamanders are amphibians, with moist scale-less skin. If you’re in the upper elevations above 3,000, look for the ruby-colored black-chinned red salamander.
4.) Nearly 100 log structures have been preserved
Because the park was once owned by homesteaders as late as the 1930s, you will find many historic buildings constructed from the trees in the forest. Most of these former residences, business, barns, churches and other types of structures look almost as if people still use and occupy them. They can primarily be found in Cades Cove, the Cataloochee and Oconaluftee Valleys and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
5.) There are 19 Species of Fireflies in the Park – Including the Synchronous Fireflies
One of the great events of the Smokies in June is the Synchronous Fireflies – the only species in America that can synchronize their flashing lights. But did you know that there are 19 species of fireflies in the park?
6.) Horses can travel on 550 miles of hiking trails
Horse riders will love the nearly endless possibilities to take their four-legged companions out on some of the Park’s hiking trails. Be sure that you have a map of the designated routes you can take your horse on and follow all rules about riding in the back country. You can obtain these maps at the visitors’ center, or download it from the site.
7.) The Smokies are some of the oldest mountain ranges in the world
The National Park estimates the Smoky Mountains to be from the Proterozoic Era some 800-545 million years ago. With time and erosion, they’re not quite as tall as the Rockies or the Himalayas, but they are certainly more blessed with a varied ecosystem and more flora and fauna for you to enjoy.
Also, be sure to download our free guide to a romantic getaway in the Smoky Mountains.