If you have always been fascinated by birds and have a history of visiting national parks to watch species from all spheres of life, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a destination you don’t want to miss. Of course, you’re welcome to plan your bird watching visit even if it’s your first time. The experience is bound to make you a regular. Better yet, take your kids with you and enjoy as a family. They will grow up to have a special relationship and appreciation for nature.
Great Smoky Mountain National Park falls on the border between the states of North Carolina and Tennessee. It covers the counties of Wain & Haywood in North Carolina. In Tennessee, the coverage is of Sevier, Blount and Cocke Counties. There are precisely three main entrances to enter the park. There is a gate in Gatlinburg and Townsend in Tennessee respectively. On the North Carolina side, the entrance is in Cherokee.
Overview of Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers an impressive area of 816 mi². Established on June 15, 1934, this popular wildlife attraction site has been around for 85 years. The vast array of land encompasses beautiful lush greenery and a generous supply of wildflowers that are in full bloom year-round.
Along the hiking route, you will encounter the soothing sound of the streams, rivers, and waterfalls. At the top of Clingmans Dome, which is the highest peak on the mountain range, you are greeted with the mist-covered peak of the park through the observation tower.
Barring any weather conditions, the park is open until midnight all week. It closes at 11:59 PM each night. Roads like Cades Cove Loop Road greets motor vehicles starting from sunrise to sunset. Pedestrians and bicyclists have access to the road regardless of the day or time. The higher areas in the park have a seasonal opening and closing time.
You need not pay any fee to enter the National Park. The mountains, which were once a privately owned property, were later invested in by the government of Tennessee and North Carolina and local communities.
They paid for the construction of Newfound Gap Road. The state of Tennessee then transferred the ownership of the park to the federal government, who ruled for no taxation or toll policy on the road.
The park has several attractions and activities to keep you busy. From bird watching to horseback riding, fishing, bicycling, exploring historic buildings, participating in workshops, to auto tours. One can focus on hiking and picnics while enjoying the fall colors. The options are endless for anyone looking to have a good time.
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Great Smoky Mountains National Park Map
The National Parks Map can be downloaded from the website of nps.gov or acquired from the visitors centers in the park. For mobile device users, there’s a free application that contains detailed topographical access.
However, as cellular services differ in different regions of the area, it is best to have a pre-downloaded one or a physical copy. The consequences of navigating in the absence of a map in the large region could lead to going off-trail into dangerous areas on the offseason time or pausing at dead ends.
The National Park map covers the park roads, visitor centers, picnic areas, and campgrounds. The trail map has a detailed overview of all trails in the park. The shelters and campsites at backcountry and frontcountry and primary and secondary intersections of roads throughout the park are visible too.
The map also displays the highways which connect to the national park. Maps of campgrounds such as Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain, Big Creek, Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Cosby, Deep Creek, Elkmont, Look Rock, Smokemont are available.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Camping
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a pleasant variety in all situations. Even when it involves camping. For backpackers who plan on exploring every corner of the park, you will have to hike backcountry in the park to set up your camp.
For beginning campers, you might find the Front country location easier to manage. You can set up your tent and enjoy modern facilities like restrooms with running water and toilets. The campsites also have a picnic table and fire grate to make life easier. These campsites are all wooded.
In front country, if you come with a large group of people, say more than eight, you will easily find campsites to accommodate you.
There are also smaller campgrounds, one you can get to using your vehicle. If you plan on horseback riding in the park, you will be pleased to find hitch racks. The camping facilities could be considered primitive though.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Weather
The park is elevated at a height starting from 875 feet, with the peak being a whopping 6,643 feet! This sort of topography affects the weather drastically. From the mountain base to the top, the temperature has recorded differences of 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit.
What this means is that while you see a sunny and bright day at the base, once you start making your way upwards, you could find yourself caught in the middle of chilly, wintry weather.
For the most part, you will find primary roads open at all hours of the day and all week long, as weather conditions permit. Little River Road, Laurel Creek Road, Newfound Gap Road are all good examples.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Hotels
Inside the national park, the only lodging available is Le Conte Lodge. There are no other hotels or rental cabins. There isn’t a reason to be alarmed though. Several communities surrounding the national park, have a wide choice of options when it comes to hotels, bed and breakfast, cabins, and so on.
As for Le Conte Lodge, you can only reach the destination by walking. Atop Mount Le Conte- which is the third highest peak in the park with about 6,593 elevation- the lodge is open from the middle of March to the middle of November. If you want to stay at the lodge, you will have to book in advance. The hiking route to reach the lodge can vary from 5 to 8 miles depending on your choice of route.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Cabins
Again, as mentioned, the only lodging at the park is Le Conte Lodge. You can either opt for campsites inside the park or look for community areas outside the park which has varied cabins with different price ranges.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Hiking
When it comes to hiking, you can enjoy the Smoky Mountains all year round. However, the nature of the visit changes according to the season. Winter greets hikers with stone walls, chimneys, foundations and other such vistas along the trails which are a direct throwback to the residents of the past. Spring comes with wildflowers and flower-filled trees, one could spend hours looking at.
In the summer months, when the forest is filled with spruce, you can enjoy a break under the shadowy area or dip your legs in the cascading water from the mountain streams. The hikers in autumn have crisp, fresh air and a wide range of striking color to greet them.
Destinations like Charlies Bunion, Alum Cave Bluffs, Andrews Bald, Rainbow Falls, and Chimney Tops are the most popular hiking trails.
Bird Watching At Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Bird watching activity is sought so widely by the visitors that in the summer months, The Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont hosts an event known as Bird Banding, where visitors have the chance to inspect a live bird carefully in the palm of their hands. Bird Watching at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is fun for kids and adults.
The scientists at Tremont use it for their research by catching the birds around Walker Valley and attaching a band to them. This band helps them keep track of the movements of the species.
Anyone that has even the slightest interest in birds will deem The Smoky Mountain as the ideal place for fulfilling this passion. Due to the diversity in the topography, many different species cohabitate here.
Bird Watching for Kids
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The diversity of the birds are mostly glimpsed during the change in seasons. The songbirds appear at lower elevation late March, and late April sees the species at its peak, singing, and nesting actively. However, for the higher elevations, it takes mid June before the snow finally melts and songbirds can start their nesting.
By summer, the lower land birds have begun their second breeding session while the ones on the peak are focused on their one and only family for the year. Fall sees many of the bird species restless for migration. At night, they are bound southward.
No matter which time of the year you visit, the experience could be one of a kind to see different species of birds and observe their habits and colors. It can bring so much peace to your mind just from listening to their melodic singing.
In the national park, you will find at least 60 species year round. One hundred and twenty different varieties of species have chosen The Smoky Mountains as their breeding ground. Of them, 52 of the species are of the Neotropical realm. The list of species seen in The Smoky Mountains is so extensive that scientists still haven’t gotten around to counting them all.
Around the borders of The Smoky Mountains National Park, approximately 240 species of birds have been spotted. The state of Tennessee has reported seeing as many as 434 species! However, North Carolina has the highest count at 479. In Tennessee, the counties of Sevier, Blount, and Cocke have recorded 241, 278, and 261 species, respectively.
10 Birds to Look For Year-Round at Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Carolina Chickadee, has a black bib, black cap, wings and back of gray color, and almost white undersides. They are a hybrid of Carolina and Chickadee, but the species found its divergence 2.5 million years ago. The spruce filled forest is a testament to the breeding of the Chickadees. While bird Watching at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is fun to see a Carolina Chickadee.
Wood Duck falls under waterfowls. It is stunningly precise with chestnut and green on the males and the sharp profile of the females, have strong claws that help them grip and perch on branches.
Mallards are the ducks you will find on the rivers and streams. The most popular duck species in North America and Eurasia, you can identify them by the green head, flanks of grey and tails with black color at the end. While bird Watching at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is fun to see a Mallard.
For North America, Turkey is a fixture in the household during Thanksgiving. We aren’t free from them the rest of the year either, as the flock peaks from the woods and clearings. Wild Turkey has been on the verge of extinction for a while due to popularity, but it has rebounded and had a quick recovery and can be seen everywhere except Alaska.
These shorebirds mostly stick to the lower grounds and announce their presence with their distinctive cries in the night. Killdeer are fun to see.
Great Blue Heron
These majestic species are usually found at river bends, terrorizing other birds with their deep wing beats. They are often found motionless as their eyes lock in on their prey. When they spot their food, they strike at the speed of light. Great Blue Heron are usually easy for kids see.
These common woodland hawks are regarded as one of the most skillful fliers of the bird world. They tear through the massive pile of the trees in the woods in hot pursuit of other birds. Often mistaken with the Sharp-shinned Hawk, it’s hard to identify for the untrained eye. Cooper’s Hawks are great to spot while bird watching.
The spiritual symbol for Native Americans, the Bald Eagle might not be bald, they actually have a head full of white hair and brown body with wings which provides an exciting contrast. Moving in flocks in winter, they usually prefer solitude. Bald Eagles are a national bird. While bird Watching at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is fun to see a Bald Eagle.
They are a noiseless species with brown eyes and a brown and white striped body. Barred Owls are very common.
This crow size bird’s black and white stripes from the neck down and red crests, are known to look for carpenter ants in the logs and dead trees, leaving unique holes in the wood with their pecks. Pileated Woodpeckers are fun to see.
For any further information, you can visit the nps.gov website. As you can see the Great Smoky Mountains should be your next destination to enjoy the outdoors!