We decided to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service with a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We were surprised to learn this park attracts more visitors than any other national park. Each year over 10 million guests visit the 816-square-mile park that straddles the North Carolina and Tennessee border.
We were excited to see wildlife, wildflowers, waterfalls, historical structures, a ghost town, and some of the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets we’ve ever witnessed.
With 800 miles of hiking trails and nearly 400 miles of roads, it’s no wonder we feel that we only scratched the surface of all this park has to offer. And since admission to the park is free, which is rare for national parks, we’ll definitely visit again and again.
Here are some of our favorite photos from our early spring journey through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
One of our top travel tips for visiting a national park is to stop by the ranger’s station and ask for the best places to photograph anything you might want to see. The park ranger told us about this pull off on Highway 441 just southwest of Newfound Gap. It was definitely worth getting up early to capture this sunrise over the Smoky Mountains.
The Mountain Farm Museum near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center is a collection of historic log buildings gathered from throughout the Smoky Mountains and preserved on a single site. Buildings include a house, barn, applehouse, springhouse, and smokehouse.
The Mingus Mill was built in 1886 and was in service until the National Park Service purchased the property in 1934.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has more wildflowers than any other national park. With over 1,500 species of flowering plants, the parks is sometimes referred to as Wildflower National Park.
Wherever you go inside the park, beautiful mountain streams are not far away. During our visit there was still snow on the ground In the higher altitudes.
We saw plenty of wildlife—mainly deer, wild turkey, and elk. We were thankful and disappointed at the same time that we did not see any bears. The park is home to an estimated 1,600 bears.
The Palmer Chapel located in the Big Cataloochee area of the park was built in 1898. It was near this cute little chapel where we encountered elk and wild turkeys.
Elkmont is an abandoned ghost town of about 40 empty cottages. As leases on the cottages expired, ownership reverted to the National Parks Service. Plans were to remove all of the structures and allow nature to reclaim the land. However, a clubhouse and 18 of the cottages were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009 and will now be preserved.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to dozens of waterfalls which are always a rewarding find when hiking the park’s many trails.
Thanks to our friendly park ranger, we learned that the best place to witness the sun set is at a pull off called Morton Overlook just north of the Tennessee state line on U.S. Highway 441. We captured a time-lapse video with our GoPro mounted on a selfie stick, stuck in the snow.
What do you like to photograph when you visit a national park?