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The Great Smoky Mountains are thought to be one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, and to this day Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most popular places to visit for mountain lovers. Both short and long hikes are found throughout the Great Smoky Mountains, drawing more than one million tourists and locals each year. Great Smoky Mountains National Park was first established in 1934 as a way of protecting it from logging companies which planned to continue logging the area. Recently, the United Nations has dubbed the park an International Biosphere Reserve. Both campground stays and Great Smoky Mountains cabin rentals are popular ways to stay in the park.
Due to the expansive nature of the Great Smoky Mountains, there are literally hundreds of trails, multiple lakes and a wide host of things to do in the park. In North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be accessed from the town of Cherokee, which is located at the southern end of the park. Just over 30 miles to the north, the park can be accessed from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and again to the west in Townsend, Tennessee. There are also a few smaller access points found along the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the various campgrounds. The larger cities of Charlotte, Greensboro and Winston Salem are located a few hours' drive to the east, though travelers looking for hotels near or in the park will want to stick to the smaller towns of Waynesville, Brevard or Franklin.
There are also visitor centers located at each of the three park entrances. Sugarlands Visitor Center is the official park headquarters, and is located near Gatlinburg Tennessee, while Cades Cove Visitor Center is located at the western end of the park. In North Carolina, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee is the smallest of the three centers, but still offers free maps, information on hikes and things to do in the area, and is staffed with park rangers who are available to answer questions about the park. The visitor centers are open seven days a week, from 8am until 7pm between June and August, and from 8am until 6pm throughout the rest of the year.
Due to the popularity of the park and its special status as a national and international treasure, there are multiple regulations that must be adhered to by visitors. Hunting of any kind is prohibited, along with weapons for any other purpose, fireworks and slingshots. Fires are allowed, but only in areas where fire rings are already provided. It is not acceptable to camp throughout the park; you must stick to the designated camp sites. You can bring your motorcycle to a campground, but you can not ride it through the park or on the park trails. Pets are allowed only in areas where you can bring your car, such as parking lots or paved park roads; you can't take them with you through the park. Access to the park is free to public (excluding campground stays) and you will not need a permit to enter the park. Park hours are during daylight, seven days a week throughout the year.
Great Smoky Mountains cabin rentals are a great choice for travelers who want to stay in the area for more than just an afternoon. In North Carolina, the small town of Cherokee is the place to go for these types of rentals. As you might expect, you cannot rent cabins or condos on park grounds, but the park entrance near Cherokee is the closest thing to being in the park. Expect to pay about $200 - $300 per night for Great Smoky Mountains cabin rentals with multiple bedrooms. The busy season for the park is from May until the end of August, and prices will be higher during this time. If you plan to stay during these busy months, expect to make your reservation at least two months in advance. Not only are the Great Smoky Mountains one of the best things to do on a North Carolina Day trip or drive along Blue Ridge Parkway, but they are also an excellent addition to your longer North Carolina suggested itineraries.
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