What is the Most Visited National Park? Read and Find Out!

What is the most visited national park in the United States?  Yosemite? Yellowstone? Glacier?  Grand Canyon?  Here’s a hint….it’s east of the Mississippi.  Give up?  It is also one of the few national parks that does not charge an entrance fee.  It is the Great Smoky Mountain National Park with over 9.6  million visitors in 2012.

Establishing this national park took many years and thousands of volunteers to accomplish it.  On the land that was to become the national park were thousands of people’s homesteads and as well as timber and paper companies.  At the same time  Americans also wanted some place to drive their new possession – the automobile.   It was their auto clubs who pushed for this park as all these new motorists wanted nice roads in beautiful scenery in which to drive their new cars on.

intro GSM

In 1926 President Calvin Coolidge  signed a bill that established the Great Smoky Mountains National Park yet there was no land to be protected by the park service.  What I found out and didn’t know was that the federal government is not allowed, at least during this time, to purchase land to put into the park system.  Since the park would encompass parts of both Tennessee and North Carolina, those state legislatures raised money to buy out the thousands of landowners and companies who were on lands that  would become the park.   With the help of Laura Rockefeller, who donated five million dollars, enough money was raised to begin buying out the residents.  As a side note:  Laura Rockefeller’s son John D Jr established and funded Colonial Williamsburg.  Great Smoky Mountain National Park was officially dedicated in 1940 by President Franklin Roosevelt.

There are two entrances to the park in Tennessee and one in North Carolina as well as two visitor information centers for the park – one at the North Carolina entrance and one at the Gatlinburg, TN entrance.  I have always found the Visitor Centers to be filled with information and exhibits generally about geology and park history.  Just so you know this about me – I’m a history buff!

There are many spectacular hikes to go on including part of the Appalachian Trail that goes through the park.  There are all different levels of hiking trails from easy to more challenging.  Me, I usually choose the easiest and my husband likes the more challenging.  So we compromise and go on the easiest 🙂

photo: nps.com
photo: nps.com

Our family camped when we visited the park.  We spent a few nights at Cades Cove along the banks of a creek.  This area was very family friendly.   We enjoyed the auto tour of the Cades Cove loop where there were a number of historic buildings and barns.  Our oldest son loved the  fly fishing that he did within the park in the many trout streams.   Of course, all our family does is Catch and Release. There are also stables where you can go on trail rides.

photo: cadescove.net
photo: cadescove.net

Close to the park is Dollywood.  This is, as I’m sure you know, an amusement park owned by Dolly Parton.  It has the typical amusement park rides but what it also has that is unique to it are crafts and music that are traditional to the Smoky Mountain area.   Next door to Dollywood is Dollywood’s Splash Country, and the chain of Dixie Stampede dinner theaters.   The park hosts a number of concerts and musical events each year.  you never know when you might get lucky and see Dolly or a member of her family in concert at her park.

Have you been to Great Smoky Mountains National Park?


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