Frequently Asked Questions About the Great Smoky Mountains

Newfound Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains

Newfound Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains


The Great Smoky Mountains are my stomping grounds; they offer some of the greatest natural vistas in the world and they’re where I run my range of hiking trips. Check out my Great Smoky Mountain hiking trips if you’d like to learn more about each trip. However, if you’d like to learn more about the Great Smoky Mountains themselves, then you’ve definitely come to the right place! This short FAQ will try to answer many of the most frequently asked questions about the Great Smoky Mountains — so keep reading if you’re interested in the area or if you’re planning to visit in the future.


Where are the Great Smoky Mountains?

The Great Smoky Mountains are a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains. They are found along the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. So, they are found to the east of Tennessee and to the west of North Carolina. I live in Tennessee and my trips all access the Smokies from their western side. The Great Smoky Mountains stretch all of the way from the Little Tennessee River in the south, to the Pigeon River in the northeast. For a little more help getting there, check out my getting to the Smokies page.


Where is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses most of the Great Smoky Mountains’ area, which, as we explained in the answer above, is situated on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. The National Park straddles the ridgeline of the mountains and runs from the northeast to the southwest. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is actually the most visited national park in the US, with approximately 11.3 million visitors each year (based on 2016’s figures). It is easy to get away from most of the visitors by walking a half mile from any road on the trails in the park. You can gain access to the national park from Gatlinburg in Tennessee, Cherokee in North Carolina, Big Creek to the North or Twentymile ranger station as well as Fontana Dam.


How big is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is particularly big! The entire park spans 522,419 acres; to put this into context, the entire land area of New York City is 205,000 acres! As we said above, you can make your way to them by driving to Cherokee, North Carolina or Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The area is big enough to house the largest black bear population in the US; there is an estimated black bear population of 1,500!


Fog on the peaks of the Smokies

Fog on the peaks of the Smokies

Why are They Called the Great Smoky Mountains?

The answer to this question is simple: there is a fog that floats around the mountains that is made up of water vapour from the rivers and the plan life. This fog often drifts up into the sky and makes it look like the mountains are smoking.  Sometimes, the Great Smoky Mountains are just called the Great Smokies, or simply the Smokies.


Which Native American People Used to Live in the Smokies?

Before European settlers came along, the area was home to the famous Cherokee people. After Andrew Jackson signed the ‘Indian Removal Act’ most of the native people were driven out of the area. However, some renegade Cherokee hid in the Smokies, led by the famous Cherokee warrior, Tsali. Today, some of their descendants live just south of the national park.


How Were the Great Smoky Mountains Formed?

The Great Smoky Mountains were created over many millions of years. They began as sedimentary rock, created by layers and layers of clay, sand, and silt in the Proterozoic Era (800 to 545 million years ago), through to the Paleozoic Era (450 to 545 million years ago). However, all of this sedimentary stone gradually became the Great Smoky Mountains as the North American tectonic plate met the African tectonic plate and gradually pushed the boundary upwards. Incredibly high pressure and heat was produced by this tectonic activity, and this heat and pressure metamorphosed much of the sedimentary rock into the various metamorphic rock we see today.


Where to Hike in the Great Smoky Mountains


I make my living taking hikers around this incredible mountain range, because there is an almost unlimited number of trail and trail combinations to take through the Smokies. You can take a 2-day trail from Alum Cave to Trillium Gap, covering 11.5 miles, or you can take the trail from Fork ridge to Deep Creek, covering 16.1 miles, to highlight only two options. The distance you can expect to make each day will obviously depend on the elevation, as it gets harder and slower the higher you climb. In truth, I can’t even nearly do justice to this question in this short FAQ as there are really dozens of different answers to the question ‘Where to hike in the Smokies’ and all answers deserve a blog post in their own right!



I hope you’ve found the answer to your question in this FAQ. However, if you still have one or two questions that need answered or if you’re interested in taking one of my Great Smoky Mountain hikes, please feel free to get in touch!


Jacob WittmanComment