NATIONAL PARKS & FORESTSIN THE NORTH CAROLINA SMOKIES
Straddling North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses over one-half million acres, making it the largest national park in the East. It has more species of plants, animals, and insects than anywhere else in the world, rivaling even the rainforests. For panoramic views, tumbling mountain streams, weathered historic buildings and uninterrupted forest stretching to the horizon, just hop in your car and drive through the park. If you need to stretch your legs, park, and hike on one of the more than 900 miles of trails in the park. Locals agree that the North Carolina side of the park is considered more pristine, tranquil and is less heavily used than the Tennessee side. So if you’re looking for a more-off-the-beaten-path experience, you’re in the right place.
The most visited unit of the National Park System, the Blue Ridge Parkway is known for its stunning views, abundant hiking trails, picnic areas, campsites, and informational exhibits. Named “America’s Favorite Drive,” the Parkway offers 469 miles connecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and is definitely worth the trip. With hiking trails, campsites and countless recreational opportunities found along this National Scenic Byway, there are plenty of opportunities to get out and experience the world’s most diverse display of flora and fauna.
Mingus Mill, a historic grist mill built in 1886, uses a water-powered turbine instead of a waterwheel to power all of its machinery. Conveniently located just off of U.S. Highway 441 through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it’s a living piece of Smoky Mountain history. Visitors can purchase cornmeal and other mill-related items while seeing how a real mill works. Just a half mile down the road at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, you’ll find The Mountain Farm Museum. A living museum preserving the legacy of the hardy settlers who lived on what is now Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it hosts a variety of events throughout the year.
Legend has it that sunlight can only reach the floors of the rich cove forests of Nantahala National Forest, or touch the ribbons of water that course through the gorges, at noon when the sun is directly overhead. Created in 1920, the wild and scenic Nantahala National Forest is the largest of the four national forests in North Carolina, covering just over half-a-million acres. There are more than 27,000 acres of designated wilderness found in its hills, including Ellicott Rock, Joyce Kilmer/Slickrock and the Southern Nantahala Wilderness.
If you’re craving adventure in nature, the Nantahala National Forest is renowned for whitewater rafting, mountain biking, camping, and hiking. World-renowned trails including The Appalachian Trail, Bartram’s Trail and the Mountains-To-The-Sea Trail all meander through the forest. And with more than 600 miles of trails, there are plenty of day hikes and short strolls to get you moving.
The Pisgah National Forest began as a part of George Vanderbilt’s private estate. The area west of Vanderbilt’s Asheville Biltmore Estate was sold to the federal government after his death in 1914 and became the first tracts of the now half-million-acre Pisgah National Forest. Today, Pisgah is home to the Shining Rock Wilderness Area, Max Patch, the Harmon Den Bear Preserve, The Cradle of Forestry and Sliding Rock.