For those of us “young bucks,” the Great Smoky Mountains has always been part of the National Park Service. We don’t remember a time when logging companies had destroyed nearly 300,000 acres of these beautiful mountains. We don’t recognize names like George Masa or Horace Kephart, who worked tirelessly to protect and preserve them.
Nor do we realize that the National Park Service—which works to protect and preserve natural wonders throughout the United States—would not be around if not for the efforts of millionaire industrialist Stephen Mather, former president Theodore Roosevelt, and many others like them – of those who saw the value of caring for our land and preserving its natural and cultural legacy for future generations to come.
So this year, we celebrate the birth of the National Park Service! On August 25, 2016, this amazing organization will celebrate its 100th birthday, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will celebrate 82 years in its care.
We invite you to join us in celebrating these exciting milestones with our 100 ways to celebrate the centennial in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! These are all things you can do in the park all summer long. We’ll start with the first 25, but be sure to check in over the next few weeks for more ideas!
- Walk behind a waterfall at Grotto Falls, one of the park’s most visited waterfalls.
- Take an auto tour of Cades Cove Loop Road.
- Explore the variety of wildlife in Cades Cove by bike or on foot. You can expect to see everything from white-tailed deer to coyotes to black bears.
- Go fishing in one of the last wild trout habitats in the eastern United States.
- Go hiking on the Appalachian Trail to Charlies Bunion, where you’ll enjoy breathtaking views of the Smoky Mountain valley below.
- Take the kids for a hike on the Kephart Prong Trail, where you can explore the history of the Smokies from the logging era of the 1920s through the Civilian Conservation Corps.
- Sing “Rocky Top” on the top of Rocky Top in the national park.
- View elk in the Cataloochee Valley. They were reintroduced to this valley in 2001 and can now be seen regularly in the fields of the valley, especially in the early morning and evening hours.
- Go horseback riding with Cades Cove Riding Stables.
- Hike the Boogerman Trail in the Cataloochee Valley. This 7-mile loop takes you through old-growth forests—a great way to escape the sun in the summertime.
- Visit the Davis House in Oconaluftee. This log house was built from chestnut wood before the chestnut blight of the 1930s and 40s decimated American Chestnut trees in the forests of the Great Smoky Mountains.
- Walk the easy Oconaluftee River Trail, which follows the water for 1.5 miles to Cherokee, North Carolina. This trail is stroller-accessible, making it perfect for families with young children.
- Learn how corn is ground into cornmeal at the Mingus Mill, located a half-mile north of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Then purchase cornmeal to take back to your Pigeon Forge cabin!
- Visit the Noah “Bud” Ogle farmstead, which features a streamside tubmill and the Ogle’s handcrafted wooden flume plumbing system. This self-guided nature trail can be found just before entering the Roaring Fork Nature Trail.
- Take a guided hike with the Great Smoky Mountains Association.
- View more than 1,500 kinds of flowering plants—more than in any other North American national park.
- Take a picture at a picturesque waterfall in the Smoky Mountains.
- Plan for a family picnic at Big Creek, where you’ll find picnic tables and raised grills for cooking.
- Go white water rafting with your family down the Pigeon River.
- Hike to Abrams Falls, a 20-foot waterfall whose volume of water well makes up for its lack of height. This hike is 5 miles roundtrip and is considered moderately difficult.
- Read about the Walker Sisters’ fascinating history and visit their home site. These sisters were some of the last residents to live in the Smokies after these mountains were added to the National Park Service.
- Get a picture with your family at the popular observation tower, Clingmans Dome.
- Climb to The Sinks, where a logging train supposedly once derailed and plummeted into the Little River. Today, this legendary site is a popular swimming hole with a natural waterfall and deep pools of cool water.
- Get up early and take a sunrise hike in the Smokies.
- Stop at the Sugarlands Visitors Center to learn about the park, talk to rangers, and buy a Smoky Mountain souvenir!
Check back soon for 25 more ideas on what you can do in the Great Smoky Mountains to celebrate the National Park Service centennial in 2016. And for help picking the right Pigeon Forge cabin for your getaway this summer, check in with our reservation specialists who are more than happy to assist you!
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