Smokies Sets Visitation Record in 2016

Monday, January 30, 2017

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park welcomed over eleven million visitors in 2016. Throughout the year, the park encouraged people to experience the park in honor of the National Park Service Centennial. In 2016, a record 11,312,785 people visited the national park, a 5.6% increase over 2015. In addition, over 2,200 people joined Superintendent Cassius Cash by completing the Smokies Centennial Hike 100 challenge by exploring 100 miles of park trails.

“I continue to be inspired by the number of people enjoying the park, but more importantly, I am moved by their unwavering support and care for this special place,” said Superintendent Cash. “This support is more critical than ever since we have entered into our second century of service and recovery following the Chimney Tops fire. The response of the Smoky Mountains community, both near and far, has been remarkable and we thank you.”

In 2016, over 2,230 park volunteers donated over 117,000 hours of service. These volunteers provided much needed help across the park including trail maintenance, invasive plant removal, and providing visitor information along trails, at visitor centers, and in campgrounds. Front country camping at the park’s developed campgrounds increased to 327,033 campers, up 3.1% over 2015. In addition, backcountry camping also increased with over 109,344 campers spending a night at one of the park’s backcountry campsites or shelters, up 12% over 2015.

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The Top 6 Reasons to Visit Glacier National Park

Thursday, January 26, 2017

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I know this may sound a little over-the-top, but every person living in this country should visit Glacier National Park at least once in their lifetime. It will forever change them. John Muir once said of Glacier; "Give a month at least to this precious reserve. The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal. Nevermore will time seem short or long, and cares will never again fall heavily on you, but gently and kindly as gifts from heaven."

I know I can’t, but I'm pretty sure there aren’t too many others that can quite sum-up the Glacier experience better than Muir did. Here are just a few of the reasons on why I think Glacier is so special:

Unparalleled Beauty
In my humble opinion Glacier National Park is by far the most beautiful park I’ve ever seen. This includes almost every major national park in the lower 48. As a disclaimer, I should note that I haven’t been to Alaska….yet. Having said that, my love affair with this park began immediately the first time I laid eyes on it. To be precise, it was during the drive from Browning along Highway 2 as we approached the East Glacier/Two Medicine area. My love and awe for the park has grown after every hike and after each subsequent visit. At every turn on any road or trail is one spectacular scene after another. In fact, there are no bad or boring hikes. Photographers could spend a lifetime here taking photos of scenes that normally show up in Backpacker Magazine or National Geographic. One of the most famous photo locations in the entire National Park System is at a spot known as Wild Goose Island Overlook. You may recognize the scene in the photo below:

Most people assume that Glacier received its name as a result of the 25 glaciers that are located throughout the park. However, the park was actually given its name as a result of the rugged mountains that were carved by massive glaciers during the ice ages. Fortunately, many of the glaciers can be reached by trail. Some of the most popular hikes for enjoying front row views of these glaciers include Iceberg Lake and Grinnell Glacier.

The Highline Trail
The Highline Trail from Logan Pass is widely recognized as one of the best hikes in the park, if not the entire National Park System. At every step and every turn hikers will enjoy absolutely spectacular scenery as they follow along the Continental Divide. The exceptionally beautiful views, the excellent opportunities for spotting wildlife, and the wildflowers all combine to make this a hike you'll remember the rest of your life. If you can make it past the narrow ledge section near the trailhead you’ll have the option of traveling to Haystack Pass, Granite Park Chalet, or making a one-way hike which continues all the way to “The Loop”.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road
The famous Going-to-the-Sun Road is the only road to cross Glacier National Park from east to west. The epic route transports visitors through some of the most spectacular scenery the park has to offer. This engineering marvel spans more than 50 miles across the park's interior, takes passengers over the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, and treats visitors to some of the grandest sights in the Rocky Mountains. Along its course the road passes glacial lakes and cedar forests in the lower valleys, and windswept alpine meadows and sweeping mountain vistas atop the 6646-foot pass.

Several scenic viewpoints and pullouts along the way provide motorists with ample opportunities to stop for extended views and photographs. Once at Logan Pass be sure to visit Hidden Lake Overlook, a relatively easy hike that takes hikers across the Continental Divide just above the Logan Pass Visitor Center.

Some drivers (and passengers) might be a little intimidated by the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Portions of it hug the mountainside as it traverses over steep drop-offs and steers through tight curves. If this gives you any pause, you may want to consider letting the drivers of the iconic Red "jammer" Buses take you across the mountains.

Outside of Yellowstone, Glacier National Park is arguably the best park for spotting and viewing wildlife. Although wildlife are frequently spotted along the road, a venture into the wilderness is likely to bring better results. Trails like Iceberg Lake, Ptarmigan Tunnel, Grinnell Glacier and Swiftcurrent Pass are excellent choices if you wish to possibly see a grizzly or black bear. Bullhead Lake, the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail, Dawson Pass and Cobalt Lake are all great choices for spotting moose. For bighorn sheep, check out Grinnell Glacier, Dawson Pass or the Highline Trail. For the best opportunities to possibly spot a mountain goat, check out Hidden Lake Overlook, the Highline Trail or Piegan Pass.

Backcountry Chalets
2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the Sperry and Granite Park Chalets. Both backcountry chalets were built in 1914 during a period when the Great Northern Railway was promoting Glacier National Park under the "See America First" campaign. Today the two backcountry chalets offer hikers the opportunity to trek to an overnight backcountry destination without being bogged down with a bunch of camping gear.

Perched at an elevation of more than 6500 feet, the Sperry Chalet sits high atop a rock ledge that offers visitors commanding views of majestic mountain peaks, waterfalls, as well as Lake McDonald in the valley far below. The Granite Park Chalet rests just below Swiftcurrent Pass, along the edge of a sub-alpine meadow that offers commanding views of Heavens Peak and the McDonald Valley. Day hikers and overnight guests commonly reach this chalet by one of three trails: the Highline Trail, the Granite Park Trail or the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail out of Many Glacier.

With more than 740 miles of trails meandering throughout the park, hiking is the absolute best way to see Glacier National Park. In addition to the hikes listed above, the park offers a variety of other outstanding hikes. If you do plan to visit Glacier this year, please note that our hiking website also offers a wide variety of accommodation listings as well as other things to do to help with all your vacation planning.

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Smokies Requests Public Input on Draft Corridor Management Plan for Newfound Gap Road

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park is seeking the public’s input on a draft corridor management plan for Newfound Gap Road. The development of the plan is required for park officials to seek designation for the road as a National Scenic Byway which opens up opportunities to the park and gateway communities to compete for special grants that enhance the travel corridor.

The draft Newfound Gap Road Scenic Byway Corridor Management Plan has been posted on the National Park Service Planning, Environment and Public Comment website for public review and comment at Comments received during the 30-day review period, ending February 24, 2017, will be considered in the development of the final plan.

Newfound Gap Road is already a designated state scenic highway in both Tennessee and North Carolina. Park officials believe that Newfound Gap Road also meets the qualifications necessary to be designated as a National Scenic Byway. The first step in the eligibility process for this national designation is the preparation of a corridor management plan that addresses a variety of roadway attributes including the visitor experience and sustainability as a scenic byway.

Corridor management plans serve to guide the management of scenic byways to protect the important qualities associated with the byway. These are not decision making documents such as those prepared under the National Environmental Policy Act which typically evaluate a specific proposal or a set of alternatives for decision. Rather, corridor management plans provide an overarching framework for future planning.

Specifically, the park is interested in learning the following from the public:

1) if there are significant visitor experiences available to visitors traveling Newfound Gap Road that have not been considered and what those experiences are, and

2) if there are additional steps or strategies that should be considered that would help maintain the outstanding qualities of this corridor.

View and comment on draft plan online at Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment (including your personal identifying information) is subject to the Freedom of Information Act and may be made publicly available. While you may request in your comment to withhold your personal identifying from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will legally be able to do so.

For more information on National Scenic Byways, please visit

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U.S. Forest Service Reminds Visitors, Bear Canisters are Required for Backcountry

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

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The National Forests of North Carolina is reminding visitors that bear canisters are still required in the Shining Rock Wilderness, Black Balsam, Sam’s Knob and Flat Laurel Creek Areas of the Pisgah Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest.

A camping closure in Graveyard Fields area is still in effect, though the area remains open for day use.

“We’ve had numerous reports of bears having success in acquiring improperly stored as well as hung food, reinforcing that bear canisters are the best way to deter hungry bears,” said Pisgah District Ranger Derek Ibarguen. “Visitor safety is of the utmost importance and canisters are the most effective way to safely store food and reduce bear-human conflicts.”

These regulations, issued in consultation with the N.C. Wildlife Commission, were implemented due to human safety concerns after a bear entered a tent and removed a hiker’s backpack earlier this year.

All bear canisters must be commercially made; constructed of solid, non-pliable material manufactured for the specific purpose of resisting entry by bears.

* Please ‘Be Bear Aware’
* Do not Store Food in Tents
* Properly Store Food by Using a bear proof container
* Clean up food or garbage around fire rings, grills, or other areas of your campsite
* Do not leave food unattended

For more information visitors are encouraged to call the Pisgah Ranger District at (828) 877-3265.

For tips, visit

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Take a Tour of Glacier National Park on an Historic Red Bus

Thursday, January 12, 2017

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Modern day visitors to Glacier National Park can step back in time by taking a tour of the park on one of the historic Red Buses. These historic open-air buses have been taking visitors through the park since 1936, and are widely considered to be the oldest fleet of touring vehicles anywhere. While the historic Going-to-the-Sun Road travels across precipitous cliffs and hair-pin turns, the Red Buses allow visitors to soak in Glacier's magnificent scenery - instead of worrying about having to keep their cars on the road.

In this short video below, Finley-Holiday Films gives you an idea of what it's like to cruise through the park in one of these wonderful old vehicles:

In addition to cruising the Going-to-the-Sun Road, one of the best ways to see Glacier National Park is to take a hike along one of the many hiking trails that meander throughout the park. Prospective visitors may also want to note that our hiking website also offers a wide variety of accommodation listings and other things to do to help with all your vacation planning.

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Mountain Rentals of Gatlinburg Launches #GatlinburgStrong Campaign

Thursday, January 5, 2017

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I'm happy to report that one of our long-time advertisers, Mountain Rentals of Gatlinburg, is open and ready to welcome you. Although they did experience the loss of some of their cabins during the recent wildfire, they are very happy to report that they're open for business and still have many cabin available for rent in the Gatlinburg area.

Mountain Rentals of Gatlinburg has also recently launched the #GatlinburgStrong Campaign, in which they will be offering 15% off on reservations during 2017. You can find additional information on this special offer by clicking here.

While there was a lot of destruction and damage from the fires, many businesses – restaurants, shops, and attractions – did not sustain any damage at all. In fact, downtown Gatlinburg was virtually untouched - and is currently open to the public.

Hikers should also note that the vast majority of the national park was untouched, and the vast majority of the more than 800 miles of trails in the park are currently open, including the Alum Cave Trail, which has recently reopened after the completion of a two-year rehabilitation project.

The winter "off-season" offers a great opportunity for fans of the Great Smoky Mountains, as well as hikers in general, to support the Gatlinburg region. Spend a day, the weekend, or an entire week; either way, your vacation dollars will help the entire community. I know that Mountain Rentals of Gatlinburg would love and appreciate your support!

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