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World Heritage Site

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Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an area of scenic forests that holds a world record number of 130 tree species.

Fourteen major forest types are distinguished, most notable cove hardwood and spruce-fir. Large parts of the forests are old growth forest with many trees that predate European settlement of the area in the 18th century.

The park covers 209,000 ha and has been a US National Park since 1934. It has diverse fauna including 50 native animals. These include the black bear and the white-tailed deer, and smaller mammals like the red fox, raccoons and squirrels. Its lungless salamanders, more than 200 species of birds and mollusks are also notable.

There are a number of historical attractions inside the park. The most well-preserved of these is Cades Cove, a valley with a number of preserved historic buildings including log cabins, barns, and churches. These were made by the white frontierspeople that began settling the land in the 18th and early 19th century. Before that, the region was part of the homeland of the Cherokee Indians.

Map of Great Smoky Mountains


  • Natural

Visit April 2009

I spent two days in the Smoky Mountains, a Monday and Tuesday in April, and was fortunate enough to avoid the notorious crowds. At the first day I did the Cades Coves loop. This takes you through a secluded valley deep in the park, with bright green pastures and historical wooden buildings. It's also known for its wildlife, but I didn't encounter more than wild turkeys (huge!) and deer.

About half way on the loop lies the start of a popular walking tour, the Abrams Falls Trail. It's a 5-mile walk. It takes you on a sometimes slippery path through the forest, ending at a waterfall. Not wildly spectacular, but a fine way to stretch your legs. I walked it in about 3 hours in total.

April 2009

The second morning I took the Newfound Gap Road that leads right through the National Park, from Gatlinburg (Tennessee) to Cherokee (North Carolina). Along the road are a number of overlooks that give good views over the forests and the mountains. The latter indeed with the layers of "smoke" attached from which it takes its name.

April 2009

In the evening I undertook a last attempt at spotting a bear (or other wildlife). I went back to Cades Cove, where I arrived at 7.15 pm. The setting sun gave the open fields a wonderful golden glare. There were more cars around than during the day, many of those belonging to photographers. But again no bears! Only deer.

The hosts of my B&B told me when I came back that (young) bears when they are hungry even come into Gatlinburg and spook around the house. At this time of the year they are not often seen. Cades Cove at dusk however still is the best bet.

April 2009

Community Reviews

Jay T USA - 14-Feb-18 -

Great Smoky Mountains by Jay T

Great Smoky Mountains National Park was the first World Heritage Site I visited, part of a family vacation when I was six. I have fond memories of the trip and the blue-grey mist over the mountains, but much time has passed since then, so I decided to revisit the park in the summer of 2016 while on a road trip to Atlanta, Georgia. The park is a wonderful encapsulation of Appalachian culture, with small settlements and mills scattered throughout the forest. There are many other similar state and national parks throughout the Appalachian Mountains, but Great Smoky Mountains (and likely its family-oriented gateway towns) retains a mythos that continues to draw vacationers from all over the East Coast of the United States. During my visit, I toured an old farmstead off the Roaring Fork loop road and hiked up to scenic Grotto Falls, an easy and beautiful trail. I later traversed the park via Newfound Gap, which offered memorable viewpoints of the surrounding mountains. I also drove up to Clingman's Dome, the highest point in the park, to take in the views from the observation tower. The Great Smokies are definitely worth a visit (be sure to allow time for hikes), and, if one has extra time, I'd also recommend visiting some of the other parks in the Appalachian Mountains.

Logistics: An automobile is necessary to travel to the many trailheads in the park, but from there the Great Smokies are a hiker's paradise.

Emilia Bautista King USA - 10-Jun-10

Our family spent 4 nights in a cabin in Gatlinburg, which is the Tennessee entrance into the park. Because we had little children with us, it was nice having our cabin so close to the town center. We took in Newfound Gap, which has a beautiful overlook and the site of the World Heritage Site plaque. Also worthwhile was Cades Cove. We were fortunate that even though we were there during the first week of June, summer vacation had not yet started for school children so it was not as crowded as it can be later in the season. We were also excited to see bears in the woods as well as in the meadow. The highlight was watching a black bear play with her three cubs. It was especially wonderful to share this moment with our 3-year-old daughter!

James Kovacs USA - 05-Feb-06

The Smokies can be a joy or it can be a nightmare.

I've had both experiences in this park. I would not

recommend taking the Cades Cove driving loop tour

in the summer. The traffic is overwhelming and very slow.

I would recommend doing this on a weekday in the spring

or fall. The hiking in the Smokies is extraordinary.

I hiked the remote Cataloochee cove area on a Saturday

in July and didn't see a soul. It was marvelous.

I have also hiked to Alum Cave and Andrews Bald and enjoyed

these hikes very much. Clingmans Dome however is a bit

overrated. And I was so disappointed to see all the

acid rain destruction here.

Solivagant UK - 26-Jun-05 -

Great Smoky Mountains by Solivagant

The Great Smoky Mountains have been designated as “one of the world’s finest examples of temperate hardwood deciduous forest”. For those interested, they also apparently have “possibly the greatest variety of salamanders in the world” and are “a centre of endemism for N American molluscs”!! I am afraid we didn’t look for any examples of these “families” on either of our visits and, I suspect, neither have many of the people who visit the Park each year.

In reality the most amazing aspect of the “Smokies” is that it exists at all in such a relatively pristine state so close to the great cities of the eastern seaboard and southern states. It would be an interesting “trivia speculation” to consider which of the world’s UNESCO heritage sites receives the largest number of visitors (clearly this question can only apply to WHS with “entry rules” not to eg cities!). Apparently the Smokies has over 9 million pa – more than twice as many as the next most popular US park. And you will notice as you drive in/through on the relatively few roads! To pass through the “border towns” of Gatlinburg and Cherokee is to see what could have existed inside the park if there had been no restrictions on development. The nearby “Dollywood” theme park is billed as follows:-

“Unique as its namesake Dolly Parton, Dollywood is a one-of-a-kind Smoky Mountain Family Adventure! Spanning 125 acres and nestled in the lush foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, near Gatlinburg, Dollywood is one of the most popular family vacation destinations”.

And that is the problem with visiting the Smokies - wherever you go it is going to be very crowded. No doubt there are slack days but, in vacation season, it can be hell. The side trip along a loop road to the historic “log cabin” pioneer settlement of Cades Cove (Photo) can take hours to drive (it gets 2 million people a year). But it is a beautiful valley with lush pastures, dark green woods and rushing streams. Clingman’s Dome, at 6643ft the 2nd highest point in the eastern US, has an enormous car park and crowds walking the last half mile to the observation ramp (the Smokies are too far south to have a conventional “tree line” and, although there are some mountains called “Balds” topped by meadows most of the mountains are fully wooded - hence the ramp to get a view). No doubt it is possible to find quiet trails and to escape the crowds out of season but my visits have been in May/June when the area is popular for the Rhododendrons and both were pretty busy. By the way you can actually see the blue “haze” which gives the mountains their name – well I don’t think it was exhaust fumes anyway!

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Community Rating

Community Rating 3.22. Based on 9 votes.

Site Info

Full name: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Unesco ID: 259

Inscribed: 1983

Type: Natural

Criteria: 7   8   9   10  

Link: By Name By ID

Site History

  • 1983 - Inscribed 


The site has 1 locations.

  • Great Smoky Mountains


The site has 24 connections.




  • Destroyed during invasion: Oconaluftee, the Cherokee capital within the park area was probably destroyed in 1776 by the army of General Griffith Rutherford during the American Revolution.


  • Bears: Black bear
  • Reintroduced Species: "In 1991, two pairs were reintroduced into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where the last known red wolf was killed in 1905. Despite some early success, the wolves were relocated to North Carolina in 1998, ending the effort to reintroduce the species to the Park." (wiki) - the red wolf now is a critically endangered species
  • Beech Forests
  • Salamanders: Red-cheeked Salamander (Plethodon jordani) 27 species of salamander are found in the park, considered the most diverse in the world - nomination file
  • Biological Corridor: Appalachian Trail Corridor "The Appalachian Trail’s protected corridor (a swath of land averaging about 1,000 feet in width) encompasses more than 250,000 acres, making it one of the largest units of the National Park System in the eastern United States. The corridor passes through some of the most significant and rare ecosystems remaining along the East Coast, and harbors more than 80 globally rare species. The protection of habitat within this corridor preserves connectivity between populations of not only rare species, but the hundreds of other species that persist only in this mountainous region."
  • Virgin Forests: The range is home to an estimated 187,000 acres (76,000 ha) of old growth forest (wiki)


Human Activity

  • Secret Locations: Some Cherokees hid in the park area escaping a forced deportation by American authorities.
  • Natural sites with indigenous human population: Cherokee "Many of the Cherokee left, but some, led by renegade warrior Tsali, hid out in the area that is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Some of their descendants now live in the Qualla Reservation south of the park." Wiki

Individual People

  • John D Rockefeller Jr: "The U.S. National Park Service wanted a park in the eastern United States, but did not have much money to establish one. Though Congress had authorized the park in 1926, there was no nucleus of federally owned land around which to build a park. John D Rockefeller Jr contributed $5 million, the U.S. government added $2 million, and private citizens from Tennessee and North Carolina pitched in to assemble the land for the park, piece by piece" (Wiki) A "Rockefeller Memorial" is situated at Newfound Gap.

Religion and Belief

  • Legends and Folk Myths: The Cherokee considered the waters of the Oconaluftee sacred. Dora Woodruff Cope, who lived in the Oconaluftee valley near Smokemont around 1900, recalled a legend her Cherokee neighbors told her: ...part of the river was called Ya'nu-u'nata wasti'yi, "Where the bears wash." It was a deeper part of the river, where all the animals came to wash and heal their wounds when they had been hurt by hunters. No white person had ever seen this place because evil had blinded us to its existence. The animals knew how to find it, and diving into it meant instant healing. (wiki)


  • Late Pleistocene: Great Smoky Mountains National Park is of world importance as the outstanding example of of the diverse Arcto-Tertiary geoflora era, providing an indication of what the late Pleistocene flora looked like before recent human impacts (criteria i). It is large enough to be a significant example of continuing biological evolution of this natural system (criteria ii).


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World Heritage Process


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