The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is steeped in rich history, Appalachian culture, and stunning natural beauty. Home to a huge variety of plants and animals, with plenty of trails to explore it all, the park is an amazing escape into fresh air and unforgettable memories. It’s no wonder that millions of people visit every year. But before you plan your next trip to the Smokies, check out these fun facts that you may not have heard about.

  1. The Smokies are Some of the Oldest Mountains in the World

The Great Smoky Mountains are estimated to be between 200 and 300 million years old! By examining the amount of weathering that the area’s rocks have experienced as well as using the age of the particles found in local soil and trees, scientists have been able to determine just how ancient these incredible mountains are. And considering that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is barely 100 years old itself, there is still so much more history to learn.

  1. The “Smoke” is Created by Plants

The mesmerizing mist that hovers over the peaks is what gives the Smoky Mountains its iconic name. The Cherokee call this ancient range “Shaconage” (Sha-Kon-O-Hey). It means the “Land of Blue Smoke. But it’s not actually smoke. The blue-hued fog is created by native plants that give off something called a volatile organic compound, or VOC. As the VOCs increase, they come together to form a vapor, which when released, scatters blue light from the sky. And that’s when you get the distinctive and unforgettable sight that so many people travel to the Smokies to see.

  1. A Woman Was the First Settler in the Smoky Mountains

A little-known fact about the original settlers in the Smokies is that the first immigrant who moved to the area was a woman. William Ogle is acknowledged as the first person to build a home in the area, but technically it was his wife, Martha Jane Huskey Ogle, who got here first. William unfortunately passed away before he could settle into the home with his family.

  1. There is No Entrance Fee to Visit the Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is completely free for anyone who wants to visit. It all goes back to the fact that this was the first national park to be partially funded by the federal government. When construction of Newfound Gap Road began, the state of Tennessee transferred ownership to the government on the condition that there would never be a toll or license fee charged for its use. At the time, Newfound Gap Road was the only way to travel between local communities, and leaders wanted the road to be free and convenient. The rest of the funds for the park – a whopping $5 million – were donated by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and local citizens.

  1. The Smokies are the Salamander Capital of the World

The Great Smoky Mountains are the unofficial Salamander Capital of the World. There are over 30 different species of salamanders living in the park, and 24 of them are unique lungless salamanders. Instead of lungs, they “breathe” through tiny blood vessels in their skin and the linings of their throats and mouths. Keep an eye out for them around creeks and under rocks.

  1. GSMNP is Home to Synchronous Fireflies

Every summer – for a couple of extraordinary weeks – the secret world of fireflies opens up under cover of darkness, and we mere humans have a rare opportunity to observe one of nature’s wildest nighttime displays. The synchronous fireflies that live in the Elkmont region of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (one of at least 19 different species) begin to flash in unison as part of an awe-inspiring mating ritual. The peak mating season usually lasts around two weeks each year, ranging from the end of May to the beginning of June.

  1. Mountaintop Temperatures Typically Stay Below 80 Degrees

Summer temps in the south can reach sweltering numbers, but visitors to the park’s peaks stay cool. Higher elevations rarely reach 80 degrees. Explore mountaintops like Mount LeConte or Clingmans Dome for the cooler temps. Fun fact: Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and in the entire state of Tennessee! Towering high at 6,643 feet, you can see over 100 miles on a clear day from its observation deck.

  1. There are 2,900 Miles of Streams

The Smokies are home to approximately 2,900 miles of refreshing streams…and you can fish in all of them! A lot of the streams also result in some pretty spectacular waterfalls like Grotto Falls, Laurel Falls, Abrams Falls, and Rainbow Falls. Every year more than 20,000 people hike to see these cascading beauties.

  1. Discover More than 800 Miles of Hiking Trails

Speaking of hiking, there are more than 800 miles of hiking trails in the park. Hiking is the best way to get up close and personal with the beauty of nature. In the winter, you can explore enchanting frozen waterfalls, and spring hikes boast breathtaking fields of wildflowers. Lace up those boots and get ready to hit the trails!

  1. Explore the Most Visited National Park in the Entire United States

The Great Smoky Mountains Park is the most visited national park in the United States. With over 10 million visitors annually, there are so many things to do. The park is a great spot for families with amazing activities and attractions like fishing, hiking, and exploring local Appalachian history. And the fact that two-thirds of the country lives within a 24-hour travel radius makes it an easy spot for a road trip.