About the Site
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (2)  



The Smoky Mountains

Forest & Stream

Newfound Gap

Clingman's Dome

Sugarlands Area

Oconoluftee Area

Cades Cove Area

Cades Cove Buildings





Forest & Stream

The park preserves some of the greatest forest in the eastern United States. Unlike many of the western national parks, land which was eventually set aside for this park and for nearby Shenandoah, to which it is connected via the Blue Ridge Parkway, were already inhabited and in farming and commercial use. By the time the park was established about 65% of the forest had been logged. However, within the confines of the current park there are approximately 100,000 acres which have never been logged and remain virgin forest. This is the largest remaining area of old growth forest which can be found in the eastern United States.

Much of the woodland in the park is mixed hardwood, including cove hardwood forest, an extremely diverse biological community. These forests include oaks, elms, hickories, maples, beech, birch, basswoods, ashes, walnuts, silverbell, sweetgum, sourwood, sycamore, tuliptree, hawthorne, hackberries, and magnolia. Sadly, the monarch of the cove hardwood forest, the American chestnut, is almost completely absent, having been destroyed in the years leading up to 1935 by a pernicious fungus. During the heyday of logging operations in the early 20th century the most popular tree for cutting was the yellow poplar.

The moist climatic conditions and heavy tree cover produce large amounts of moss which grow everywhere in the forest. The variety of trees is impressive, and includes some 130 native species. The tree pictured below is a yellow buckeye.

The park preserves some of the greatest forest in the eastern United States. One interesting thing about the park is the range of species which exists at the various altitudes. At the highest altitudes species grow which are usually more characteristic of the upper midwest or Canada. For example, above 4500 feet, which represents about 2% of the land in the park, you find a predominance of Fraser fir and red spruce. It is said that as the elevation increases in the park it is like moving from Georgia to Canada in terms of the tree species which are found there. In fact, the variety of plant life which exists in the Smoky Mountains, a mixture of northern and southern species, is unequaled in other temperate areas of the planet.

There are no lakes or natural ponds within the confines of the national park. The land within the park was untouched by glaciers, which as a result did not gouge areas which could hold standing water. However, the park contains some 2000 miles of streams which flow in and through the park. Each stream drains a relatively small area of perhaps 200 square miles.

Below is one of the lovely little streams typical of those in the park, the Little Peyton River.

The streams in the park are charming, with clear, swift flowing water fed by rain. They sculpt the mountains, provide water for the forest, and sustain the abundant wildlife in the park. Below is one such stream, the Oco River.

The streams contain a variety of fish, including small mouth bass, sculpins, and trout. Below is another picture of the Oco River.

The streams in the park are shallow, rocky, and fast flowing. The Little River runs along Little River Road in the northern part of the park. All of the rivers and streams in the park flow toward the northwest, draining into the Tennessee, Little Tennessee, or French Broad Rivers.

A pretty waterfall, and a popular site for visitation, is Laurel Falls.

Streams and waterfalls often flow through heavily wooded areas.

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  • All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2013

  • Commercial use of the images contained in this document without express written consent is strictly prohibited.

  • Comments and other remarks can be sent via e-mail to parkvision@shannontech.com