I made my first trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1975 when I was in graduate school at UTK in Knoxville. Three years later, forty years ago, our family made our first hiking trip, when we participated in a church sponsored outing, which included a walk up Mount LeConte. Since then, we’ve made over thirty trips up that mountain, hiked the AT in the western end of the park, and a majority of the AT in the eastern end. Seventeen years after that first hike, in 1995, we moved to North Carolina so my wife could take a job in Bryson City. That town is the county seat of Swain County, North Carolina and has two entrances to the national park: one is on Fontana Road; the other is on Deep Creek, which has a campground, trails, and a picnic area.
There are multiple books of interest to veteran or new visitors to the park, If you are interested in the flora and/or the fauna, history, hiking trails, waterfalls, etc., there are a lot of volumes to peak your interests. Selected books are listed at the end this blog as well as links to the Park’s and The Smoky Mountain Association’s websites.
Rose Houk has written a number of books about the park, but in my opinion the best is The Great Smoky Mountains National Park: a Natural History Guide. Houk combines geology, plants, animals, and human history of the area before the park was created in the 1930s. Lumbering was an important part of that history and a key element in the drive to establish an national park in both the Smokies and the Shenandoah mountains of Virginia. The arrival of corporate lumber companies that clear cut the mountains brought together citizens from both Tennessee and North Carolina to raise money to buy land from them and others who owned great swaths of wilderness and turn it to parkland for all to enjoy. Michael Frome’s Strangers in High Places concentrates on the human history of the mountains. In The Birth of a National Park In the Great Smoky Mountains by Carlos Campbell, he describes the grassroots campaign that resulted in the founding of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Other books that describe the people who inhabited these mountains before they were discovered by the lumber companies include Our Southern Highlanders by Horace Kephart. A librarian by trade, Kephart came to the Smoky Mountains to recover from emotional problems and ended spending most of his middle aged life here before dying in an automobile accident just east of Bryson City in 1931. In addition to his writing articles for varied magazines, Kephart teamed with Asheville photographer George Masa to champion the Smokies as the location for a national park.
Another author who popularized mountain culture at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth was Mary Noilles Murfree, who wrote under the pseudonym Charles Egbert Craddock. Where Kephart concentrated mainly on non-fiction, Murfree drew fictional portraits of her mountaineers. Unfortunately, like Kephart, her descriptions lent themselves to caricatures and stereotypes.
Two books that draw a different picture of the communities in the Smoky Mountains before the park was developed from the picture painted by Kephart and Murfree (Craddock) that neglected the middle class: Durwood Dunn’s Cades Cove: the Life and Death of a Southern Appalachian Community, 1818-1937; and Duane Oliver’s Hazel Creek from Then till Now. Unfortunately, according to Durwood Dunn, the National Park Service elected to preserve Cades Cove, where Murfree lived for a spell, as a nineteenth century settlement, when in reality, the residents of the Cove in the twentieth century had automobiles and tractors.
Duane Oliver makes the same complaint about Proctor on Hazel Creek. After the Ritter Lumber Company established a mill, the town grew to a population of over 1000 persons with a post office and school. Hazel Creek was not in the original plan for the park. It was only after the Tennessee Valley Authority decided to built Fontana Dam, needed to supply electricity to the ALCOA plant near Maryville, Tennessee, that the residents of Proctor, and other northshore inhabitants, realized they would have to move because the lake behind the dam would cover the town and the road that led from Bryson City to Deal’s Gap. The Park Service tore down all of the buildings of Proctor, except one.
In The Walker Sisters of Little Greenbrier, Rose Houk describes the lives of the Walker sisters, daughters of John Walker of Little Greenbrier, who were able to reside in their home place until the last one died in 1964 . After an article about them appeared in Saturday Evening Post in 1947, they became celebrities. In his History Hikes of the Smokies, Michal Strutin describes the nice easy walk to the Walker sisters cabin from Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area.
One of the popular areas for hikers in the park is Mount LeConte. The summit can reached by hiking up five trails: Rainbow Falls, Trillium Gap, Bullhead, Alum Cave, and the Boulevard. The first three are convenient to Gatlinburg; Alum Cave, the shortest, can be accessed from US 441 between Gatlinburg and Newfound Gap. The Boulevard allows hikers to approach LeConte via the AT. Two books, listed below, are guides to those trails: Hiking Trails of the Smokies and A Natural History of Mount LeConte. The trails on LeConte are strenuous if you are going to the summit and crowded if you are going to the falls on Rainbow Falls and Grotto Falls on Trillium Gap, or the bluffs on Alum Cave. Bull Head is currently closed due to damage from the fires in 2016 and Rainbow Falls is closed for construction on weekdays in 2018.
If you are interested in the geology of the park, Harry L. Moore’s book A Roadside Guide to the Geology of the Great Smoky National Park is a must. This book provides five road tours that takes the reader to the most interesting geologic formations in the park. If you don’t know geologic terms, the author explains them for the novice.
Gail Palmer pinpoints the the cemeteries located within the bounds of the park in her book, Cemeteries of the Smokies. Some of these burial grounds are hard to find and involve strenuous hikes to reach, especially the ones on the north shore of Fontana Lake. Her book was published by the Smokey Mountains Association, but was pulled when it was realized it needed more editing.
For further reading:
Carlos C. Campbell. Birth of a National Park In the Great Smoky Mountains. 1960, 1969.
Catton, Theodore. Mountains for the Masses: a History of Management Issues in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 2014.
Durwood Dunn. Cades Cove: the Life and Death of a Southern Appalachian Community, 1818-1937. 1988.
Michael Frome. Strangers in High Places: The Story of the Great Smoky Mountains. 1966.
Hiking Trails of the Smokies. 2016.
Rose Houk. Great Smoky Mountains National Park: A Natural History Guide. 1993.
Rose Houk. The Walker Sisters of Little Greenbrier. 2005.
Horace Kephart . Our Southern Highlanders.
Harry L. Moore. A Roadside Guide to the Geology of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 1988.
Duane Oliver. Hazel Creek from Then till Now. 1989.
Gail Palmer. Cemeteries of the Smokies. 2017, 2018.
Michal Strutin. History Hikes of the Smokies. 2003.
Kenneth Wise and Ron Petersen. A Natural History of Mount Le Conte. 1998.