Without question, the Great Smoky Mountains are one of the most biologically diverse locations in the entire U.S. Spanning more than 800 square miles, there is no other body of land in the country that can match the overall size and distinct climates that allow the park to have a wide range of plant and animal life. In fact, there are more than 17,000 documented species throughout the Smokies. Incredibly, scientists actually believe there may be another 30,000-80,000 species that have yet to be discovered.
With the perfect combination of mountains and glaciers history, the Great Smoky Mountains is a great spot for such an amazing outdoor diversity. As the biggest federally protected piece of land on the East of the Mississippi River, visitors can easy get lost in this expansive park. Creating a noticeable land divide between the states of North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky crest spans from the southwest to the northwest in a mountain range that stands more than 5,000 feet tall and is sprawled out over 36 miles. Depending on how high you plan on going, the park’s elevations start at 845 feet and continue to grow up to 6,643 feet above sea level.
Formed nearly 200-300 million years ago, the Great Smoky Mountains are one of the oldest mountain ranges in the entire world. Because of their specific climates that are unique to both the southwest and northwest, a variety of different species were able to migrate to the area 10,000 years ago during the last ice age. Interestingly, the ice age glaciers had a large impact on the Smoky Mountains without even actually reaching the area. Because much of North America was touched by the glaciers, many different wildlife species were forced to seek refuge in the gigantic mountain range.
Adding to the park’s attraction is its unique weather patterns. With a large amount of annual rainfall and a relatively humid summertime, the surrounding environment proves to offer nearly perfect growing conditions. More than any other total in the U.S., other than the Pacific Northwest, the park’s rainfall generally averages at 55 inches in the lower lands and 85 inches in the higher elevated areas.
Amazingly, more than any other National Park on the continent, the Smokies are the home to nearly 100 different tree species. In fact, it’s estimated that 95% of the entire park is forest land with 25% of this are being old-growth forest. On top of the 100 tree species, there is more than 1,500 other plant species throughout the park. Considered the “salamander capital of the world”, the Great Smoky Mountains are known for the lungless salamander, 66 various mammal species, 39 different types of reptiles, 67 fish species and 43 different kinds of amphibians.