Due to the size of the National Park it is easy to divide it into areas. Most of the areas have been called by these names for years, even before the establishment of the National Park. Named for Rivers, for logging areas or for the Communities that used to inhabit these areas the various areas of the Smokies are as diverse as they are interesting.
Elkmont is unique in the Smokies in the fact that it was one of the last regularly inhabited areas of the National Park. Starting out as a lumber area, the people of Knoxville began to come to the area for summer vacations, building vacation homes to come back to year after year. There was even an inn called the Wonderland Hotel there for a number of decades. As the life time leases expired on these pieces of property, Elkmont became a ghost town. Now, it has a campground, and some great hiking trails through this abandoned history area of the park.
Another former logging area of the National Park, Tremont is now a place for learning more about the environment and the ecosystems in the Smokies. The Institute at Treemont now hosts classes and sessions all year long for people of all ages. They bring in school age children throughout the year that are able to stay overnight and receive training about the Smoky Mountains and the great outdoors, are able to stay overnight and then continue their training the next year.
One of the most popular areas of the Smokies, this is the home of the Sugarlands Visitors Center and the headquarters of the National Park. Sugarlands is located at the entrance to the GSMNP right outside of Gatlinburg. Several trails (including the Gatlinburg Trail and the Old Sugarlands Trail) give you access to those closest areas to the park headquarters.
Located on the North Carolina side of the Smokies, Oconaluftee is named for the river that flows into Cherokee, NC. With a beautiful visitors center and the Mountain Farm Museum the Oconuluftee area has several great trails and plenty of activities. The Mountain Farm Museum lets you experience what the people who ran the mountain towns in the Smokies may have lived like in the times before the Park Service took over the area.
Located between Gatlinburg and Cosby, Greenbrier is not visited as much as some parts of the Smokies. Beautiful trails and white water make this stop for the outdoor adventurers. Picnic areas, hiking trails and much more await the intrepid as they get outside to have fun.
Cades Cove is the most visited place in the Smokies. Formerly heavily populated, the people left the area with the establishment of the GSMNP. The 11 mile loop road is traveled throughout the year and the views of the mountains and wildlife from this valley are extraordinary. If you are looking for bears in the Smokies this is your best place to visit.
Cataloochee, though not as well-known as Cades Cove , was one of the valley areas that was heavily populated before the GSMNP came into existence. The people of that area were farmers and even embraced the early tourism to this beautiful part of the country. Now, besides being a gorgeous area to visit in the Smokies it is home to the largest herd of Elk in the Smoky Mountains.
Roaring Fork was one of the largest mountain communities before the establishment of the GSMNP. With a sawmill, churches and plenty of small farms, this area was the start of the White Oak Flats community that eventually became Gatlinburg. Now it is home to one of the auto tours that you can take through the Smoky Mountains to learn more about the culture and the history of the area.