The U.S. is home to some of the most stunning landscapes in the world, which has made many of its national parks popular travel destinations. While you might assume that some iconic spots like Grand Canyon National Park or Yosemite are the most visited, according to the National Park Service, that's not the case. In fact, in 2012 it was the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which attracted over 9.6 million visits - more than double the second park on the list. Located on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, the natural preserve certainly deserves its popularity, and there are a few places in its more than 522,400 acres you should make a point to visit, notes CNN Travel.
This picturesque valley is arguably the most beautiful section of the park, so it's no wonder that it is one of the most popular destinations among visitors. Aside from its natural appeal, there are also a number of historic buildings in Cades Cove, including the famous John Oliver Cabin and Primitive Baptist Church, both of which date back to the 1800s. Experts recommend getting to the valley earlier in the day to truly experience all it has to offer.
"One of biggest mistakes people make, if they have only one day, is to start at 10 a.m," park ranger Caitlin Worth told CNN. "You've already missed the best hours. It's hot and busy, and they don't see it the way they should."
Challenge yourself with a hike
There's certainly no lack of hiking opportunities in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but if you're looking for one that will be a significant challenge, the trek to the Mount Cammerer fire lookout is a good bet. According to CNN, it is about 11 miles as a round trip with plenty of hills and steep sections. Despite the arduous journey, the payoff is magnificent and the satisfaction of having accomplished the trek is worth it as well.
There are many great places to encounter some of the wildlife that resides in the park. There are an estimated 200 different species of birds, 66 different kinds of mammals and 39 varieties of reptiles. Experts recommend heading to the Oconaluftee Valley, which is not only home to different animals, but it is also less populated with tourists.