There’s a saying in the Smokies that something happens when you cross over the Little River. I’ve made that crossing and I can tell you something special does happen. Enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Townsend, TN and feel the temperature drop as the canopy closes in over you. Cross over the Little River at the Townsend “Y” and enter a unique place of history and biodiversity.
With precipitation in excess of 100 inches per year, the Smoky Mountains are the rainforest of America. Over 5,000 feet of elevation change and 2,000+ miles of streams within the 800+ square miles make this park a hotbed of biodiversity. The Smokies are home to over 100 native tree species, over 1500 species of flowering plants, and the largest diversity of salamanders outside of the tropics.
All of that variety means you can spend a lot of time in the Smokies and still make new discoveries. With each visit something new awaits me. Whether the change of season presents a new view or I venture down a new trail, I never fail to find a plant or critter or waterfall that I hadn’t before. From Cades Cove to Clingman’s Dome, you can revel in everything from wetlands and valleys to spruce-fir forests and balds.
I visited as a flatlander from Florida while growing up but it takes some years and experience to grasp all that is subtle and magnificent about this area. For me personally, my heart belongs to the Tennessee side of the park because the Middle Prong of the Little River is where I truly rediscovered the Smokies. Not the Smokies I knew in my youth as a playground but the Smokies that keep calling me back as an adult to learn her secrets… to understand her.
That calling led me to becoming a Certified Southern Appalachian Naturalist and not only have I learned much about what makes this place so remarkable and how it works, I discovered much about myself in the process. This place doesn’t change you, rather if you take the time to know her, she will help you know yourself. My journey across the Little River led me to figuring out who I am and what I’m about. Of course I didn’t know that would happen when I started and it wasn’t my goal but it happened nonetheless.
So I continue to make my pilgrimages to the Middle Prong because we lovers of the Great Smoky Mountains don’t just inhabit this place, it inhabits us as well. That’s what happens when you cross the Little River and let the Smokies in.