GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Great Smoky Mountains National Park began as a seed of an idea that grew into a big dream that has blossomed for all people to enjoy for more than 80 years and counting.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Smokies saw a near record 12 million visitors in 2020. As vaccines continue to roll out, that number will likely grow in 2021.

The park was officially dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. In that first year, one million visitors were recorded.

As News 2 celebrates Tennessee’s 225 years of history, we’re exploring places that have shaped our great state, like the Smokies. With help from the Tennessee State Library and Archives, we walk you some of the beautiful sights from the GSMNP over the decades.

Facts about Clingmans Dome

  • Highest point in GSMNP at 6,643 feet
  • Highest point in Tennessee
  • Third highest mountain east of the Mississippi
  • Observation tower has 360° views of the Smokies and beyond

Facts about Mt. LeConte

  • Third highest point in GSMNP at 6,583 feet
  • Highest peak completely in Tennessee
  • Has 4 subpeaks above 6,000 feet
  • Has highest Inn in the Eastern U.S. that provides lodging

Facts about Chimney Tops

  • One of the most popular GSMNP trails
  • Trial gains 1,400 feet in two miles
  • Newly constructed observation point opened in 2017
  • 2016, 2 juveniles started a deadly wildfire near the summit

Facts about the Smokies

  • Most visited national park in the U.S.
  • No entry fee required
  • More than 800 miles of hiking trails
  • More than 90 historic structures preserved by the park

More facts about the Smokies

  • Cherokee called the area ‘Shaconage’ which means ‘Land of Blue Smoke’
  • ‘Salamander Capital of the World’ with 30 different species found
  • Some of the oldest mountains on earth, 200-300 million-years-old
  • Within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the nation’s population