Rising along the Tennessee?North Carolina border in the southeastern United States, the Great Smoky Mountains, commonly referred to as ?The Smokies,? are a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains stretching from the Pigeon River in Western North Carolina southwest to the Little Tennessee River.
The name “Smoky” describes the distinctive natural fog that often hangs over the range ? the result of warm humid air from the Gulf of Mexico cooling rapidly in the higher elevations of Southern Appalachia.
The Smokies are part of an International Biosphere Reserve ? which seeks to maintain the region?s impressive biological diversity including: 66 species of mammals, over 240 species of birds, 43 species of amphibians, 60 species of fish, and 40 species of reptiles, as well as protect its dozens of threatened and endangered species. The region contains nearly as many tree species as in all of Europe and constitutes the largest old growth forest east of the Mississippi River.
Among the region?s most iconic symbols is the eastern black bear whose protected status has resulted in the densest population of that species in the Eastern United States. Most adults weigh between 100-300 pounds, though some may grow to more than 500. The Great Smokies are also home to five of the world’s nine families of salamanders ? the most diverse population outside of the tropics.
The highest point in the Smokies is Clingmans Dome, which rises to an elevation of 6,643 feet (2,025 m). This mountain is the highest in Tennessee and the third highest in the Appalachian range. Mount Le Conte is the tallest (i.e., from immediate base to summit) mountain in the range, rising 5,301 feet (1,616 m) from its base in Gatlinburg to its 6,593-foot (2,010 m) summit.