How Did The Great Smoky Mountains Get Their Name?

The Great Smoky Mountains, part of an International Biosphere Reserve and deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are a mountain range at the Tennessee North Carolina border located in the South East of the U.S.

They form a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains and are also part of the Blue Ridge Physiographic Province. 

Great Smoky Mountains

How Did The Great Smoky Mountains Get Their Name?

Sometimes, The Great Smoky Mountains are referred to as the Smoky Mountains or just the Smokies. They are within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which welcomes a huge 11 million visitors every year.

The Great Smoky Mountains have one of the most diverse ecosystems in the U.S and have a huge population of black bears and salamanders.

The name “The Great Smoky Mountains” is derived from the natural foggy conditions across the mountain range and the huge smoke plumes. The fog is a result of the high pressure vapor from organic compounds given out by the vegetation. 

The History of The Great Smoky Mountains

Artifacts and primitive agricultural remains from c. 8000 to 1000 B.C have been found in The Great Smoky Mountains, and it is thought that Native Americans used the mountain range as a hunting area for around 14000 years. Between the years of c. 900 and 1600 A.D, Native Americans began to move towards the river valleys on the range.

Villages were discovered at Toqua and Citico during the 1960s. These villages were named after Cherokee villages which became prominent in these areas.

The vast majority of these villages were part of a chiefdom called Chiaha, which was based on an island which is now under the Douglas Lake. In 1540 and 1567, expeditions led by Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo respectively travelled through both Chiaha and the French Broad River valley which is located North of The Great Smoky Mountains.

In the 1600s, once English expeditions found their way to Southern Appalachia, most of the area was under the control of the Cherokee. A lot of Cherokee villages were situated in river valleys along The Great Smoky Mountain range. 

European expeditions

As European settlers arrived in the 1700s, conflict broke out between the new settlers and the Cherokee, who still controlled the majority of the area around The Great Smoky Mountains.

The Cherokee sided with British forces during the American Revolution, which prompted the Americans to invade the Cherokee lands. Once frontier outposts around The Great Smoky Mountains had been designated during the 1780s, Americans began to settle in the region permanently.

During the American Civil War which broke out in 1861, communities on either side of The Great Smoky Mountains supported opposing sides; with people on the Tennessee side supporting the Union, and those on the North Carolina side supporting the Confederates.

Great Smoky Mountains 2

No large battles happened in The Great Smoky Mountains, but minor conflicts were a common occurrence. 

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains have some of the most diverse ecosystems in the entire U.S. It has a whopping 800 square miles of land mass in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, and is home to around 20,000 different species. Scientists think that there could be another 100,000 species waiting to be discovered in this beautiful park.

During the year of 1998, a biological inventory of all life forms in the park was conducted to understand which species made the park their home, their ecology, and their distribution across the park.

There have been almost 10,000 species discovered in the park which were not known to it previously, and around a thousand of these species had never been discovered anywhere else in the world.

The fantastic biodiversity present in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been at the forefront of scientific research for many years, and is the reason it was named an International Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Great Smoky Mountains have allowed scientists to put together one of the biggest and most sustained natural history inventories in the world today. 

Animal and plant life in The Great Smoky Mountains 

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to a huge number of wildlife. The Black Bear is a world-famous member of The Great Smoky Mountains clan, with around 1500 bears living in the park, but along with it are white-tailed deer, chipmunks, squirrels, bats, groundhogs, over 200 species of birds, over 50 species of fish, and 30 species of salamander to name a few.

There are also an abundance of plant species that are protected by the park.


The Great Smoky Mountains are a magnificent natural wonder, with a name derived from its trademark fog that lingers over the range. It’s steeped in history and was home to many different generations such as Cherokees and the first American settlers.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been a great help to our knowledge of science and natural history, with a rich and unrivaled biodiversity that continues to be studied in great depth to this day.