href=”/articles/12517″>YOSEMITE | GRAND CANYON | <a
| OLYMPIC | <a
href=”/articles/12526″>YELLOWSTONE | DENALI
Don’t be fooled–though the Smokies can be busier than a NASCAR stadium, the lush peaks and hazy mist that inspired the park’s name hide a lifetime’s worth of adventure. Packed into the park are verdant groves of tulip poplar and wind-whipped spruce-fir forests where elk and black bears roam. Three-foot salamanders swim beneath clouds of fireflies blinking in unison. On a typical multiday hike, you could pass more than 10,000 plant and animal species (though scientists believe 90,000 could live here). In this Eastern oasis, in the shadow of 300-million-year-old mountains that once soared as tall as the Rockies, life explodes in a shock of blooming, buzzing, slithering, and chirping–a rare escape where hikers can leave civilization and lose themselves in deep wilderness.