Fishing is available in the park, with various types of trout as the main catch. Rainbow trout and brown trout can be found in abundance in more than 2,000 miles of streams located within the park’s boundaries.

Lizards such as the five-lined skink and the fence lizard can be seen all over the mountain range. Amphibians include the lungless salamander and the red-cheeked salamander, which can be found only within the park. Always remember to observe the creatures—do not handle them. Many species in the Smoky Mountains are endangered or threatened and need to be left alone. Others can be dangerous if handled.

Besides breathtaking plants, flowers, trees, and amazing creatures of all shapes and sizes, the Smoky Mountains have numerous waterfalls in almost every river and stream that flows. It is important to stay away from the edges and the tops of the waterfalls. The rocks become slippery, and careless hikers may fall in and possibly drown.

Abrams Falls is a waterfall that is 20 feet high with a massive flow of water that cascades down into a deep pool. It has its own 5-mile trail, which is graded as being moderate in difficulty. Grotto Falls is a 25-foot waterfall and is heavily populated with salamanders. The hike to Grotto Falls is approximately 3 miles in length and is considered to be moderate. Two of the bigger waterfalls include Hen Wallow Falls and Juney Whank Falls, both 90 feet tall. The moderate hike to Hen Wallows is a little over 4 miles, winding through rhododendron and hemlock.

One of the advantages of visiting the mountains is experiencing nature, and one of the best ways to do this is by riding a bicycle. One can explore the sights, sounds, and smells of the forest, experiencing everything at once while getting a good dose of exercise. Cades Cove Loop Road is an 11-mile route that visitors can use as a hiking trail or bicycle trail.

Hikers can enjoy more than 800 miles of trails ranging from easy to hard. Whether the goal is to observe wildlife, plant life, or waterfalls, there are trails for all purposes and levels of activity. Trails designed for hikers or cyclists take them past old schoolhouses or historical buildings. Horse riding through the back trails is a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of common tourist areas to really explore the environment.

When making vacation plans that allow the family to experience nature, a visit to the Smoky Mountains is a great choice. Allowing children to learn hands-on about nature provides experiences they will never forget. Involving all of the senses makes learning more fun and is easier to retain. Teaching a child to appreciate the world and everything that is in it is important for everyone.

Angie Lindsay is a homeschooling mother to three children. She enjoys writing articles for several companies, including Helium and Textbroker. She has her own homeschooling advice website at homeschoolingmagic.com, and soon it will include unit studies for families to use.

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Publication date: April 5, 2013