Why Are the Smoky Mountains Smoky?
If you have visited Gatlinburg, TN, you can confirm that the name “Smoky Mountains” is a great fit! Spanning across East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, this subrange of the Appalachian Mountains features a distinct smoky haze that has inspired countless artists, songwriters, and vacationers. Before Euro-Americans arrived in the region, the Cherokee referred to the area as “Schconage” (Sha-Kon-O-Hey), which means “land of the blue smoke.” Early white settlers took inspiration from the Cherokee when they named the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are located nearby.
So, why are the Smoky Mountains smoky? We’re glad you asked! The Appy Lodge has all of the answers below:
The “Smoke” is Actually Fog
Although “Smoky Mountains” has a poetic ring to it, a more accurate name might be “Foggy Mountains.” What we call “smoke” is actually fog rising from the mountains’ vegetation. In addition to giving off oxygen, plants emit something called volatile organic compounds or VOCs.
VOCs might sound like an ingredient you would find on the back label of a window cleaner, but they are totally natural. If you have ever taken a big whiff of the piney smell that Christmas trees give off, you’ve inhaled VOCs.
Besides causing scents and odors, a high concentration of VOCs can also cause fog. VOCs have a high vapor pressure, which means that they can easily form vapors at room temperature. Since the Smoky Mountains are home to millions of trees, bushes, and other plants, the collective vapor they exhale creates a blanket of fog that gives the Smokies their iconic look.
Origins of the Blue Haze
As noted by the Cherokee, the fog in the Smoky Mountains often takes on a blue appearance. The reason for this is that the vapor molecules released by the mountains’ vegetation scatter blue light from the sky.
This phenomenon is not unique to the Smokies. Any forest that has a large cluster of pine trees can also produce a bluish haze. Another prominent example of this is Acadia National Park in Maine.
While the Smoky Mountains are not the only place you can find blue smoke, they do have ideal conditions for creating this picturesque fog. The trees in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina have high concentrations of VOCs that scatter blue light. The Smokies also benefit from abundant rainfall, plenty of sunlight, and high levels of humidity. Taken all together, these factors produce a breathtaking fog that is truly worthy of the name “land of the blue smoke.”
Where to Stay in the Smoky Mountains
Now that we’ve answered the question “why are the Smoky mountains smoky?”, it’s time to start planning your vacation! When you stay at The Appy Lodge, you will be near all of the natural beauty in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and all of the fun in downtown Gatlinburg. Offering free parking, indoor and outdoor pools, complimentary breakfast, and walk-in showers, our hotel is the perfect home base for a getaway in Gatlinburg. To start planning your escape, browse our selection of Smoky Mountain hotel rooms!