Death Valley National Park vs Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Death Valley National Park vs Great Smoky Mountains National Park

“Imagine two vastly different landscapes, one scorching and barren, the other lush and verdant. Welcome to the contrast of Death Valley and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks. While one park boasts the hottest temperature ever recorded on earth, the other is home to some of the largest old growth forests in the eastern US. From towering sand dunes to rolling green hills, these parks offer a diverse range of environments to explore and enjoy. So whether you’re seeking an adventure in the desert or a peaceful hike through the woods, these iconic parks are sure to leave you in awe and leave you curious to discover more.”

Hiking Trails in Death Valley National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Death Valley National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park are two popular hiking destinations in the United States, each offering a unique outdoor experience. Death Valley is known for its harsh desert environment and challenging hikes, such as the Telescope Peak Trail, which offers stunning views from the highest point in the park at 11,049 feet. On the other hand, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known for its lush forests and gentle trails, such as the Grotto Falls Trail, which is an easy 2.6 miles round trip hike to a beautiful waterfall. One of the hardest hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains is the Ramsey Cascades Trail, which is an 8-mile round trip hike to a 100-foot waterfall. In comparison, the hardest hike in Death Valley is the Ballarat Ghost Town & Panamint Mountains Hike, which is a strenuous, 10-mile round trip hike through the rugged, remote countryside of the Panamint Mountains.

Most Popular Hiking Trails in Death Valley National Park

Name Length Elevation Type Difficulty Visitor Ratings
Badwater Basin Salt Flats Trail 1.80 mi 9.84 ft out and back Easy 4.5/5
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Trail 2.79 mi 206.64 ft out and back Easy 4.5/5
Zabriskie Point 0.40 mi 52.48 ft out and back Easy 4.5/5
Dante’s View Trail 1.60 mi 360.80 ft out and back Easy 4.5/5
Telescope Peak Trail 11.97 mi 3,322.64 ft out and back Hard 4.5/5
Golden Canyon Trail to Red Cathedral 2.89 mi 574.00 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch Loop via Zabriskie Point 5.79 mi 1,092.24 ft loop Moderate 4.5/5
Mosaic Canyon Trail 3.49 mi 1,066.00 ft out and back Easy 4/5
Death Valley Natural Bridge Road 4.29 mi 1,000.40 ft out and back Easy 4/5
Darwin Falls Trail via Old Toll Road 1.90 mi 226.32 ft out and back Easy 4/5

Most Popular Hiking Trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Name Length Elevation Type Difficulty Visitor Ratings
Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte 10.68 mi 3,007.76 ft out and back Hard 5/5
Chimney Tops Trail 3.59 mi 1,289.04 ft out and back Hard 4.5/5
Rainbow Falls Trail 5.49 mi 1,653.12 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Grotto Falls Trail 2.59 mi 534.64 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Laurel Falls Trail 2.40 mi 396.88 ft out and back Easy 4/5
Abrams Falls Trail 4.89 mi 629.76 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Clingmans Dome Observation Tower Trail 1.20 mi 331.28 ft out and back Easy 4.5/5
Charlies Bunion via Appalachian Trail 8.58 mi 1,981.12 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Ramsey Cascades Trail 8.08 mi 2,223.84 ft out and back Hard 4.5/5
Peregrine Peak via Alum Cave Bluffs Trail 4.19 mi 1,059.44 ft out and back Moderate 5/5

Wildlife in Death Valley National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Death Valley National Park is in a desert climate and is home to a unique range of wildlife species adapted to the harsh environment like bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, and sidewinder rattlesnakes. In contrast, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, located in the Appalachian Mountains, features a wider diversity of species including black bears, elk, and the threatened Indiana bat. Both parks have a rich bird life, with Death Valley hosting species like the greater roadrunner and the black-tailed gnatcatcher, while the Smokies are known for their neotropical migrants like the scarlet tanager and the wood thrush. The Smokies also have a rich diversity of plant life, including over 130 species of native trees, while Death Valley’s vegetation is limited to drought-resistant species like creosote bush and Joshua tree.

Below are lists of the most commonly spotted wildlife at Death Valley National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. However, you can see a full list of wildlife at each national park here.

Birds

Death Valley National Park Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Peregrine Falcon Peregrine Falcon
Northern Harrier Northern Harrier
Sharp-Shinned Hawk Sharp-Shinned Hawk
Osprey Osprey
Tree Swallow Tree Swallow
Mallard Mallard
Canada Goose Canada Goose
Lincoln’s Sparrow Lincoln’s Sparrow
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
American Robin American Robin
Great Horned Owl Great Horned Owl
Red-Tailed Hawk Red-Tailed Hawk
Northern Flicker Northern Flicker
Merlin Merlin
Barn Swallow Barn Swallow
Savannah Sparrow Savannah Sparrow
Great Blue Heron Great Blue Heron
Hermit Thrush Hermit Thrush
American Kestrel American Kestrel
Bald Eagle Bald Eagle
Song Sparrow Song Sparrow
European Starling European Starling
Northern Pintail Northern Pintail
American Wigeon American Wigeon
Green-Winged Teal Green-Winged Teal

Mammals

Death Valley National Park Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Coyote Coyote
Muskrat American Beaver
Big Brown Bat Muskrat
Bobcat Big Brown Bat
Little Brown Bat Bobcat
Deer Mouse Striped Skunk
Raccoon Little Brown Bat
Porcupine Deer Mouse
Silver-Haired Bat Raccoon
Hoary Bat Black Bear
House Mouse Porcupine
Mountain Lion Silver-Haired Bat
Mule Deer Hoary Bat
Gray Fox Red Fox
Long-Legged Myotis Long-Tailed Weasel
Long-Eared Myotis House Mouse
Badger Panther (Mountain Lion)
Californian Myotis Mink
Fringed Myotis Gray Fox
Common Shrew Gray Wolf
Mexican Free-Tailed Bat Snowshoe Hare
Townsend’s Big-Eared Bat River Otter
Bushy-Tailed Woodrat Masked Shrew
Western Harvest Mouse Water Shrew
Western Small-Footed Myotis Red Squirrel

Insects

Death Valley National Park Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Orange Sulphur Orange Sulphur
Painted Lady Painted Lady
Monarch Butterfly Monarch
American Lady American Painted Lady
Red Admiral Red Admiral
Mourning Cloak Mourning Cloak
Cabbage White Cabbage White
Silvery Blue Silvery Blue
Common Checkered-Skipper Common Checkered Skipper
Clouded Sulphur Common Sulphur
Honey Bee Honey Bee
Variegated Fritillary Variegated Fritillary
Buckeye Buckeye
Purplish Copper Commom Wood Nymph
Gray Hairstreak Gray Hairstreak

Fish

Death Valley National Park Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Largemouth Bass Rainbow Trout
Mosquitofish Brook Trout
Goldfish Brown Trout
Largemouth Bass
Green Sunfish
Bluegill
Common Carp
Longnose Dace
Yellow Bullhead
Channel Catfish
Black Crappie
Black Bullhead
Mosquitofish
Creek Chub
Goldfish
Smallmouth Bass

Amphibians

Death Valley National Park Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Woodhouse’s Toad Northern Leopard Frog
Canyon Treefrog American Bullfrog
Wood Frog

Beautiful Landscapes in Death Valley National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Death Valley National Park is famous for its scorching deserts, salt flats, and iconic sand dunes, including the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and the Eureka Dunes. The park also boasts the lowest point in North America, Badwater Basin, and the colorful rock formations of Artist’s Drive and Zabriskie Point.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known for its lush forests, rolling hills, and mist-shrouded peaks, including Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Tennessee. The park is also home to over 1,600 species of flowering plants, as well as cascading waterfalls like Grotto, Laurel, and Cherokee Falls.

Things To-Do and Activities in Death Valley National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Death Valley NP and Great Smoky Mountains NP are two of the most popular national parks in the US. Both offer unique outdoor experiences, but they differ in the type of activities they offer. Death Valley NP is known for its scenic drives, especially along Artists Drive and Badwater Basin. Visitors also love to explore the park’s diverse landscapes, from sand dunes to salt flats, and go stargazing at night. On the other hand, Great Smoky Mountains NP is famous for its lush vegetation and wildlife, with activities such as scenic drives, camping, fishing and picnicking being popular among visitors. The park also offers ample opportunities for horseback riding and scenic drives along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Both parks offer educational programs and ranger-led tours, but Great Smoky Mountains NP has more diverse offerings, including historic sites and cultural programs.

Best Time to Visit Death Valley National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Death Valley National Park, located in California, is known for its scorching summer temperatures, which can reach up to 120°F (49°C). Winters are mild, with temperatures ranging from 40°F to 70°F (4°C to 21°C). In contrast, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, located in Tennessee and North Carolina, experiences a more temperate climate with cooler summers and chilly, snowy winters. Summer temperatures in the Smokies range from 60°F to 80°F (15°C to 27°C), while winter temperatures can drop to below freezing, with occasional snow and ice.
Visiting Death Valley during the winter months is the best time to avoid extreme heat, while visiting the Smokies in the spring and fall is ideal for comfortable weather and fall foliage viewing. On the other hand, the Smokies’ roads and trails may be closed in winter due to snow, limiting outdoor activities.

Family Friendliness of Death Valley National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is more family-friendly than Death Valley National Park due to its abundance of hiking trails, picnic areas, and campgrounds. It has several visitor centers with educational exhibits and ranger-led programs. On the other hand, Death Valley is known for its extreme temperatures, difficult hiking trails, and lack of shade, making it less suitable for families and children. Additionally, it has limited options for camping, picnicking, and other recreational activities. In conclusion, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the better choice for families traveling with children.

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