Answering a Major Question: Why are the Smoky Mountains Smoky?

February 10, 2020

If you’ve ever seen the Smoky Mountains in the morning, you will know why they have smoky in their name. Blankets of bluish smoke settle over the mountains on most mornings, creating a beautiful sight. Some rumors even have gone around, saying that locals use giant fog machines to create the smoky effect. We want to clear up this rumor for you and tell you the real reason why the Smoky Mountains are so smoky!

Getting to the Root of the Smoke

The mountain view from clingmans domeYou may be surprised to learn the root of why the Smokies are smoky. It’s actually because of the plants! We all learned in elementary school that plants take in oxygen and give off carbon dioxide, but they actually give off more than that. Vegetation also releases something called volatile organic compounds or VOCs for short. The purpose of these are to attract pollinators, defend the plants from herbivore insects and parasites, and signal to nearby plants.

You probably haven’t even realized it, but the scent that comes off of pine trees are actually VOCs. Their name make them sound dangerous, but when they are released from plants, they are completely natural and safe. Usually, VOCs cause the scents we know, but in large amounts, they also cause dense fog like you see in the Smoky Mountains.

Why is the Smoke Blue?

smoky mountainsHave you also wondered why the smoke in the Smoky Mountains is blue? VOCs are also the cause of the bluish color. When the VOCs are released from the vegetation, the molecules that make up the gas scatter blue light from the sky. Any area in the United States that has this much vegetation, especially with pine trees, will have a blue tint to the fog.

The blue smoke you see contributed to the naming of the Smoky Mountains, too. Cherokee used to live in the area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and referred to the mountains as Shaconage, which translates to “the place of the blue smoke.”

Hiking in the Smoky Mountains

clingmans dome at duskSince we answered your question of why are the Smoky Mountains smoky, we want to share some of the best hiking trails to see the beauty of the area! There are a ton of hiking trails where you will have incredible views of the mountains along the way and at the end of your hike. You will also be able to take in nature as you make your way to the end of the trail. Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Smoky Mountains, making it ideal for seeing a sweeping view of the mountains. Another great hike is to Andrews Bald; a bald is a meadow on a mountaintop. At the end of this trail, you can enjoy a picnic or look out at the mountains. For some unique spots along your way, the hike to Alum Cave is a great trail you should try.

Want even more trails to hike that have incredible views? Check out the highest peaks in the Smoky Mountains you should hike to!