Why Are the Smoky Mountains Smoky? Are They Always Smoky?

Why are the Smoky Mountains Smoky

The smoke of the Smoky Mountains is more of a mist or a fog (ehrlif / stock.adobe.com)

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I was driving west through the mountains, going to cover a football game.

Then, I crested a hill and found myself awestruck by the beauty below.

The sun was behind them. The mountaintops stood out dark against the strokes of yellows, reds, oranges and pinks in the sky.

The valleys were blanketed in thick blue mists.

The glorious splendor of the Smoky Mountains sprawled out ahead. They were begging to be explored.

And begging for their beauty to be documented as one of the world’s true wonders.

I was lost in my thoughts as I sang along to the radio. I was paying little attention to the world outside except for the highway’s curves and bumps.

There was no time to stop for a picture, I couldn’t miss kickoff.

I think about that, occasionally, the shock of natural wonder breaking the routine of a fairly mundane day.

Stopping and getting a pic, probably would have been worth being a couple of minutes late to the game.

I’ve been back up there a few times, trying to catch the perfect moment again. But while it’s beautiful every time, it’s never quite the same.

Blue smoke rises from the Smoky Mountains
The Cherokee called the mountains Shaconage which translates to “place of the blue smoke” (stock photo)

Why are the Smokies called the Smokies?

You might wonder why they are called the Smoky Mountains.

Well, amazingly, it’s not why you’d think. In fact, there’s a really compelling and surprising way the mountains got their name.

Read Also: Smoky or Smokey Mountains: How it is really spelled?

Here it comes. Wait for it. Yeah. Ok. It’s actually exactly why you’d think. It’s not surprising at all.

Why are the Smoky Mountains called smoky? It’s the smoke. Although they’re really more of a mist or fog. But yeah basically the Smoky Mountains are, well, smoky.

The Cherokee called the mountains Shaconage – place of the blue smoke.

Read Also: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 3 spots you don’t want to miss 

Smokey or Smoky
The mist you see in the Smoky Mountains is produced by water being pulled up from the soil by the plants, rising up to the leaves and then evaporating into the air (stock photo)

Why do the mountains look hazy?

I always assumed the smoke rose from the many creeks and streams running through the mountains. But that’s not the case.

The rising mists are produced by the forest itself.

Water is pulled from the soil up into the plants and trees and eventually rises from the leaves, evaporating into the air.

The water cools and forms the blue-tinged mists you see rising over the mountains, eventually forming clouds and falling back to the earth to repeat the cycle.

Through time, however, the mountains’ mists have been supplemented by man-made smoke and smog.

Unfortunately, smog due to pollution is also sometimes visible (photo by JMichael Photography/stock.adobe.com)

Are the Smoky Mountains always Smoky?

For generations, coal-fired plants and pollution made it harder to see the same mountain views and the air stream patterns often brought pollution for other areas and deposited it in the mountains.

You can somewhat tell the difference between the natural mist and the smog because the mists are blue and the smog tends to be white or gray.

The mountains, in many ways, retain the charms that made them attractive to the National Park Service, and steps that have been taken to reduce air pollution have been effective.

Some studies indicate the air pollution in the mountains has been cut in half from previous decades.

Read Also: 10 things you didn’t know about Clingmans Dome

Fall Foliage in the Smoky Mountains
High winds from fall storms tend to carry away the mist and smog, leaving behind clean air and blue skies (photo by dlhedberg/stock.adobe.com)

What is the best time to visit the Smoky Mountains?

Still, if you want to see the Smokies the way they were prior to the industrial age, there is one pretty good trick we can recommend.

Nearly every hurricane season, around August through October, a storm from the gulf winds its way across Tennessee and over the mountains.

Those high winds will carry whatever isn’t in the air naturally away with them, creating the cleanest air in the Smokies in their immediate aftermath.

Coupled with fall foliage, this makes late summer through early October a great time to visit the Smoky Mountains if you want to see some amazing views.

Read Also: What is the best time to see fall colors in the Smoky Mountains?

What are your best tips for viewing the Smoky Mountains? Let us know in the comments.

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Photo of author


John Gullion

John Gullion, Managing Editor at the Citizen Tribune, is a freelance contributor for TheSmokies.com LLC – the parent company of TheSmokies.com and HeyOrlando.com.

7 thoughts on “Why Are the Smoky Mountains Smoky? Are They Always Smoky?”

  1. I live not to far from the smokies.i visit them every weekend .they gave me the feeling that i belonged there.

  2. The Smokies are beautiful no matter the season or weather. They call to you.❤️

  3. Always ❤️My Smokies! You didn’t know they were mine? It’s ok. I will share them with you!

  4. The smoothies to me are like heaven on Earth we’ve been all around the country and always come home to the Smokies love both side but really enjoy the Townsend the quiet sid of the mountains

  5. I’ve hike the entire AT trail through Smokies. It is magical with all the different animals and trees. It is simply nature at its best.

  6. And it’s truly amazing what are God creates for us to view.We are truley Blessed that we live on our wonderful planted called EARTH. We should enjoy it, no destroy it. If it wasn ‘t for GOD we wouldn’t have anything.

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