The Great Smoky Mountains was nominated as the third most valuable place in the world to travel.
The best-value list compiles destinations where travelers can go to both save money, and experience unique things that make their dollars worthwhile. Choosing destinations for the list balances the cost of going to them with opportunities travelers have when they get there.
The mountains appeared on Lonely Planet’s list of best places to travel for their value alongside the Maldives, a city in Poland, and Houston. They were only beat by the Southern Nile Valley in Egypt and Łódź, a city in Poland known for a vibrant cultural atmosphere.
The list compiles the travel destinations that provide the best experiences for the least cost, all of which were decided on by a panel of travel writers. They decided which destinations deserved a place on the list after compiling results from a survey handed out to people working with Lonely Planet and from ideas created during brainstorming events held in their offices, worldwide.
This year’s committee included Tony Wheeler, the founder of the company. Lonely Planet began in 1973, and has since produced a variety of guidebooks and posts travel-themed articles on their website. Their guidebooks are tailored for exploring different regions, such as a guidebook for exploring Australia or Asia.
Lonely Planet also publishes travel guides for across the world, including an annual publication ranking different destinations in a variety of ways. The 2019 Best in Travel guidebook also includes list for the best cities to travel to, the best countries and the best regions.
While other lists consider the opportunities a region offers travelers, the best in value list also takes into account the time and money it takes to get to a destination.
“The Great Smoky Mountains are so accessible,” said Trisha Ping, Lonely Planet’s Eastern U.S. destinations editor. “Other national parks are less accessible because it’s a long drive or you have to camp to see anything. We wanted to call out and highlight the value of the Smokies,” Ping said. “The list provides the places which give the most utility to travelers.”
What’s great about the Smokies?
The Great Smoky Mountains earned third place on the list because it is beautiful year-round, according to Lonely Planet. The mountains are also free to enter, which helps travelers’ dollars go farther than other, more expensive travel destinations.
The Great Smoky Mountains cover 522,427 acres between North Carolina and Tennessee. Their highest peak at Clingmans Dome reaches 6,643 feet, and the mountains host more than 400,000 hikers every year
At the same time, its smallest mountain reaches only 875 feet and easier trails, like the 1.9-mile Gatlinburg Trail, take travelers’ breath away with their sights, not their difficulty.
“There are easy trails to walk with the kids or with grandparents,” Ping said. “And there are harder trails, too.”
Mountains on the rise
The area has had two years to rebuild after wildfires devastated the area, Gatlinburg in particular. The fires killed 14 people, burned more than 10,000 acres (15 square miles) inside the national park, and 6,000 acres in other parts of the area. At least 14,000 area residents and tourists were forced to evacuate, while over 2,000 buildings were damaged and/or destroyed.
The Great Smoky Mountains wildfires were the deadliest wildfires in the eastern U.S. since the Great Fires of 1947, which killed 16 people in Maine. In addition, the fires were also the most deadly and destructive of the 2016 Southeastern United States wildfires.
Now that the fires have been extinguished, the mountains have been on the rebound. In 2016, the park received 11.3 million visits.
As a result of the mountains’ popularity, Lonely Planet is planning a guidebook for the park set to be released late next year, according to Ping.
It will be the first guidebook the publication has made for a national park in the eastern U.S.