Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses the largest tract of wilderness remaining on the eastern seaboard and it is a critical sanctuary for a wide variety of animals. There are 65 species of mammals, over 240 varieties of birds, 67 native fish species and more than 80 types of reptiles and amphibians. In fact, the Park is known as the “Salamander Capital of the World” with 30 salamander species in five families.
You are sure to find adventure every time you step into the park to view wildlife like the majestic Eastern Elk, black bear, bobcat, or wild turkey. Maybe you’ll spot river otters playing in a stream, or a flying squirrel gliding between the trees. Beavers, deer, eagles, hawks, owls, peregrine falcons, pileated woodpeckers, ground hogs, coyotes, raccoons – all make homes in these mountains. And some say maybe there’s a mountain lion or two still roaming these mountains. South of Avalon are curious white squirrels to watch at play. Look for them romping on the courthouse lawn in downtown Brevard.
With the oldest mountain range on earth and temperate rain forest as part of the geography, Western North Carolina has some of the purest water flowing from its peaks and springs for perfect river habitats for the trout and the other native fish species at home in these mountains. Here, rainbow, brown and native brook trout flourish both as wild fish and with hatchery support through an active fisheries management program. It’s some of the best trout fishing in the world and just minutes from Avalon.
This area also is home to some of the world’s oldest and rarest plants like 500-year-old lichen and 600-year-old dwarf white oak dwarf trees. Western North Carolina is an island of plant diversity with more than 4000 species – the largest concentration in North America. One of the most iconic and threatened plants in the region is the Panax quinquefolim, commonly known as American Ginseng.
No matter where you go in the Southern Appalachians you will encounter a breathtaking variety of wildflowers and unique plants that live only here in these ancient mountains. Some local favorites are rhododendron, mountain laurel, trillium, pink and yellow lady slippers also known as moccasin flower, ferns, wood lilly, indian paint brush and wild burning azalea. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has the tallest old growth pine trees on the east coast and has been honored many times by the Eastern Band of Cherokee for the preservation efforts there. Close to Avalon is Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest where you can see trees that are 400 years old and older, and tower 100 feet or more above the forest floor.
When nature beckons, head out in any direction and explore the parks, The Blue Ridge Parkway, Pisgah National Forest and Nantahala National Forest. All are right outside your front door.