Smoky Mountains at sunset
October 10, 2018

Come hangout in the Great Smoky Mountains long enough and you will quickly see the famous smoke that surrounds them. The mountains of East Tennessee and western North Carolina are blanketed by a smoky haze. The smoke gives the area a mystical and mysterious look. The Cherokee Indians considered the area to be a sacred place naming it “Shaconge” meaning land of blue smoke. But why are the Smoky Mountains Smokey? Keep reading to find out!

What causes the smoke?Smoky Mountains' smoke

That famous fog that surrounds the Smoky Mountains actually is produced by native vegetation in the area. You probably learned in school that plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. However, plants let out more than just oxygen. They release something called volatile organic compounds.

This may sound bad or dangerous, but it’s not! They are totally natural! These chemicals have a high vapor pressure and in the right environment form the vapors or fog that you see. With millions of plants and trees in the Smoky Mountains they all give off of these vapors that cause the “smokey” appearance.

smoky mountains fog

Why is it blue?

Not only do volatile organic compounds explain the foggy appearance, but they are also the reason for the blue tint. When vegetation from the area releases vapors the molecules in it scatter blue light from the sky. The Cherokee called this phenomenon “blue smoke.” While this type of thing happens in forests throughout the country it is particularly visible in the Smokies. The Smoky Mountains get a lot of rain and sunlight, excessive humidity, and have stagnant air. Put all of that together and you have the perfect conditions for blue smoke to very visible and bright.

Is Air Pollution Part of the Smoke?

Unfortunately, air pollution is present in the Smoky Mountains. However, scientists say 80% of the Smoky Mountains’ fog is from the sources listed above! The National Park Service has made important strides to reduce air pollution. A recent study found that pollution is currently the lowest it has been in years! And the plan is for the pollution to keep going down! The EPA has set a goal for all national parks to return to a totally natural haze by 2064.

Where Can I See the Smoke?Fog around the smoky mountains

Everywhere! The famous smoke is very present on rainy days and early in the mornings here in the mountains. Take a drive through Cades Cove and you will spot smoke around the mountains. Or travel towards Newfound Gap and you will pass by many overlooks that show off the Smoky Mountains doing what they do best – being smokey!

Why are the Smoky Mountains smokey? In short, because of natural volatile organic compounds and blue light. This natural fog is what makes our mountains some of the most magnificent and breathtaking mountains in the world to see! If you haven’t come to see this natural fog yet, come see it! The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is actually free to enter, and you can click here to find out why!