The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has nearly 800 square miles of trail and more than 500,000 acres of land. There’s so many things to do in the Smoky Mountains in every season – there’s motor nature trails and auto tours, waterfalls, pioneer homes, quiet walks and hundreds of hiking trails. Within the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are about 900 miles of maintained hiking trails. When you take advantage of the trails, you will have a view of the park that puts you in touch with nature while you cross streams and walk up and down the ridges of the Smokies.
Tips for Smoky Mountains Hiking
You should be prepared for a wide range of temperatures and conditions. The temperature on some hikes can be 10 degrees cooler than when you left the lower elevation (it’s always colder in the upper elevations). It’s best to wear a rain jacket, or at least pack one with you, just in case it’s raining in the upper elevations as well. Generally, you’ll know the weather based on the weather in the lower elevations, but you should always be prepared when you’re hiking in the Smoky Mountains! If you plan on hiking in the winter, you should dress in layers to be sure you stay warm while you’re outside for the day.
Ways to Prepare for Hiking in the Smoky Mountains
1. Footwear should be at the top of your list! Though tennis shoes may be generally appropriate for a majority of day hikes, boots should be worn on the uneven trails in the park. They support the ankles from sprains and the foot from cuts and abrasions. If you plan on just spending an afternoon hiking, you’ll be find in tennis shoes.
2. Stay on the designated trail. When you leave the path, you have a much higher chance of getting off track.
3. Cross streams carefully. Getting wet, even in summer, could lead to hypothermia, which leads ultimately to disorientation, poor decision making and, in extreme circumstances, can cause injury. Having said that, don’t let a fear of hypothermia, getting lost or bears prevent you from the enjoyment to be had by trekking the trails of the park. These circumstances are very rare.
4. When we questioned a park ranger about how to react to meeting a bear on the trail, he smilingly told us the most likely sighting of a bear will be its tail disappearing over a ridge. Most “incidents” occur when an ignorant visitor feeds or otherwise harasses a bear. Our own experiences with bears have proven this to be true, too, so don’t be worried about bears!
5. If you’re trying to avoid crowds, here’s how: hike during the week, avoid holidays and hike during the “off” season. It helps to get started in the morning before most people are even waking up and heading to the mountains, plus this is a good time to see wildlife and the morning light is great for photography! You can also avoid crowds by using the outlying trailheads such as those found at the Cosby and Wears Valley entrances.
With a little care and planning, Smoky Mountains hiking can be much more rewarding and repay you with more great memories. For more information about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, click here.