One of the most popular things to do when you’re exploring this beautiful area should be approached with caution, and certainly not taken for granted. Hiking in the Smoky Mountains has its moments filled with pure joy. However, we need to stay wary of its many perils as well. Tourists flock to this region to get their fill of mountain air and the sheer glory of their appearance. Many of them visit to tackle the hundreds of miles of trails available for the hardcore hiker. There's also trails for the hiker at heart who wants to experience the thrills of being in nature for a few hours.
The following is a list of 10 very important tips that you should heed when hiking in the Smoky Mountains. Many of these lessons can be applied to various other nature walks. However, each one should be met with great vigilance. If you don’t follow these, you could potentially be putting yourself in a dangerous situation. No one wants to be in danger or hear about it.
1. Black Bear Safety
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a black bear population that is in the neighborhood of around 2,000. These sightings are becoming more prevalent today due to a myriad of factors. However, we won’t go in depth with those here. What is important to know is that these are wild animals and can be quite unpredictable; however if you follow a few simple rules, you can avoid a close encounter with these impressive creatures.
The Park Service has done an excellent job notifying the millions of tourists about bear safety tips. Here are a few that will keep you and your hiking group safe:
- Keep at least 50 yards away if at all possible.
- Absolutely under no circumstances should you feed them.
- Stand your ground, making loud noises and acting aggressively.
- Slowly back away but do NOT run.
- Throw rocks, if necessary, and utilize a stick as a method of deterring the bear.
Chances are good that a few of these measures won’t be needed. Bears are normally just as scared of you as you are them. It’s important to keep your cool no matter how hard that may be when the adrenaline starts flowing. We don’t expect you to have a bear sighting on your trail walk. However, it’s better to be safe and know what to do if it does occur.
2. Stay Hydrated
It may seem like common sense, but it can be quite easy to overlook the most basic human need for water. We simply need it to survive. It’s necessary to make sure you have an ample amount for your journey. This can depend on what kind of a hike you’re taking. If you’re doing an easy, mile-long, frequently visited and paved trail, you won’t need a giant thermos. But if you’re going on some high-difficulty, rough terrain trails, you’ll want to give yourself plenty to tote around. This means a backpack is also an essential item to bring which can store your supply.
Don’t make the mistake of not bringing enough of this survival liquid. Otherwise, dehydration will set in, creating some not-so-desired consequences. Obviously, you’ll get dry mouth, but the other symptoms of being light-headed, confused, and the body’s inability to produce sweat, only leads to trouble that can happen before the realization sets in.
3. Bring Healthy Snacks
When you’re hiking in the Smoky Mountains, it really doesn’t matter what trail you’re on; you’re going to be burning up quite a few calories in the process. This is why it’s a good idea to slip some snacks into your pockets or your backpack. You’re going to build up a hunger. Therefore, we’d like to advise some smart options for your journey.
Candy bars or any kind of junk food isn’t ideal. However, we know that for some—diabetics, for example—it’s always necessary to carry some carb fuel. This is especially true on longer hikes. Ideally, any kind of granola or protein bars, peanut butter, assorted nuts or trail mix, and fruit are the best options for keeping endurance levels sustained. It helps maintain a solid mental state that will prove beneficial in times when it could be needed.
4. Proper Footwear
Unless you’re on an easy, paved visitor-friendly trail, it’s going to be very important that you are fitted with the proper footwear to keep a solid footing on your hike. As you might imagine, there are trails for hiking in the Smoky Mountains that are far from easy. Therefore, if you don’t have on your hiking shoes or boots, you might be in for a painful journey. You can get fraught with blisters. Fortunately, there are places in Gatlinburg where you can find comfort for your feet.
Despite the store’s smallness, The Day Hiker, located in The Village, has a more streamlined selection. These will make it easy for you to decide what to buy. They also have backpacks and hiking poles that will also make it easier on your trip into the mountains. For a much larger space—and a much better place to find what you’re looking for—you’ll be in awe of Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) in Gatlinburg. You should be able to find yourself a nice pair here. You’ll probably end up walking out with a few other important items for your hike too.
5. Dress For Any Condition
What you’re wearing can also have a bearing on how well your trip into the Smoky Mountains goes. Once again, try not to make the mistake of being negligent when it comes to dressing for the weather. The summer and winter months can bring about a different kind of challenge, especially when it comes to the altitude. Remember: it is usually much cooler on the trails—anywhere from 10 to at least 20 degrees—than it is in downtown Gatlinburg and neighboring towns.
To reiterate, unless you’re going on a simple and short trail, you should at least resemble an experienced hiker with appropriate gear. In the summer, you can wear shorts, but make sure pockets are plentiful. This is so you can store some of those important accessories. Winter can present all kinds of issues. Therefore, we would advise dressing in some of the warmest types of gear that won’t slow you down. This can include warm, base-layer clothing, and some fleece or flannel that’s layered for protection. This can keep your comfort level high for when the cold lingers.
6. Hike With a Friend
We’re not going to tell you it’s a terrible idea to go hiking in the Smoky Mountains by yourself. However, it’s always recommended because two, three, four, or more heads are always better than one. When you’re hiking with a group, you shouldn’t be compelled to get where you’re going quickly. Go only as fast as your slowest member. And this prevents situations that may become dire with nobody in sight in help you immediately.
There should especially be at least two adults if you’re going on a hike with children as well. Even some of the easy trails can be a little too narrow for comfort. Therefore,you’ll need to keep your young ones close. This is because there are some sharp drop-offs that are unforgiving no matter how small or big you are. To make it clear, you should never be in a rush. Your senses should always be elevated in situations that we humans don’t spend a majority of our time in anymore. We should always respect the dangers that come in unfamiliar territory—as beautiful as it may appear in the Smokies.
7. First Aid
We never want to think about anyone in your tight-knit group getting injured when hiking in the Smoky Mountains. However, we should always prepare for the possibility. While it’s not realistic to always have someone highly-educated in medicine at hand, it’s nice to have some fundamental knowledge of first aid. In addition, having the necessary supplies is also the best remedy for treating a potential problem, should it arise. Wraps, ointments, and bandages should all be in your handy dandy backpack for minor scrapes or more serious sprains.
Trails in the Smoky Mountains can be quite a challenge, no matter what type of skill level you can handle. However, it doesn’t take much things to go south. There are times when the terrain is muddy, wet, and slippery, causing routine walks to become more of an adventure. Regardless, whenever you’re going on a fairly rocky trail with rough terrain, it speak highly of your vigilance to have a pack-load of supplies. This is so there is less to be concerned about if one your fellow hikers is felled with an injury.
8. Research the Trail
Rarely do tourists totally wing it and hike a trail in the Smoky Mountains without at least doing some basic research on what they’re about to embark upon. It’s extremely important for a novice and expert hiker to diligently map out a hike. With the internet, there should be little effort in finding the information you need. You might prefer to have a booklet or paper map that’s detailed with all the trail markers. These can be found in the shops mentioned earlier in the article. You can also head down to one of the park’s visitors centers.
The closest one to Gatlinburg is the Sugarlands Visitors Center, which can be a great precursor to your hiking expedition. Not only can you find plenty of maps here, you can get a helpful human guide that comes in the form of an employee or volunteer. They’re here to make sure you have a safe and happy adventure that’s as seamless as possible. While you’re here you can also pick up some souvenirs, books, or browse restaurant menus for when you ultimately build up your hunger, resulting in a fantastic Southern scratch-made meal at one of the many restaurants in Gatlinburg.
9. Know Your Limitations
This important tip should be followed as a result of you researching which trail you want to dive into on your hike in the Smoky Mountains. While there are plenty of people of all shapes and sizes that take up this wonderful hobby, it’s not recommended to try a 10-15 mile uphill hike if you’re not in the proper physical condition. It’s always best to start with some of the many easier trails in the Smokies first—the Laurel Falls Trail, for one. There are numerous books available—some can be found in the many shops that sell various other items in the tourist areas—that will help you find the right one for your experience and physical level.
The worst thing you could do is bite off more than you can chew by ignoring your doctor’s orders—and by disregarding the signals your body is telling you—and venturing out on a hike that clearly is beyond you ability. It’s totally fine and recommended that you stay humble and not let your ego be an overriding factor. There’s nothing wrong with doing the right thing by stopping to take a rest to recharge. We’d like all Smoky Mountain hikers to come back safe and sound and feeling great that they benefited from a great workout that didn’t set them back on their road to optimum health.
10. Think of Backup Plans
This final tip can fall under several of the previous ones we gave, but it’s important for you to always think ahead and have a backup plan for every scenario of your hike. This comes in the form of having the proper gear, equipment, and accessories that will likely come in handy—especially with some of the challenges that are various in nature. If you’re not sure what you’re going to come across on the trail, despite all of your research, it would be wise to have a few extra things with you, just in case of weather changes or factors that you may or may not be able to control.
There’s no shame in over-preparing, because this is a much better option than the alternative. Don’t be too proud to bring a compass, hiking pole, sunglasses or other items that many hikers don’t want to bother with. We guarantee you that those funny stares coming from other hikers will make them consider bringing what they saw from prepared hikers like yourself. With all of these factors, you’ll be glad you safeguarded against precarious situations, and now you can have yourself a truly refreshing experience on the trails!
This has been a fairly thorough explanation of what you should know before giving yourself an awesome day hiking in the Smoky Mountains. Some of the links provided can give you even more information, but by following these 10 tips, you will be ready and able to make smart choices that will benefit you and your fellow hikers, ensuring a safe and enjoyable trip in the beautiful Smoky Mountains!