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Hiking The Appalachian Trail: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Updated on March 20, 2011

Blue Ridge Mountains and Smoky Mountain National Park...

One of the most visited areas in the whole United States is the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, and in particular the Great Smoky Mountains National Park… This park is the most visited of all the national parks in the U.S., partly because of the large population located close or within a short drive away. It’s a great place to get away for a day, a week, or even a few hours as you work to shake the cobwebs out of your head…

The wildlife in the Smoky Mountains National Park is second to none, and you can expect to see a variety of creatures including deer, raccoons, and black bear! The black bear do hibernate during the winter, but they are awake and highly active during the spring, summer, and fall months, so you just very well have an encounter or two with them. For the most part, they will just be looking for any food that you might have, but occasional bear may be looking for a little more adventure… I’m not saying that you are going to be on his dinner list, but it’s always wise to hike with a large stick just to make sure that you won’t! Make sure to bring your camera so you can prove to folks back home that you actually did see a bear… They just might not believe you otherwise!

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park Section of the Appalachian Trail...

The Blue Ridge Mountains are the big attraction here, and you’ll enjoy a very scenic car ride along the winding roads through the park, or maybe you’d like to see them a little closer as you hike along the many trails in the area. The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking trail in the eastern U.S., and runs from Springer Georgia to Katahdin Maine, and it takes close to 6 months to finish if you want to hike the whole route! This is a very physically demanding hike, and you will need lots of preparation to do it including preparing yourself with daily workouts, hikes, and inclement weather. Most people don’t have either the time to do the whole trip, or the interest, since it will take a lot out of you. For those who still would like to hike the Appalachian Trail, they can tackle certain parts in bits and pieces, and the 70 mile section through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is probably the most scenic and interesting, but also the most physically demanding! The many hills and mountains that you will have to climb are extensive, and you will soon feel like a yo-yo going up and down them!

We started our 70 mile hike through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the Fontana Dam, which is near the southwestern section… We left our car at the other end of the park where we intended to finish at, which was Davenport Gap, and caught a ride over to our starting point. By far the roughest stretch was the first day of hiking, since we were just getting used to the intense exertion with our 70 pound backpacks on our backs. We had to carry everything with us that we needed, including food, tents, sleeping bags, and the like. We were pretty much prepared for anything, and even though we intended to sleep in the park “lean-to’s” that they had available for the hikers use at night, we didn’t want to be caught off guard as we would be a long ways off from rescue if we became lost or got in trouble.

Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Parrk...

The whole trip would eventually take us 6 days from start to finish, and what an incredible experience that was! First of all, the proper footwear is very important, and we were sure to have our already broken in hiking boots on our feet for the journey. Still, the first day seemed like it was all uphill, because remember, we were starting from a relatively low position near the dam. The highest point on our trip was Clingmans Dome, which is 6,643 feet high, and is the highest spot in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! In fact, it’s second only to Mount Mitchell as the highest peak east of the Mississippi, which is 6,684 feet… So you can be sure that we had a very good workout for those six days! We planned our hike, and knew where we were going to stop from night to night. The lean-to’s provided by the park were enclosed with a steel cage to keep out any unwanted critters such as raccoons and bears, but one night we were up in the bunks and a skunk somehow found his way into the enclosure and became a little bit nosey with our stuff… Well, one of the other guys also hiking the trail threw a shoe toward the skunk to try and get him out of there, and we all ducked for cover! Needless to say, that’s not the sort of thing you would want to do to a skunk, but we all managed to escape his “wrath” that night and he left without further incident… But the rest of us sure gave that guy a talking to, I’m telling you!

Hiking The Great Smoky Mountains National Park...

The End of the Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park...

One time we started off on our hike in the morning and my fellow hiking buddy and I got separated since I started out a few minutes before he did, and unfortunately he wasn’t watching the trail signs and took an offshoot of the Appalachian Trail without knowing it! He ended up hiking for many miles that day without realizing it, and when he finally looked at his map he figured out that he had gone the wrong way… Fortunately, he found another trail leading back to the main one that I was on, and we ended up at the planned on lean-to that night… It was an interesting day, for sure!

On our 2nd day in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we were climbing Silers Bald, another one of the parks big climbs, and we had an intense hailstorm appear out of nowhere to give us a surprise! Luckily for us, it didn’t last long, and we continued our upward climb. There are many unique place names along the way, including Icewater Spring and Newfound Gap that we stopped at for the view or for the night. Cades Cove is also a very popular stop for those who just want to drive along the parks roads to view the scenic mountains.

Toward the end of the trip, we were getting pretty tired, and the last day seemed to be pretty much all downhill… Even downhill can seem very challenging as we had to use different muscles, and we were so glad to get back to the car and rest up! That was a fantastic trip, but it’s not for the ill-prepared… If you visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, make sure you get physically ready for the ordeal, and to have the necessary survival equipment needed just in case. Give it a try; I know you’ll love it!

Interested in More Great Travel Destinations?

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