As the highest visited national park in the United States, the Smoky Mountains hosts 11 million annual visitors every single year. It’s no wonder. With stunning views over 500,000 acres of land, there’s plenty of luscious landscape to explore and admire.
Smoky Mountain hiking trails are some of the most picturesque. The mountains seem to stretch on forever, and they offer some of the most incredible adventures nature holds. If you’re looking to up your hiking game, read our tips for safely enjoying your hike.
Know Your Fitness Level
Before you even hit the trail, take your fitness level into consideration. A single mile on the trail is like walking three paved miles. If you don’t typically walk many miles in a day, heading out for a grand adventure that can last a full day may not be the best idea. Lucky for those who don’t have much hiking experience, we have lots of easier options for you. Be sure to read about our favorite less strenuous mountain hikes.
Check the Weather
The mountains have weather patterns notoriously hard to predict. Because elevation can vary so greatly in the Smoky Mountains, you’re going to want to check an accurate weather forecast. Our local weather teams will be your most accurate option.
Keep in mind that every 1000 feet in elevation you climb away from Gatlinburg, the temperature will begin to drop. If you are planning to head to Newfound Gap or Clingman’s Dome to do some hiking, be sure to subtract 10-15 degrees from the Gatlinburg Forecast.
The Smoky Mountains typically see rain quite frequently. In fact, they are a temperate rainforest! We see more than 80 inches of rain per year in the high elevations! Always be prepared for rain and review lightning safety before you choose a trail.
We learned in the previous paragraph the weather can change drastically in the mountains in a short amount of time. Always be prepared for the weather changes when you hit the Smoky Mountain hiking trails.
Bringing layers is always a great idea. Wearing synthetic athletic clothing in layers is a great way to keep your body comfortable in any conditions. When you begin your hike, it’s best to start off a little cold. This way, you avoid having to stop multiple times to remove your layers.
A long-sleeved synthetic shirt or lightweight synthetic jacket is recommended in high elevations at all times of the year. A bandana or Buff is also great as it serves many purposes on a hike. Wear it around your head to keep you warm, around your neck to wipe any sweat as you get warm, or pour water on it and apply it to your neck to keep you cool.
Packing a rain jacket or disposable poncho found in any convenience store is always a must in the Smoky Mountains.
Footwear is going to be the most important apparel choice. If you don’t own any hiking specific shoes or boots that you have already broken in, a gym shoe is your best bet. It is highly recommended you break in a shoe or boot you plan to hike in. This will help avoid hot spots and eventual blisters.
While you never want to overpack, you want to make sure to bring along the 10 essentials for hiking
- Navigation – a map and compass (if you know how to use it); Never fully rely on GPS alone!
- Sun protection
- Clothing layering system
- Headlamp or flashlight with batteries
- First-aid kit
- Fire starter
- Duct tape and a small pocket knife
- Water or electrolyte drink
- Emergency blanket
We always recommend people bring along an 11th essential – a plastic grocery bag. This way, you can pack out any trash you see along the trail side and leave nature better than you found it. It never hurts to pay it forward!
Let Someone Know Your Plans
Smoky Mountain hiking trails are incredibly popular. It’s very rare you’ll ever be alone on a hiking trail most of the time. However, someone who isn’t with you needs to know your plans. Never ever go hiking without letting someone know your plans – when you will leave your rental cabin for the trail, which trail you’ll be hiking, and when you expect to be back. Since there isn’t cell phone service on many trails, let your loved one know you might not check in until after you get back to your cabin.
By keeping someone at home up-to-date with your plans you’ll give them peace of mind and a starting point in case something goes wrong.
Remember – a hike is a marathon and not a sprint. If you start hiking too quickly, you’ll lose energy. By starting slowly and taking stretch breaks in the first 15 minutes, you’ll set yourself up for a successful walk in the woods. Here’s a great gentle stretching routine you can incorporate during those first few moments on the trail.
By taking a break every hour and remembering to sip water each time you catch your breath, you will be able to complete your hike comfortably.
With these great tips you’ll have an amazing experience on the Smoky Mountain hiking trails! These gorgeous mountains are among the oldest in the world and will help you and your family create memories to last a lifetime.
Whether it’s your first hike or 1000th hike, the Smokies will always take your breath away.
If you’re ready to hit the trail, you’ll want to make sure you book a great place to stay! Contact us at American Patriot Getaways and we’ll help you plan the vacation of your dreams.