Last month, I traveled with my family and Mike to the Smoky Mountains National Park in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. While we happily hiked through the wilderness, to waterfalls and up mountains, we ran into some interesting situations. Some of them we were prepared for, like the bugs and heat, and some were unpleasant surprises, like the hoards of people on each trail. This particular National Park is huge; it has multiple entrances and crosses state lines. There are plenty of hikes to enjoy, but also plenty of research and planning to do beforehand. After spending a few (not nearly enough) days exploring the park, I amassed a few tips to help you lovely readers plan a trip to the beautiful Smoky Mountains:
- Obtain a Vehicle: Because the park is so big, it’s pretty necessary to have your own way of getting around. It was extremely helpful to be able to choose our own routes through the park based on what we wanted to see and do. There is a trolley service that runs through Gatlinburg and into Smoky Mountains National Park, but it limits your options as far as hikes go.
- Stay in a Cabin: Staying in a beautiful cabin in the mountains really made this trip for me. There are plenty of hotels in downtown Gatlinburg, but none have as much charm as the cabins. If you have the means to do so, there are plenty of options for cabins of all budgets. We found our amazing cabin through Elk Springs Resort.
- Wear Proper Shoes: This is key! I can’t tell you how long it took me to learn this lesson: Chuck Taylors are not suitable shoes for hiking. Wear gym shoes or hiking boots, your feet will thank you for the comfort and your hiking buddies will thank you for the lack of moaning.
- Grab a Map and Plan Your Hikes: As stated above, Smoky Mountains National Park is big. Look into what hikes are available for the time of year you’re visiting and pick the ones that interest you the most. Maps are available at all of the visitor centers and usually cost just a dollar donation.
- Get Going Early: Despite its size, this park can get very crowded. We thought we were the early birds, starting at 9 or 10am, but we were sorely mistaken. Try to get going early to beat the crowds, otherwise you’re apt to be waiting in line just to move down the trails.
- Be Patient: Keeping #5 in mind, though it does get crowded, you are in a beautiful place and (mostly) everyone else is there to take in the beauty too. Don’t let this ruin your time, be patient and enjoy the park.
- Bring Bug Spray and Hand Sanitizer: Because we were visiting in the middle of summer, the mosquitoes were out in full force. We slathered bug spray on before each hike to keep them at bay. And… if you have ever used a wilderness bathroom, the hand sanitizer is self-explanatory.
- Pack a Picnic: If you are planning on hiking all day, there won’t be anywhere for you to purchase a meal. Bring your own picnic lunch and stop at one of the many picnic/scenic areas to enjoy it. Be sure to dispose of all food garbage properly to protect the bears!
- Hydrate: This may go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyways. Don’t get too distracted by the gorgeous scenery and make sure you’re taking plenty of water breaks!
- Stop at Scenic Overlooks: Most importantly, stop at all of the scenic overlooks you can find. They all have fantastic views and can double as your picnic area! My favorite was New Foundland Gap Lookout: great view, North Carolina – Tennessee State Line and plenty of seating for snacking.
Have you ever hiked in Smoky Mountains National Park? Which hike was your favorite?