10 DOs & DON’Ts for Hiking in the Smoky Mountains

10 DOs & DON’Ts for Hiking in the Smoky Mountains

Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers stunning vistas, diverse wildlife encounters, and memorable experiences. However, for newer hikers or even seasoned adventurers, it’s essential to be prepared for any situation that may arise on the trails.

Black Bears GSMNP
Black Bears | photo via greatsmokynps / Rachel Dunham

Here are some basic safety tips to ensure a safe and enjoyable hiking experience in the Smokies:

DO Be Bear Aware

Encountering a bear on the trail can be both thrilling and intimidating. Remember to stay calm and avoid sudden movements. Make noise to alert the bear of your presence, and slowly back away while facing the bear. Do not run. Carry bear spray as a precaution, and always store food properly to prevent attracting bears to your campsite.

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DON’T Forget Backpack Basics

Carry essential equipment such as a flashlight or headlamp, regardless of the duration of your hike. Ensure you have enough water (at least 2-4 quarts per person per day), a small first aid kit, and appropriate clothing for changing weather conditions.

It’s crucial to be prepared for common hiking injuries such as heat exhaustion, sprained ankles, or blisters. Pack a lightweight first aid kit containing bandages, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, blister treatment, and electrolyte packets. 

Nantahala National Forest linz through the lens
Nantahala National Forest | photo via linz_through_the_lens

DO Pack Water and Snacks

Stay hydrated to prevent dehydration, especially at higher elevations. Carry an adequate supply of water, especially during hot weather or strenuous hikes. Avoid sugary drinks and opt for electrolyte-replenishing options instead.

Pack high-energy snacks like nuts, trail mix, and energy bars to keep your energy levels up throughout the day.

DON’T Wear Improper Footwear

Invest in a sturdy pair of hiking boots or shoes with good ankle support and traction. Ill-fitting footwear can lead to discomfort and increase the risk of injury on rugged mountain trails. Break in your shoes before hitting the trails to prevent blisters and hot spots.

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DO Wear Layered Clothing

Be prepared for sudden weather changes, even in summer. Weather in the Smokies can be unpredictable, with temperatures fluctuating throughout the day. Dress in layers to regulate body temperature and minimize exposure to wind and moisture.

A moisture-wicking base layer, insulating mid-layer, and waterproof outer shell are essential for staying comfortable in changing conditions. Having a rain jacket in your pack is a must.

Hiking SS

DON’T Forget Navigation Tools

While technology can be helpful, don’t solely depend on it for navigation or communication. Cell phone coverage is spotty in the backcountry, and GPS signals can be unreliable.

Always carry a detailed trail map and compass, even if you’re familiar with the area. Mark your route before setting out and stay on designated trails to avoid getting lost. Consider bringing a GPS device or smartphone with offline maps as a backup.

DO Leave No Trace

Respect the natural beauty of the Smokies by following Leave No Trace principles. Pack out all trash, including food wrappers and toilet paper. Stay on marked trails to minimize damage to fragile ecosystems, and avoid disturbing wildlife by observing from a distance.

shutterstock 1914997963

DON’T Hike Alone

Always hike with at least one other person, and maintain visual contact with each other throughout the hike. Stick together as a group and remain on designated trails, especially when hiking with children.

DO Tell Someone Before You Go

Before embarking on your hike, inform a reliable person of your planned route and expected return time. In case of any delay, they can contact the park authorities at (865) 436-1230 for assistance.

DON’T Wade Without Caution

Exercise caution when crossing streams, especially during or after heavy rainfall. If a stream appears swollen or unsafe to ford, backtrack to safety. Always wear shoes, use a sturdy stick for support, and unbuckle your pack’s waist strap for quick removal if necessary.

Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte
Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte | photo via bbrianmarkk

Enjoy Hiking in the Smokies

By following these essential tips, you can make the most of your hiking adventures in the Smoky Mountains while staying safe and respecting the environment. Whether you’re a novice hiker or a seasoned outdoor enthusiast, proper preparation and awareness are key to enjoying all that this breathtaking wilderness has to offer. Happy trails!

This article was originally published by Smoky Mountain Wanderings on May 7, 2024 and has been republished with permission.