Resources

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (www.nps.gov/grsm) Hiking, camping and park activities, backcountry permits and reservations, useful links and park alerts.

Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com) Destination information, hotel bookings, traveler forums and more.

Smoky Mountains (www.smokymountains.com) Detailed info on hikes, historic sites and gateway towns outside the park.

Top Tips

  • Get an early start to beat the crowds. Even on the most popular hikes, if you're at the trailhead by 8am, you'll be able to enjoy the forests in peace.
  • Don't spend all of your time in Cades Cove and on Newfound Gap Rd. There's so much more to the Smokies, and some of its remote corners can provide the most rewarding travel experiences.
  • Bring a cooler and load up on groceries. There are lovely spots for a picnic, and it's a waste of time driving out of the park to lunch spots during the day.
  • Don't try to cram too much into one day. Leave time to hang out by streams and linger over mountain views. The magic of the Smokies is in taking it slowly.

What to Take

Clothing aside, you'll want to make sure you're properly outfitted for your trip to the Smoky Mountains. Even if you're only planning to undertake short hikes, it's worth the time and investment assembling gear that serves you well.

What to Wear

Take time to plan your clothing well before you hit the road. Don't wait until the last minute to realize that your waterproof jacket isn't warm enough, or that you need a new pair of hiking boots and won't have time to break them in. The main things to keep in mind when planning your wardrobe are to choose garments that are moisture-wicking, breathable, waterproof (and windproof), insulating and, of course, comfortable.

You'll need to strategize carefully, especially if you plan to camp in the backcountry. First-time visitors are often surprised by the weather, which can get quite cold at higher elevations, particularly if the rains arrive. Spring comes late to the mountains, and nighttime temperatures can dip below freezing even in April. At higher elevations snow is possible from November to April, and rain falls year-round – not surprising for a region that receives 55 to 85 inches of rain per year.

Come prepared for dramatic shifts in weather regardless of the season.

Pre-Departure Checklist

  • Print backcountry permits for campsites and shelters if overnighting on the trails.
  • Leave details of your hiking itinerary with a friend or family member not traveling with you.
  • Inform your debit-/credit-card company that you’re going away.
  • Arrange for appropriate travel insurance.