Smoky Mountain Guides

Winter Hiking in the Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is full of places to hike. With over 150 official trials covering 800+ miles, it's easy to get out and find new adventures every time you visit. Many people enjoy the summer and fall months, exploring the mountains lush foliage and mountain top views. But what happens once the leaves fall and temperatures drop?

Less people. New challenges. Incredible views.

Where To Hike
With so many trails, it's hard to say what the best places are to hike during the winter. Some people prefer the quiet backcountry of the low elevations that remains in more moderate temperatures throughout the year. Others prefer the frigid high elevations of the Appalachian Trail and the stillness of a snow covered landscape. Where you go is up to you! Check trail elevations and length before heading out on your next adventure and plan appropriately!

High Elevation
When hiking in higher elevations of the Smokies you will run into a few more challenges, especially during the winter. The higher you go the harder it is to breathe due to thinner air. Also, the air is drier and therefore, you will dry out more quickly. Take this into account as you plan your mileage and time for your trip and pack extra water! Temperatures also drop quickly as you head up the mountains. If you start at a lower elevation, be prepared for rapid temperature drops as you climb. Temperatures generally drop two degrees for every 500 feet you climb. Always dress in layers and adjust accordingly as you go.

Snow + Ice
Snow and ice add a beautiful yet dangerous side to the winter side of hiking in the Smokies. Small springs that you see throughout the summer turn into beautiful walls of ice. While they can be stunning, they have the potential to break and fall off. Always be careful around these and areas where icicles are hanging off of bluffs to stay safe. With snowy and icy trails come great beauty and pristine views but also some slippery slopes...literally. Be aware of steep hikes as well as trails that have drop-offs on the sides. It is best to avoid these trails unless you have proper footwear or crampons. Check out this article on proper gear selection for winter camping and hiking. Snow and ice are what make winter, winter! Enjoy it! Just don't "slip up" and forget to be careful!

The Quiet
If you know the Smokies, you probably know it's the most visited National Park in the country (here's why). Being the most visited, you have all sorts of problems such as noise, litter, traffic and very little parking. Not during the winter! Clear roads (not necessarily the snow) and hundreds of open parking areas equal great access and quiet adventures through the snowy mountains. Also, the snow has great sound absorbing properties which create a serene and unique environment to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Get out and experience it yourself!

Snow creates a clean white canvas for tiny paw prints (and big ones) to show up on and around the trails. Bring along a camera and take pictures of animal tracks to identify once you get home. Also, you might find yourself seeing more wildlife this time of year due to the thinning foliage/underbrush and the calmer atmosphere. Fun fact: Black bear don't go into a full hibernation in the park. This means they will still be active on your adventures! Keep your eyes open!

Ultimately, be safe. If you take proper safety measures and the right gear, you will have an amazing time. Want a guide to help along the way? We can do that too.

Hike often. Stay safe. Live adventurously.

Record Breaking

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park sees visitors well into the millions every year. Just four times in the past 80 years they have broken the 10,000,000 mark including 2014 with a record breaking attendance of over 10,099,000 which was an incredible 8% growth from 2013! Already this year they have broken a record again with September's park attendance being higher than it ever has before, with 1,081,773 squeezing down the parks narrow roads.

But what is causing this mass flow of visitors to come funneling into the windy backroads of Tennessee and North Carolina to see the GSMNP?

That's a great question and we have the answers!

  1. Fall: With colors popping up from the highest elevations of over 6,500' in mid to late September and well into early November at the lowest elevations plus the over 100 native tree species running up and down the peaks and valleys of the park, there is almost always colors to see during the autumn season.
  2. Bear: Black Bear are running all throughout the park and are one of the most sought after sights as people travel into the mountains. In the smokies alone there are approximately 2 black bear per square mile and over 520,000 acres that make up the park. You do the math! (Or we's about 1500)
  3. Location: Many national parks are quite secluded and far from many highly populated areas. This is not true for the Smokies! Situated between Tennessee and North Carolina along the east coast, there are plenty of cities within a days drive that can make the journey down to see the National Park in all it's glory.

These are just a few of the great reasons to visit the Smokies. Want more? Check out this article to see just how much there is to do and see!


Ten Feet Away

"As I walked around the large rhododendron, I looked up and heard the loudest scream I've ever heard."

At SMG, our guides head out daily to show off the amazing places and things the GSMNP has to offer. While we always head out onto trails that our guides know well, sometimes the trails have changed. This is something our guide, Jared, found out for himself in one of his scariest (and most exciting!) moments on trail to date.

It was a nice cool morning when we arrived at the trail head of our hidden waterfalls hike in the Greenbriar area of the park. We had a family of four including a young 6-year-old girl and a couple in their early 30's. We went through the normal pre-hike conversation talking about the dangers we could encounter on trail and what to do if we encountered such danger. Our guides always discuss what to look out for from poison ivy to bear and how we should respond to each encounter with these things. What we didn't know was that this conversation would end up being very important down trail.
We hopped on trail and took off. It seemed like everyone was really enjoying themselves. Everyone made it through our creek crossing just fine and the first few cascades were beautiful as usual. We made a little war paint and put it under our eyes (always a favorite for the little ones) and continued up the trail, ready for battle. There is one point, just before a side trail to another creek and waterfall, where a rhododendron has grown out of the inside corner of the trail. It completely blocks your view of the trail ahead so you have to step around it to continue on. As I walked around the large rhododendron, I looked up and heard the loudest scream I've ever heard.
We had just come upon a 250+ pound black bear standing in the middle of the trail not 10 feet in front of us. It seemed as if all at once the 6-year-old screamed and ran back into her parents arms, my heart completely stopped and the bear took off running down the trail in the opposite direction. At this point, we all stopped and evaluated the situation and our own condition. The bear had evidently stopped in the trail because a deer had recently died there and it was a free, protein-filled snack. After a brief refresher on "bear etiquette" (aka don't run) and making sure everyone felt comfortable continuing, we finished the hike and had a wonderful time. Everyone was a little nervous, but excited that they had such a close encounter and lived to tell about it!

On any of our trips that go out, we always make safety our first priority. It's not uncommon to see wildlife on trail and it can be very fun if you take the right precautions and respond appropriately. Bear are often-times more scared of us than we are of them and will respond much the way this bear did but we must always be cautious. Want to know more about how to handle a wild black bear while in the mountains? Check out this article from the National Park Service and keep on adventuring!