8 Things You Can Expect Along the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee
Dreaming of hiking on America’s favorite footpath? You’re not the only one! Around 3 million people hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail every year. Most take day hikes, many spend a few nights backpacking and others thru-hike and experience every mile of the trail. We’re blessed here in Tennessee to 94 miles of the trail running through the Volunteer State. An extra 160 miles runs along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. Close to 70 miles can be found along the spine of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with access to the trail being 30 minutes away from our Gatlinburg hotel. Time on the Appalachian Trail is truly indescribable and something that needs to be a first-hand experience. We’ve put together 8 things that you can expect along the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee with a special on the Smokies section. Take a minute to read over them and then start planning your adventure on the A.T. today!
A Walk in the Woods
The Appalachian Trail has been a place of refuge for those seeking tranquility for close to a 100 years. The idea of the trail was created by Benton MacKaye as a way to not only provide an escape for people seeking solitude but also as an effort to protect the landscape, wildlife and natural resources along the Appalachian Mountains. Sections of the trail are far from easy but overall it’s just a walk in the woods. Hiking along the Tennessee section of the trail will take you through some of the most fairy-tale-like forests that you’ve ever seen. The trail is lined with moss, ferns, fungi and winds through temperate coniferous forests that have both a unique look and special, comforting smell to them. On the hottest days of summer you can still experience fall like temps and a foggy atmosphere that is far more pleasant than the hot and humidity filled trails of the lower elevations. If you’re looking for snow in the cooler months, you’ll find it along the Appalachian Trail before you will anywhere else. Want to conquer a stretch of the A.T. or even the entire trail? It’s all about having a mindset that is focused on just simply taking a walk in the woods and enjoying the journey.
Follow The Blaze
What in the blazes is a blaze? The blazes are white trail markers that you can expect to see often during your adventures on the Appalachian Trail. Each blaze is 2 inches wide and 6 inches high. You’ll find them on trees and boulders as well as many other spots along the trail. Blue blazes are used to mark side trails and paths to shelters or campsites. If you spot two white blazes side by side it’s a sign that you should stay alert because you’re approaching a change in the route, a side trail or another situation that may need your attention. If you’re hiking on the A.T. here in the Smokies and you start to notice that you’re not seeing blazes, then it’s time to retrace your steps because it’s a sign that you have veered off of the Appalachian Trail. This is also one of the many reasons that you should always keep a waterproof map with you during your hikes. You can stock on maps anything else you need at the NOC in Gatlinburg and then you’ll be set to follow the blazes through the Great Smoky Mountains and beyond!
Home Away From Home
Throughout the course of the Appalachian Trail you’ll find many locations that are considered a home away from home to countless backpackers and thru-hikers every year. Shelters, campsites, lean-to’s, hostiles and more provide hikers with shelter along the way. Many spots along the Tennessee section offer a variety of choices of shelter. However, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park everyone staying overnight along the A.T. is required to stay in a shelter and must obtain a permit to do so, unless there is a special situation in which the national park service has waived the requirement to stay in a shelter. Hikers that are considered thru-hikers may place their tents outside of the shelter if the shelter is full due to other thru-hikers and backpackers with permits for the night. If you’d like to experience a night out on the trail then you’ll need to contact the backcountry office of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park either online or by phone.
Top Spots on the Appalachian Trail
The Tennessee section of the Appalachian Trail is home to some pretty special spots and some tops spots as well! Clingmans Dome that’s located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the highest point of the Smokies as well the highest location on the entire Appalachian Trail. Roan High Knob that’s located along the Roan Mountain section of the trail is the highest shelter on the A.T. You can also expect to see some other iconic locations here in the Smokies such as Fontana Dam, Spence Field, Rocky Top, Newfound Gap, Charlie’s Bunion, Mount Cammerer, Tricorner Knob and Mount Guyot, the Smokies 2nd highest location. Some locations like Mount Cammerer and the summit of Mount Guyot do require some distance off of the A.T. but the trail will certainly take you to the spot where you can access them the easiest.
Beautiful Balds and Stunning Views
If you were to hike the entire Tennessee section of the Appalachian Trail as well as the area that runs along the border and shares time with North Carolina, you would witness some of the most epic views that exist not only along the trail but in our country. The Roan Highlands offer the longest stretch of balds on the trail and the world’s largest natural rhododendron garden. Here in the Smokies we have the stunning views of Rocky Top, Charlie’s Bunion, Clingmans Dome and more.
Rain, Snow, Sleet or Hail and A Little Sunshine As Well
Due to the Appalachian Trail running along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains and reaching some of the highest elevations on the east coast, you can expect to experience a wide range of weather. We have thru-hikers that pass through the Smokies every spring and more times than not they mention experiencing every season along just the 70 miles of trail in the park. On any given day you can expect to find Clingmans Dome at least 20 degrees cooler than downtown Gatlinburg and even though the sun may be shining in the lower elevations you may discover that 30 minutes later you’re inside of a cloud and a thunderstorm is passing over. The weather shouldn’t hinder your excitement to witness the beauty of the Smokies and the Appalachian Trail though, the weather is actually what brings out the most beautiful moments in the mountains. Just be prepared when you’re taking a hike or even just driving up to Newfound Gap or Clingmans for sunrise or sunset. The number one threat to your safety on the Appalachian Trail and in the Smokies is not being prepared to protect yourself from weather conditions and suffering from issues due to exposure. Again, you can stop in at the NOC in downtown Gatlinburg and their staff will be happy to help you make sure that you have the right gear. Purchasing simple items like an emergency blanket, poncho and water filter can make a huge difference if you ever do find yourself in a situation where you need a little extra protection or hydration. Being prepared will make your hike and time in the mountains much more enjoyable.
Humans aren’t the only ones that love a nice hike and time on the trails, wildlife does as well. You can expect to see a variety of wildlife along the Appalachian Trail but there will be many days when you don’t notice any of the critters that live in the forest. From black bears to boomer squirrels, you’ll find plenty of life along the trail and in the Smoky Mountains. Just brush up on your Bear Wise tips before heading out, remember to give all wildlife at least 150 feet of personal space and always leave no trace. Seeing animals in their natural habitat is very rewarding and can be a great experience for both parties. Love them, but leave them wild.
A Laid-back Caring Community
The hiking and outdoor communities are some of the most caring and helpful sets of people that you’ll have the pleasure of knowing. The beauty of being on the trail, besides the natural aesthetics, is that rarely will you have anyone speaking of politics, grumping about their neighbor or cursing out the car that just cut them off on the way to work. Everyone is so joyful just to be outside and in the great outdoors that the troubles of the real world don’t matter. Or, they’re struggling to make it up the hill and they’re cursing under their breath but certainly not at you. You can expect to find folks that are more than happy to help you if you find yourself in a sticky situation or just need directions to the next part of your journey. You’ll find solo hikers, groups of friends, couples, families and hiking groups. Visit a couple times and you’ll find that you’re also a part of the community and that you’ve discovered a 2nd family, or like we call them, our tramily.
Are you ready to learn more about the Appalachian Trail and experience a stay at our Gatlinburg hotel?
You’ll find the story of the A.T. along our hallways, photos from the trail, inspiration around every corner and even Our Guest Rooms are named after a shelter that you’ll find on the Appalachian Trail.
From our property you’ll be 30 minutes away from Newfound Gap and just up the hill from there is Clingmans Dome. You’ll also be able to head down Highway 321 and connect to the Appalachian Trail from Cosby or head over the Foothills Parkway on that end of the park and visit the Davenport Gap end of the trail.
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