National Park Emergency Manager Liz Hall has shared some tips to help you have a warm and safe trip to the Great Smoky Mountains.
TENNESSEE, USA – It’s no secret that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is beautiful year-round.
Those brave enough to walk in the cold can enjoy great snowy views.
However, these winter hikes come with their own set of challenges as the weather can change quickly and temperatures can vary widely.
Park Emergency Manager Liz Hall has shared some tips for keeping you warm and safe on your trip to the Great Smoky Mountains or any other winter nature walk.
Hall said it’s important to know your limits before you even start planning your visit. Being honest about your fitness level can determine how much gear you can carry and what type of hike you should choose.
“Now is probably not the time, if you’re a beginner hiker, to get out and try the big trails,” she said. “It’s a chance to maybe dip your toes in and try out some of our smaller trails and get familiar with the shorter distances before embarking on a really long, committed hike.”
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She said it’s important to consider your surroundings to make sure you can handle the changing winter conditions of eastern Tennessee.
“If you’re from somewhere that’s maybe a little warmer, you might not know the cold winters we can get here,” Hall said. “It can be 70 degrees when you go out, and it can be 30 degrees when you get back to your car at the end of the day.”
- Pick a trail that matches your experience level, keeping in mind elevation changes, as a 4-mile hike could easily climb 2,000 feet in some areas of the park.
- Check the weather forecast and remember that conditions may change as you increase in altitude.
- Check for road closures at twitter.com/smokiesroadsnps.
- Let someone know where you plan to hike, when you plan to return, what clothes you wear, and what your car looks like.
- Have a contingency plan for your group in case someone becomes separated or injured.
- Have a backup plan in case your first trail option doesn’t work or the weather changes.
“My recommendation would be that when you come to the park in the winter, have a very conservative travel plan,” Hall said. “Allow yourself every opportunity to make mistakes, to be delayed, to have bad weather, whatever that looks like, and always be comfortable and have a good hike while you’re in the park. “
The gear you pack may vary depending on the hike you choose, but there are a few essentials to always keep in your backpack.
- The water. The general recommendation is to drink one liter per hour.
- Snacks. Choose foods high in fat and protein for energy. Hall said Snickers bars are her favorites when she’s hiking with her kids.
- Layers. Wear plenty of warm clothes that you can change into during your hike. Keep a few waterproof pieces with you in case you fall into a stream or the weather changes.
- Additional heat source. Hall recommends heat packs or a fire starter in case of an emergency.
- Headlamp. Even if you don’t plan on hiking at night, Hall said the main reason people should be rescued in the park is not to bring a headlamp.
For longer backcountry hikes, the park recommends 10 items: navigation, sun protection, insulation, a headlight, first aid kit, fire starter, repair kit, food, water and shelter.
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Hall said a communication device that isn’t a phone is necessary because cell service is extremely limited in the park and the cold can drain its battery.
For winter hiking, trekking poles and microspikes are suitable for slippery and icy conditions.
- Ask a ranger or drop by the visitor center if you are unfamiliar with the area.
- Keep track of time and have a turning point. Hall said it will keep you from getting stuck on a trail in the dark.
- Walk intentionally. It’s really just another way of saying your rhythm. Don’t go too fast for the first two miles and don’t overexert yourself.
- Try to leave the park better than you found it and pick up any trash you encounter on the trail.
Hall said these tips are all part of being Smart Smoke during your visit.