Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Best Fall Hikes in the Smokies

Fall hiking season is rapidly approaching, and soon leaf peepers will be out in full force in the Great Smoky Mountains.

The beauty of the Smokies is always spectacular, but never more so than during the autumn when the mountains are ablaze with the colors of fall.

The timing of the fall color season depends upon many variables, making it virtually impossible to predict the exact date of "peak" colors in advance.

One of the most important variables is elevation. At the higher elevations in the Smokies, fall color displays begin as early as mid-September when yellow birch, American beech, mountain maple, hobblebush, and pin cherry begin to show their autumn colors. If you’re looking for good fall foliage hikes during this time period, you’ll want to be at the highest elevations in the park; however, you’ll also want to avoid hiking in areas that are predominantly spruce-fir forests.

Suggested mid-late September hikes: Andrews Bald, Mt. LeConte, the Jump-off or Rocky Top.

From early to mid-October, during most years, fall colors begin to reach their peak above elevations of 4,500 feet. Trees such as the American beech and yellow birch begin to turn bright yellow, while mountain ash, pin cherry and mountain maple show-off brilliant shades of red.

In the lower elevations you may notice a few dogwoods and maples that are just beginning to turn. You may also see a few scattered sourwood and sumac turning to bright reds as well.

Suggested early-mid October hikes: You’ll still want to hike in the higher elevations. In addition to the suggestions above, check out Gregory Bald, Mt. Cammerer, Spence Field, Albright Grove or the Sugerland Mountain Trail starting from Clingmans Dome Road.

Autumn colors usually reach their peak at mid and lower elevations between mid-October and early November. This is usually the best time to be in the park as you'll see the spectacular displays of color from sugar maples, scarlet oak, sweetgum, red maple, and hickories. Your hiking choices will have greatly expanded during this time period as well. You can continue to hike at elevation to take in the fall colors from above, or you can walk among the autumn colored trees.

Suggested mid-late October hikes: If you wish to hike at elevation for spectacular fall views try exploring the Rich Mountain Loop, Alum Cave, Hemphill Bald, Shuckstack, Bullhead, Charlies Bunion or Mt. Sterling trails. If you wish to hike among the trees, check out Baskins Creek Falls, Little River, Old Settlers or the Porters Creek Trail.

As the fall color season begins to wind down in early November, you’ll want to hike at the lowest elevations in the park. Check out the Meigs Mountain Trail, Schoolhouse Gap, Abrams Falls, Oconaluftee River Trail, Indian Falls, or the Deep Creek Loop.

Monitoring Fall Color Progress:

* To get a general idea of when leaves are approaching peak colors you can follow the fall foliage map on the Weather Channel site.

* To get a birds-eye view on changes in fall colors, you can periodically check out the four Smoky Mountain web cams.


Monday, August 31, 2015

National Parks Featured In IMAX Movie & TV Series

Dozens of national parks will be featured in an upcoming IMAX 3D film that is scheduled to be released in early 2016.

On February 12, 2016, a new giant screen film, “National Parks Adventure”, will be released around the world, and will feature narration by Robert Redford.

Produced by MacGillivray Freeman Films along with Brand USA, the destination marketing organization for the United States, the film follows mountaineer Conrad Anker, his stepson Max Lowe, and family friend Rachel Pohl as they explore the beauty and natural wonders of parks like Rocky Mountain, Devils Tower, Katmai, Canyonlands, Everglades, Congaree, Redwood, Yellowstone, and more. Many national parks helped make this filming possible.

Produced as a tribute to the National Park Service’s Centennial, the film also journeys back to the early days of the parks, recreating John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt’s famous three-day camping trip in Yosemite.

The film is the centerpiece of Brand USA’s Great Outdoors campaign, which promotes America’s lands and waters to international visitors.

While shooting “National Parks Adventure”, MacGillivray Freeman also produced an eight-part TV series in collaboration with the Travel Channel called, “America. The Beautiful.” The series is also narrated by Robert Redford and features parks, national forests, state parks, and a variety of public lands and waters. The series began airing on the Travel Channel last month. The series will likely air again in February 2016 with the release of the IMAX film.

MacGillivray Freeman has been making large screen films for fifty years, with 38 films to date, including award winners such as “Everest,” “The Living Sea,” and “To Fly.” Their films frequently focus on the natural world, inspiring audiences to both explore and protect natural resources, and each film is accompanied by uniquely designed educational outreach programs that broaden the film-going experience for students.

Below is a short overview of the movie:


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Quick Tips for Viewing Elk Safely

Though they may look docile, elk are large animals capable of covering large distances quickly. Armed with sturdy antlers and powerful hooves, these animals can be very aggressive and dangerous during the fall breeding season, known as the rut, which usually takes place during the months of September and October. Find out what simple precautions you should take while viewing elk in this short video from the Great Smoky Mountains Association:

If you do plan to visit the Smokies this fall please take a few moments to check out our Accomodations Listings for a wide variety of lodging options in Gatlinburg, Townsend, Pigeon Forge and the North Carolina side of the Smokies.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How to Climb (hike) a Mountain

Below is a short video that was featured on Outside Today a few years ago. Although the title of the video was "How to Climb a Mountain", the skills discussed in this video are actually basic mountain climbing skills that most hikers will benefit from, and should have an understanding for safer passage through the mountains. The video features Rainbow Weinstock from the Colorado Mountain School:


Monday, August 24, 2015

Additional Emerald Ash Borer Found in Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park staff have confirmed additional infestations of emerald ash borers (EAB) in the park. Adult EAB beetles were caught in surveillance traps near Mathews Arm Campground, Gravel Springs Hut, Pinnacles Picnic Area, Big Meadows Picnic Area, and South River Picnic Area. These new finds represent a significant jump from last year’s detections in the northernmost portion of the Park (Warren County) and near Park Headquarters in Page County. They also represent detections in three new Virginia counties including Rappahannock, Rockingham,and Madison.Park Superintendent Jim Northup stated, “It appears that the emerald ash borer is moving fairly rapidly through the Park from North to South, faster than our staff anticipated.This is a sad reminder of how hard it is to maintain ecological integrity, even in our National Parks.”

The emerald ash borer is a half-inch-long metallic green beetle that lays eggs on the bark of ash trees. After hatching, the EAB larvae burrow under the bark and create feeding tunnels that cut off nutrient and water flow to the tree. As a result, ash trees typically die within three to five years. EAB was accidentally introduced to North America from Asia and was first discovered in southeast Michigan in 2002 on infested wood packaging material. Since its introduction, EAB has spread to 25 states and two Canadian provinces, killing over 50 million ash trees.

Ash trees represent a significant component of Shenandoah National Park’s ecosystems. Five percent of the trees in the Park are ash. This may not sound like a lot; however, ash trees are found throughout the Park and occur in 16 of its 34 vegetation communities. Collectively, these ash-containing communities make up 65% of the Park’s forest (126,883 acres). If EAB becomes well established in Shenandoah, it could lead to upwards of 95% ash mortality.

Since the EAB is a nonnative pest, the Park is mandated to minimize its impacts on native ash trees. In April 2013, staff began conducting preventive EAB pesticide treatments on ash in developed areas and select sensitive plant communities in the northern third of the Park. Every year since, Park staff have conducted treatments in the North District and this year now include portions of the Central District. The project goals are to reduce hazard ash tree formation in developed areas and to preserve a portion of the Park’s ash trees until approved biological controls become available. Park staff treated 1,030 ash trees inspring 2015. The treatment window for effective EAB suppression in the Park is April and May. Complete eradication of EAB is not currently feasible, but Park managers are taking these actions to maintain public safety and to protect ash trees where possible.

EAB and other exotic forest pests can be transported via firewood. To minimize this pathway of introduction, Park regulations only allow heat-treated firewood (USDA approved) and firewood that is collected within the Park.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Time to Make Plans for Your Fall 2015 Hiking Trip to the Smokies

For anyone considering a trip to see the beautiful fall colors of the Great Smoky Mountains, now is the time to make plans and have your reservations in place. October in the Smokies is the second most popular month in terms of park visitation. And with the awesome beauty the autumn season provides, it's really no wonder.

If you do plan to visit the Smokies this fall - or even during the upcoming Holiday Season - please take a few moments to check out our Accomodations Listings for a wide variety of lodging options in Gatlinburg, Townsend, Pigeon Forge and the North Carolina side of the Smokies.

By supporting our sponsors you help to keep this blog and the website up and running.

Finally, if you need any help on where to hike this fall, please take a look at my fall hiking page.

As always, thank you very much!


Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Largest Wildfires in U.S. History

Several major wildfires raging across the west have grabbed headlines around the world in recent weeks. So far this year more than 39,000 wildfires have burned nearly 6.4 million acres in the United States. The number of wildfires this year represents about 80% of the ten-year average. However, the number of current acres burned represents a roughly 38% increase over the ten-year average at this point in the year. At more than 330,000 acres, the largest wildfire currently burning in the U.S. is in central Alaska. There are three other significant wildfires of note, the Soda Fire in Idaho, the Comet-Windy Ridge Fire in Oregon, and the Chelan Complex in Washington, which are currently burning more than 283,000, 103,000, and 69,000 acres, respectively.

As a result, the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group increased the National Fire Preparedness Level to its highest point last week.

Having looked at the current situation, I wanted to see where these fires stood when compared to the largest wildfires in U.S. history. The following are the top 10 largest wildfires in U.S. history, none of which include any of the fires currently burning:

1) The Great Fire of 1910: 3,000,000 acres - Killed 86 people, including 78 firefighters in Idaho, Montana and Washington. The fire destroyed enough timber to fill a freight train 2,400 miles long.

2) The Great Michigan Fire (1871): 2,500,000 acres - The Great Michigan Fire was a series of simultaneous forest fires that were possibly caused (or at least reinforced) by the same winds that fanned the Great Chicago Fire. Several cities, towns and villages, including Holland, Manistee, and Port Huron suffered serious damage or were lost.

3) Taylor Complex Fire (2004): 1,305,592 acres - The Taylor Complex Fire near Tok, Alaska was the largest wildfire by acreage during the 1997–2007 time period.

4) Peshtigo Fire (1871): 1,200,000 acres - The Peshtigo Fire in Wisconsin killed over 1,700 people and has the distinction of causing the most deaths by fire in United States history.

5) Silverton Fire (1865): 1,000,000 acres - Oregon's worst recorded fire.

6) Thumb Fire (1881): 1,000,000 acres - Killed more than 200 people in Michigan.

7) Yellowstone (1988): 793,880 acres - The Yellowstone fires of 1988 in Wyoming and Montana were never controlled by firefighters. They only burned out when a snowstorm hit in early September. A whopping 36% of the park was affected by the wildfires.

8) Long Draw Fire and Miller Homestead Fire (2012): 719,694 acres - Oregon's largest fire in the last 150 years.

9) Murphy Complex Fire (2007): 653,100 acres - The fire was a combination of six wildfires caused by lightning in south-central Idaho and north-central Nevada that started on July 16–17, 2007.

10) Siege of 1987 (1987): 650,000 acres - These fires were started by a large lightning storm in late August, burning valuable timber primarily in the Klamath and Stanislaus National Forests in California.