Saturday, November 30, 2013

Never Stop Exploring

"Humans have always been driven by curiosity and fed by an innate need to explore. There is an allure in the pursuit of the unknown." Here's a pretty inspiring video from the North Face that I think you'll probably enjoy:

I don't know about you, but I think it's time to get out and explore:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Glacier National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, November 29, 2013

Winter Mountaineering School

If you're looking to expand your winter hiking, backpacking and mountaineering skills, or possibly looking for an alternative vacation this coming winter, you may want to check out the Adirondack Mountain Club's Winter Mountaineering School this year.

Each year, the Adirondack Mountain Club hosts its annual Winter Mountaineering School near Lake Placid, New York. They typically cover the following areas of instruction:

* Winter backpacking skills
* Snowshoe, crampon and ice axe techniques
* Proper clothing and temperature management
* Steep snow and ice travel
* Safe above-treeline travel under winter conditions
* On- and off-trail navigation; map and compass review
* Trip planning
* How to pack a winter backpack
* Group gear review
* Hydration and nutrition
* Constructing snow shelters and a winter backcountry kitchen
* Wilderness first aid
* Avalanche awareness
* Decision making and risk management
* Winter "Leave No Trace" principals

Past participants have included three season hikers and backpackers looking to expand their winter skills, as well as more experienced skiers, trip leaders and winter mountaineers who are wishing to refine their skills or are looking for some excitement and adventure. The organization has an experienced, all-volunteer staff, with a low student-to-instructor ratio. They offer weekend day hikes, weekend backpacking, and weeklong backpacking options from January 31 through February 6, 2014.

The ADK Winter Mountaineering School is non-profit group that has been sponsored for over 50 years by the Adirondack Mountain Club. The purpose of the program is to promote enjoyable and successful winter mountaineering and camping through a learn-by-doing approach and is held in the Adirondack Mountains of New York.

For more information, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In Defense of the Smokies Decision to Euthanize the Cataloochee Elk

I'm always amazed by the vitriol that some express after a national park has to put an animal down. I'm even more amazed/chagrined by those who place more value on the lives of animals over human beings. The recent incident involving a photographer and an elk in Cataloochee, now made famous by a viral video, is no different. For a flavor of some of the comments and thought processes of some people, simply take a look at the comment section of the Great Smoky Mountains Facebook posting on November 18th.

In my view, the Great Smoky Mountains absolutely made the right decision. It appears that many commentators failed to read this key passage in the park's posting:
Between September and last week, park biologists aggressively hazed this elk 28 times to discourage it from approaching the road and visitors. They captured, sedated, tagged, and re-released it on site. This technique has proven to be much more successful than relocation because it causes the animal to associate the place and people with an unpleasant experience. The elk did not respond to attempts by biologists to change its behavior. The behavior that it learned from park visitors who had given it food had been too strongly ingrained.

By initiating physical contact with a visitor, the elk displayed an unacceptable risk to human safety. After becoming food conditioned, the elk did not respond to any attempts to keep it out of the area and away from humans. When wildlife exhibits this behavior it often escalates to more aggressive behavior creating a dangerous situation for visitors.
I think it's pretty obvious that Great Smoky Mountain officials did everything they could to keep this elk alive. Pointing the finger at the park in this incident is completely misdirected. Some have also placed blame on the photographer that sparred with the spike elk. From my point of view there's no evidence that he did anything to encourage the elk to "misbehave" - at least from the video footage that's been made public. The real question people should be asking is why no one came to the photographer's aid? There was at least one person in a car behind the photographer, as well as the videographer, that could've chased that elk away, or at least distracted him. That photographer was literally one second away from having an antler sever his jugular vein.

The real problem, however, is with people feeding animals, or with Nat Geo-wannabees approaching animals with smart phone cameras so that they can get a better shot.

I just finished reading a book called Shattered Air. It's an account of a horrific thunderstorm that passed through Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks in 1985, which killed 3 people and injured 3 others as a result of lightning strikes. Although the park feared that the family of one of those victims was going to sue Yosemite, the family decided not to given the culpability of the hikers involved in this particular situation. However, the book does state that plaintiffs won damages totaling $1.7 million when lightning strikes killed one person and injured another on Mt. Whitney in 1990. They won because the park failed to install warning signs that hikers could be endangered by lightning.

That case isn't an outlier. An Idaho family is currently suing the U.S. Forest Service for more than $1 million after a dead tree fell and injured their son while camping in Boise National Forest. Also, several victims from the 2012 Hantavirus outbreak in Yosemite are suing that park. There are many other examples.

Clearly, had that elk injured or killed someone there's a very strong chance that the Great Smoky Mountains would've been held liable in a court of law.

For those who still think that the elk should've been saved, let me ask this question: What would your thoughts be if that same elk trampled, gored or attacked an innocent hiker, camper or child - especially if it was a family member, or maybe even you? I bet most of those expressing outrage today would be searching Google for a lawyer the very next day.

If you really want to stop needless wildlife deaths I would encourage people to speak up when they see park visitors acting inappropriately around wildlife. You could probably come across hundreds of examples in Cades Cove on almost any day.

In case you missed the now famous video, here it is:

Hiking in the Smokies

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Blue Ridge Parkway Announces Temporary Road Closures for December

Beginning Monday morning, December 2, 2013,and continuing for a three to four week period, Blue Ridge Parkway maintenance personnel will be conducting cutting operations along the roadside between Petites Gap (near U.S. 501) and the interchange of U.S. 460 and the Parkway. During the period, both lanes in this section of the Parkway will be closed to all activity (cars, bicycles, and hikers) to ensure the safety of the maintenance workers as well as Parkway visitors. The planned work will not affect travel along U.S. Route 43 at the Peaks of Otter south to Bearwallow Gap.

Annually, Blue Ridge Parkway maintenance and resource management staff conducts maintenance activities that help control vegetation growth along the Parkway. To help insure safe sight distances and a clear right-of-way, this work requires using a large tractor with a cutting head on a long arm, or boom. This tractor must remain in the travel lanes during operation to properly perform its work while cutting the banks and road shoulders.

Affected sections will close at approximately 7:45 a.m. each weekday and re-open daily about 5:00 p.m. Those who normally commute on the Parkway may want find alternate routes.Proposed closures are scheduled to occur on these dates:

· Monday, December 2 – Thursday, December 5, 2013 (between Mileposts 66 and 76)

· Monday, December 9 – Friday, December 13, 2013 (between Mileposts 76 and 85)

· Monday, December 16 – Friday, December 20, 2013 (between Mileposts 95 and 106)

Hiking in the Smokies

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Top of Texas

The highest point in Texas, Guadalupe Peak, is one of only four state highpoints to be located within a national park. Denali, Mount Rainier and Clingmans Dome are the other three. However, since Clingmans Dome is an easy walk of about a hundred yards, and Denali and Mount Rainier are probably out of the league of at least 99% of all park visitors, Guadalupe Peak is really the only state high point in a national park that most people can hike up to. From its 8749-foot summit you can see for at least a 100 miles in all directions. For more information on this excellent and surprisingly scenic hike, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, November 22, 2013

Planning a visit to the Smokies this Holiday Season?

Planning a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains this Holiday Season?  Please help support by supporting the sponsors on our Accommodations page. Our hiking website provides links to a wide variety of overnight options - from cozy cabins to luxurious resorts.

Thank you very much!

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Person Sought in Connection with Linville Gorge Wildfire

U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officials have released a photo of a man who may have information concerning the wildfire in the Linville Gorge. The agency asks for the public's help in identifying the individual.

Investigators would like to speak with this person who was in the Table Rock picnic area on Veterans Day. It is believed that he camped in the Table Rock picnic area over Veterans Day and may have information that would aid the investigation. This person was with a group of other campers and may play the guitar. There was a truck in the area believed to be a white, 2007-2009 Dodge Ram truck, possibly a sport model.

Persons with information concerning the person, group of people, or vehicle at the Table Rock picnic area on Veterans Day are asked to call Law Enforcement Officer Jason Crisp at 828-442-2470.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Fire investigators are looking for any information or observations that may help determine the cause of the fire. A reward may be offered for substantial information.

The Table Rock wildfire has burned approximately 2,600 acres in the Linville Gorge in the Grandfather Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest.

Hiking in the Smokies

Slight Increase in Table Rock Fire; Community Meeting Scheduled for Tonight

The Table Rock Fire in the Linville Gorge Wilderness showed some increased activity this morning in the area just north of Chimney Branch. A decision was made to burn the 100-acre block of unburned fuels between the active fire, Chimney Branch to the south, and Linville River to the west to strengthen the natural barriers and aid in slowing the fire’s southern progress. Today, weather conditions were optimal for completing the burnout in a safe manner. Ignition was accomplished using plastic spheres resembling ping-pong balls containing combustible chemicals. After being activated, the spheres were dropped from a helicopter-mounted aerial ignition machine into the specific areas targeted for burning. Forecast winds for the next several days will keep any embers from this burnout within the black area of the fire.

Weatherwise, light winds and much higher humidity levels will limit fire growth potential over the next couple of days. Despite more favorable conditions to limit fire growth, the combination of fog development and light winds may lead to highly reduced visibilities near the fire Thursday night and Friday morning. Persons driving through the area during those times should be alert for rapidly changing conditions and use extreme caution, slow down, and turn on headlights. A strong cold front will move through Saturday morning with sharply colder temperatures, very windy conditions, and much lower humidity levels through Sunday.

As of this morning, the fire has burned 2579 acres, is 50% contained, while 200 fire fighting personnel continue to battle the blaze.

A Community Meeting is planned for tonight to inform neighboring communities about the processes and strategies used to identify and select fire suppression activities. There are many, many variables that must be considered before critical decisions are made in firefighting. The public is invited to join local US Forest Service officials and leaders from the Southern Area Type 2 Team for an opportunity to learn about the fire, what has happened to date, what actions are being considered, and what factors will affect decisions relating to those actions.

Meeting details:

Jonas Ridge Fire and Rescue Department
8224 Buckeye Hollow Rd.
Jonas Ridge, NC 28641

When: Thursday, November 21, 2013 6:00 pm

For more information, contact the Fire Information Center at 828-432-9817.

The Table Rock wildfire, which started November 12th, is located in Linville Gorge on Grandfather Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest. The following roads and trails remain closed:

FS Road 210 (aka Roses Creek Rd)
FS Road 21OB (Rich Cove Rd)
FS Road 99 (aka Table Rock (paved) Rd)
FS Road 118 (aka Back-Irish Creek Rd)
Trail 228 Pinch In
Trail 229 (aka Conley Cove)
Trail 231 (aka Linville Gorge Trail) from junction of Trail 229 south to terminus
Trail 232 (aka Brushy Ridge)
Trail 233 (aka Spence Ridge)
Trail 235 (aka Shortoff)
Trail 236 (aka Little Table Rock)
Trail 244 (Devil's Hole) Table Rock Picnic Area
Trail 245 (aka Jonas Ridge)
Trail 247 (aka Rock Jock)
Trail 248 (aka Hawksbill)
Trail 440 Pinnacle Trail

For information on the latest road and trail closures, visit the National Forests in North Carolina website. Visitors should check the website before planning a trip to the gorge.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Fire investigators are looking for any information or observations that may help determine the cause of the fire. A reward may be offered for substantial information and persons should contact Law Enforcement Officer Jason Crisp at 828-442-2470 or the Grandfather Ranger District at 828-652-2144.

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Husband, Wife Seriously Injured In Separate Accidents

The NPS Morning Report is reporting that rangers responded to two separate medical incidents involving a married couple at the Big Meadows Campground in Shenandoah National Park on Friday, September 27th. Both the husband and wife required air evacuations.

The original call was for the wife, who’d broken her femur in a fall while getting out of their car at a Big Meadows campsite, but the first ranger on scene reported that her husband had also suffered an injury. He’d reported his wife’s injury to the campground staff, but fell from his bicycle while returning to the campsite and sustained significant facial trauma accompanied with memory loss.

The Stanley Volunteer Rescue Squad transported one of the victims and rangers transported the other in the park ambulance to the landing zone. Both were flown to the University of Virginia Medical Center.

Hiking in the Smokies

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The tallest trees on the planet

The tallest trees on the planet are found along the coast of northern California and southern Oregon. Fortunately for today’s visitors, and generations to come, nearly half of all Coast Redwoods are under the protection of the combined Redwood National and State Parks. Walking through one of the old-growth groves in any of these parks is like walking into a cathedral.

The tallest redwood in the world, at almost 380 feet in height, is known as Hyperion. If you wish to visit this giant someday, you may want to note that its location is kept secret. However, there are many other areas where visitors can explore these ancient titans. One of the best places is the Stout Grove in Jedediah Smith State Park, considered by many to be the most scenic stand of redwoods in the world.

For more information on this truly remarkable stand of trees, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Monday, November 18, 2013

Great Smoky Mountains Responds to Elk Concerns

Last Friday park wildlife biologists made the difficult decision to euthanize an elk. The decision to euthanize an animal of any kind in the park is never made lightly. Elk are iconic symbols in the Smokies, but they are also dangerous wild animals. The park provides education about elk behavior and safe wildlife viewing in a variety of ways including signage, brochures, park website, ranger-led programs, and on-site volunteers who provide information daily at Oconaluftee and Cataloochee during the calving and breeding season.

On October 20, 2013, a photographer in Cataloochee was approached by a young male elk while sitting alongside the road taking pictures. Photos and video of the encounter have been circulated widely (below). The elk had likely been fed by visitors and had lost his instinctive fear of humans. It associated humans with food and had been approaching visitors seeking handouts.

Did the park do anything to discourage this elk’s behavior?

Wildlife biologists use aversive conditioning techniques to haze animals that are becoming food conditioned due to visitors feeding them. These techniques usually include firing loud firecrackers, physically chasing the animal, and shooting them in the rump with bean bags or paintballs.

Between September and last week, park biologists aggressively hazed this elk 28 times to discourage it from approaching the road and visitors. They captured, sedated, tagged, and re-released it on site. This technique has proven to be much more successful than relocation because it causes the animal to associate the place and people with an unpleasant experience. The elk did not respond to attempts by biologists to change its behavior. The behavior that it learned from park visitors who had given it food had been too strongly ingrained.

By initiating physical contact with a visitor, the elk displayed an unacceptable risk to human safety. After becoming food conditioned, the elk did not respond to any attempts to keep it out of the area and away from humans. When wildlife exhibits this behavior it often escalates to more aggressive behavior creating a dangerous situation for visitors.

Why didn’t the park relocate the elk or give the elk to a zoo?

The park considered relocating the elk to another public land area in North Carolina, but this was not a viable option due to the animal’s demonstrated potential to cause harm to people. If the animal had approached a child instead of an adult, the outcome for the visitor could have been very different.

The park could not release the animal to a facility that houses a captive certified herd because animals introduced into these facilities are required to have verification that they have been free of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) for the past five years. In addition, interstate transport of elk or deer is prohibited because of risk of spreading diseases such as CWD into local populations.

Does the park always kill “problem” elk?

No. Elk were reintroduced to the park in 2001. In the 13 years since the reintroduction, park biologists have used aversive conditioning on a number of animals. This is the first elk that we have had to euthanize due to nuisance behavior inside the park. We treat each animal as an individual, and each situation is different. During the past few weeks a dominant bull elk near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center charged several people who were in the field area, and recently charged and damaged a vehicle. This behavior occurred during the rut season and the elk was guarding his harem. Unlike food conditioned animals that approach humans for a handout, defending a harem is natural behavior for a bull elk.

After exploring several options, the park decided that removing the elk's antlers was the best choice to protect visitors and avoid euthanizing the elk. There were no other large bull elk in the area to challenge the elk so he no longer needed the antlers for self-protection. Elk shed their antlers annually and begin regrowing them in spring. By removing the antlers, we significantly lessened the potential for physical harm and property damage.

These two incidents demonstrate the difference between offensive and defensive behavior of wildlife. The mature bull at Oconaluftee was displaying defensive behavior by defending what it perceived as a threat to its harem. The spike bull in Cataloochee was displaying offensive behavior by actively seeking contact with humans in search of food handouts and had charged visitors along the roadway multiple times. Animals displaying offensive behavior towards humans pose a greater risk to human safety.

What can visitors do to help protect elk in the park?

• Do not feed elk! Dispose of all garbage or food scraps in wildlife-proof garbage containers or take it with you.

• Keep your distance from elk. Do not approach within 50 yards (150 feet) of an elk. If an elk approaches you, it is your responsibility to back away slowly to provide space for the animal to pass.

• Use binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras with telephoto lenses to enjoy wildlife.

• If you see another visitor breaking these rules, please call (865) 436-1230 or stop at a Visitor Center to report it.

For more information on how to safely view wildlife, please visit the park’s website.

Hiking in the Smokies

Rain helps... But Table Rock Fire is not out

The Linville Gorge area received about a half inch of rain yesterday, which included the area of the Table Rock wildfire. The fire that started about a week ago is still burning in the gorge on the Grandfather Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest. The fire started in the Table Rock Picnic Area and quickly moved south and east into surrounding terrain. The rain received yesterday was much needed as the area has seen dry conditions for the past few months. However, this fire is not out and the warm, drying period over the next week could be a real test on new containment lines. Winds are expected to gust to 20 miles per hour today and fuels will quickly dry out under these conditions. The fire is located in a very remote area of the gorge that is extremely steep and rugged.

There are 193 fire personnel assisting with suppression efforts in the Linville Gorge. A 20 person hand crew from the Oklahoma Bureau of Indian Affairs joined the fire fighting forces today. The fire is still listed at 2,275 acres and 40 percent containment. One structure is located within the containment lines and may be threatened if the fire were to make a run to the south. Crews remain staged to the north at the Outward Bound camp to provide structure protection. Structure protection measures have been applied by fire crews assisted by the property owner. Only one minor vehicle accident which occurred within the first couple of days was reported.

The focus of today’s work is to construct containment lines and remove safety hazards, such as snags, within those lines that could compromise firefighter safety. Crews along the north end will patrol existing containment lines and mop up any “hot spots” they find near the lines. The large Type 1 helicopter was reassigned over the weekend, but is available if bucket drops are needed for suppression. Smaller Type 2 and Type 3 helicopters remain on site for immediate response needs. The contingency plan for fire containment includes using Forest Service Road 118, old dozer lines along the Forest boundary to the south, and hand lines using trails near the river.

The North Carolina Type 3 Team assessed complexity of the fire over the weekend. Concerns regarding the steep terrain, lack of access, an increase in firefighters, multiple jurisdictions with the state becoming more involved, and predicted weather patterns for this week changed the complexity of the fire to a Type 2 incident. This complexity results in a change in command structure on the fire. The Southern Area Type 2 Team was ordered today and will transition with the Type 3 team tomorrow, and take command of the fire on Wednesday. This new team will bring with them additional resources to help in suppression efforts.

Several roads and trails remain closed in the Linville Gorge area. A complete list can be found on the National Forests in North Carolina website. Visitors should check the website before planning a trip to the gorge.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. However, fire investigators would appreciate talking with the group who were camping at Table Rock Picnic Area last Monday, Veteran’s Day. Investigators believe this group has information that would aid in the investigation. A reward may be offered for substantial information regarding this investigation and persons should contact Law Enforcement Officer Jason Crisp at 828-442-2470 or the Grandfather Ranger District at 828-652-2144.

Hiking in the Smokies

Smokies Urges Visitors to View Wildlife Safely

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials remind park visitors to exercise caution as they view and photograph wildlife to best protect both the animals and themselves. Park Rangers have recently received numerous reports of increased interactions between visitors and wildlife such as bears, white-tailed deer, and elk.

No doubt, this reminder comes on the heels of the video below, and the subsequent euthanization of this young elk:

Park Rangers encourage visitors to use binoculars, spotting scopes, or cameras with telephoto lenses to best enjoy wildlife. Feeding, touching, disturbing, and willfully approaching wildlife within 50 yards (150 feet), or any distance that disturbs or displaces wildlife, are illegal in the park. If approached by wildlife, visitors should slowly back away to put distance between the animal and themselves creating space for the animal to pass. Often animals simply need adequate space to cross a trail, road, or public area as they travel through the park in search of forage and cover.

“Wild animals typically avoid visitor interaction unless they become food conditioned,” said Park Wildlife Biologist Bill Stiver. “If an animal starts approaching and threatening human safety, we have several proactive steps we take to effectively manage the situation that bests protects the animal and the public. However, if the negative behavior escalates, our options in dealing with the animal quickly become limited.”

Biologists recently removed the antlers of a large bull elk that routinely spends time in high use, public areas in fields adjacent to the Oconluftee Visitor Center, Mountain Farm Museum, and the Oconaluftee River Trail. Dominant bull elk typically defend their territory during the fall breeding season, known as the rut, by charging and sparring with competitors. Unfortunately, this 800-pound elk charged several visitors posing significant to public safety. Now that the rut is essentially over, the elk’s aggressive behavior should lessen and by removing the elk’s antlers which are annually shed, biologists further reduced the risk for harm to visitors.

Park officials have taken numerous steps over the past several years to prevent nuisance wildlife behavior by improving the design of bear-proof garbage cans and sanitation schedules, and promoting public awareness in our visitor centers and through our website and social media. The Park also created several volunteer programs including the Elk Bugle Corp and Oconaluftee Field Rovers, who provide on-site, timely information to park visitors so they may safely view wildlife. As a result of these efforts, wildlife biologists have relocated far fewer bears than in the 1980s and managed fewer nuisance animals.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, November 15, 2013

Despite growth, fire fighters make progress on Table Rock Wildfire

Fire fighters are making progress on suppressing the Table Rock Wildfire in the Linville Gorge Wilderness on the Grandfather Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest. A change in weather conditions today should bring some much needed rain to the area. However, the rain is expected to be sparse across the Linville Gorge and will not be enough to fully suppress the fire. Total size of the fire grew to 1,800 acres yesterday with a 40% containment estimate as a result of extensive burnout operations.

Wildfire suppression efforts today will focus on additional burnouts along the southern flank of the fire. Crews have built containment lines by hand and dozer, and expect to fire from these lines as they use fire to fight fire. Smoke will increase this afternoon due to the active fire and burnout operations. The public will continue to be affected by smoke in the immediate area but there should not be any serious impact beyond the Forest boundary. Federal fire fighters from 4 states have joined forces in North Carolina to suppress the Table Rock Fire, with more than 100 personnel working the fire. The Cherokee Hotshot crew from Tennessee is the most recent hand crew to join forces with the North Carolina Type 3 Team.

To date, the fire intensity has been moderate across the gorge. Burnout crews are seeing full consumption of fuels as the set fires move toward the active fire, thus leaving few areas of unburned fuel between the fire and the containment lines. This means less potential for a re-burn later in the future.

Twenty-five structures in the Outward Bound camp area were originally threatened by the wildfire, but containment lines and burnout tactics have been successfully used as protection measures. There are no additional structures threatened and no injuries to fire fighters to date.

Roads and trails in the Linville Gorge remain closed to protect the public and fire fighters, who use the narrow, winding roads for fire access. The public should check the National Forests in North Carolina website for the latest closure information before planning any trips into the Linville Gorge (click here for a map).

The cause of the fire is under investigation. However, fire investigators would appreciate talking with the group who were camping at Table Rock Picnic Area last Monday, Veteran’s Day. Investigators believe this group has information that would aid in the investigation. A reward may be offered for substantial information regarding this investigation and persons should contact Law Enforcement Officer Jason Crisp at 828-442-2470 or the Grandfather Ranger District at 828-652-2144.

Hiking in the Smokies

Tennessee State Parks Announce Special Winter Rates

Tennessee State Parks will offer special winter rates for 360 cabins in 21 parks across the state, along with individual rooms at six state park inns, from Nov. 15, 2013, through March 15, 2014. With a state park within an hour’s drive of just about anywhere in Tennessee, families and groups seeking unique recreation opportunities and high-quality accommodations can find the perfect getaway – all at an exceptional value and a bit closer to home.

With a Tennessee State Parks special winter discount, park visitors can stay at one of Tennessee’s six state park inns for $59.95 a night (excluding tax). The inn discount may be used seven days a week and applies to both individuals and groups. Cabins ranging from premium to rustic are priced at two for one, Sunday through Thursday. Some holiday weeks are not included. Discounts are based on availability and certain other restrictions may apply. At participating restaurants, guests can package a breakfast for two for an additional $10.

There is no coupon necessary for this special rate and patrons simply need to ask for “Special Winter Promotion” when making a reservation. When making online reservations please ensure the available code for the special winter rate or cabin discount is applied. While reservations are not required, they are highly recommended to ensure availability.

Special winter rates are not valid with other discounts. For more information about the special promotion, please call the Tennessee State Parks information line at (615) 532-0001 or toll free at 1-888-867-2757. For additional information or to make online reservations, please visit the Tennessee State Parks website at

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Table Rock Fire in Linville Gorge Grows to 300 Acres

Fire crews made considerable progress on line construction for the Table Rock Fire yesterday, even though fire activity did increase. The fire is located within the Linville Gorge Wilderness on the Grandfather Ranger District in the Pisgah National Forest, within the perimeter of the Table Rock and Chimney area. This fire was first detected on Tuesday, November 12th in the Table Rock Picnic Area. Size of the wildfire increased to 300 acres yesterday as a result of westerly winds that pushed the fire to the east. Fire containment is estimated at 5 percent.

US Forest Service engine crews and the Oak Hill Volunteer Fire Department were able to reduce fuels around the Outward Bound facility, by removing vegetation and burning out around the structures. There are no other homes or structures threatened at this time.

Fire fighter numbers increased to 100 personnel overnight, as crews came in from surrounding states. No injuries have been reported. Additional resources will continue to arrive today as the NC Type 3 Team initiates operational tactics to slow the spread of the fire. Those tactics involve the use of fire to fight fire. A “burn out” operation will be used to expand the effectiveness of the containment lines. Crews will burn from the line with expectation that the set fire will carry to the active wildfire areas. These burned out areas will reduce the spread by removing fuels that can carry a fire.

Today the public will probably notice an increase in the amount of smoke coming from the area. The majority of the smoke is from the wildfire itself; however, some of the smoke is a result of the burn out operations. The amount of smoke will be heaviest in the mid-afternoon and should dissipate by evening. Most of the smoke is expected to move northeast of Table Rock, although some smoke will settle into Linville Gorge tonight as winds decrease and humidity increases.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. Fire investigators are asking the public to contact the Grandfather Ranger District at 828-652-2144 with any information about persons in the Table Rock picnic area on Monday, Veteran’s Day.

Several trails in the Table Rock Mountain and Shortoff Mountain area are closed to public access. The Table Rock Picnic Area is also closed. Visitors looking to access the Linville Gorge should check the National Forests in North Carolina website for the latest closure information.

Hiking in the Smokies

The Affordable Footwear Act?

Cheaper hiking boots could be coming to an outdoor retailer near you in the future! Members of Congress are apparently working on a piece of legislation, known as the Affordable Footwear Act, that could significantly lower the cost of hiking boots and other outdoor footwear.

Bi-partisan legislation from Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) would suspend import duties on outdoor footwear for five years. Also co-sponsored by Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Mike Johanns (R-ID), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO), the bill would lower consumer costs, promote jobs and drive innovation in domestically produced outdoor footwear.

While the average U.S. tariff on consumer goods is 2%, tariffs on outdoor footwear products are as high as 37.5%. In fact, many of the high tariffs on outdoor footwear exceed federal taxes on cigarettes, a striking disparity which would be corrected by the Affordable Footwear Act’s passage.

The U.S. Treasury collects $2.3 billion in import duties on outdoor footwear each year. With mark-ups at the wholesale and retail level, those $2.3 billion in duties amount to a $7 billion tax on American consumers. The Affordable Footwear Act seeks to target $800 million of that $2.3 billion in import duties. This effectively translates into a savings of $2-3 billion for consumers each year.

The Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) is working closely with its members to ensure that none of the products covered by the bill are produced in the U.S. Additionally, the limited duration of the bill will allow Congress to remove any products that may be made in the U.S. in the future.

Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) introduced the House version of the bill – HR 1708 – last spring. It currently has a bi-partisan group of 48 co-sponsors.

“This common sense piece of legislation will benefit consumers and businesses,” said Kirk Bailey, vice president of government affairs of Outdoor Industry Association. “By eliminating disproportionally high tariffs, this bill will fuel innovation in the outdoor domestic shoe industry and help create new jobs in the U.S. By lowering costs for consumers, the Affordable Footwear Act of 2013 will make outdoor recreation and outdoor products more affordable for more Americans.”

OIA is asking its members to urge their Senators to become co-sponsors on the bill.

Hiking in the Smokies

Caught on Film: Young Bull Elk Spars with a Photographer in Cataloochee

A couple days ago some photos of a young bull elk sparring with a photographer in Cataloochee began making the rounds on the internet. Turns out this unbelievable event was also caught on film:

It's pretty amazing how calm and cool the photographer appears to be. It's even more amazing that he wasn't hurt!

In an email exchange, the videographer asked the photographer what was going through his head. This was his response:
"My first thoughts were "wow, he's getting pretty damn close here." But I've been up close before without incident. I hoped being still and passive would see him pass on. When he lowered his antlers to me, I wanted to keep my vitals protected and my head down. I felt that standing up would provoke him more and leave me more vulnerable to goring. I think that while protecting myself with my head down, having my head down was a signal that I was rutting with him. I was concerned at first, but when he started rearing back and lunging at me later on, I got scared and pissed off. That's when I wagged my finger at him to cut that shit out. I was relieved to see the Ranger coming."
So the question that comes to mind: Why didn't anyone intervene? If you were there, would you've intervened to prevent this photographer from possibly becoming hurt?  

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wildfire in Linville Gorge expands to 100 acres - under investigation

Approximately 40 U.S. Forest Service firefighters and others are working to contain the wildfire in the Linville Gorge Wilderness area of the Grandfather Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest. The wildfire grew from 40 acres to 100 acres overnight.

The fire, known as the “Table Rock Fire,” is about one-quarter mile southwest of Table Rock Mountain in the east-central part of the Gorge. Firefighters are cleaning up existing roads, trails and existing firelines from previous fires to contain the wildfire. Zero percent of the fire is contained at this time. The fire burned actively through the night and is expected to grow in size over the next couple days.

Firefighters continue to protect the Outward Bound base camp area, which is vacant. No other homes or structures are threatened at this time. No injuries are reported. Trails near Table Rock Mountain are closed as is the Table Rock picnic area.

A Type 3 Incident Command Team will be in place by 6 p.m. today. The National Forests in North Carolina Forest Supervisor has approved the use of mechanized equipment, including leaf blowers and chainsaws, to suppress the wildfire in the wilderness area. The Forest Service will use bulldozers outside the wilderness area. Two helicopters will also be used on the wildfire. A Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) should be in place over the fire today to protect the safety of aviation assets assigned to the fire.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. Persons with information about individuals who may have been in this area last weekend are asked to call U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Jason Crisp at 828-652-2144.

The U.S. Forest Service is working with the N.C. Forest Service, Burke County Emergency Management, and N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to suppress the fire.

Hiking in the Smokies

Multnomah Falls

You’ve probably seen Multnomah Falls before. It’s been featured in many television and print ads over the years.

In fact, Multnomah Falls is likely one of the most famous and most photographed waterfalls in the entire world. In addition to dropping more than 600 feet, the view of the falls is enhanced by the iconic footbridge that spans just above its lower tier. It’s an easy hike to reach the bridge, but did you know that you can go all the way to the top for a birds-eye view of the waterfall as it plunges over the cliff?

Please click here for more information on this hike and traveling along the Columbia River Gorge.

Hiking in the Smokies

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Forest Service Fighting Wildfire in Linville Gorge

U.S. Forest Service firefighters are working to contain a 40-acre wildfire in the Linville Gorge Wilderness area of the Grandfather Ranger District in the Pisgah National Forest. The cause of the fire is currently under investigation.

The wildfire, located in the west-central part of the Gorge, is threatening one campsite area.

More information about the wildfire will be provided as it becomes available.

Hiking in the Smokies

Major Car Clout Case Develops From Investigation Into Break-Ins

The NPS Morning Report is reporting that Shenandoah National Park Rangers in the park's North District received two separate reports of car clouts (auto break-ins) within 20 minutes of each other at separate overlooks on Monday, October 21st.

One of the victims was able to provide a partial description of the suspect vehicle, and a ranger in the Central District soon found it at the Little Stony Man trailhead. The woman inside, who said that she was alone, was not prepared for hiking. While the ranger was interviewing her, a visitor stopped by and reported that there was a man hiding in a nearby ditch. Rangers soon found him.

Special agents and rangers recovered items taken during the two break-ins in the park, and from at least another 13 auto break-ins that had occurred in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, including various ID's and credit cards. Further investigation revealed that the man and woman were part of a larger criminal enterprise. Both remain in jail.

An ISB special agent is continuing the investigation along with investigators from the Secret Service and various state and local law enforcement agencies.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, November 8, 2013

Stargazing Program in Cades Cove Tomorrow Night

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in cooperation with the Smoky Mountains Astronomical Society, will hold a 2 ½-hour stargazing program in Cades Cove on Saturday, November 9 beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Experienced astronomers and numerous telescopes will be on hand to provide a discovery of the autumn sky’s position of stars, galaxies, and constellations, including the Milky Way. In case of rain or cloud cover where night skies are not visible, the program will be cancelled.

According to Park Ranger Mike Maslona, “It’s a great opportunity to gaze at the star-studded sky without the obstruction of artificial light as seen in developed areas outside the Park. People will be amazed at the vast depths of this planetary world and all that they can see in the complete darkness. This program mixes astronomy, legends, and the beauty of the stars to create a worthwhile exploration into the wonders of the heavens.”

Participants for the program should park near the exhibit shelter at the entrance to the Cades Cove Loop Road where a ranger will be to escort the group about one-third of a mile to a nearby field. Those planning to attend should dress warmly, and bring a flashlight and a lawn chair or blanket to sit on. Also, it is suggested to bring binoculars which can be used for stargazing. Carpooling is strongly encouraged.

The program is subject to cancellation due to cloud cover or rain. Please call 865-448-4104 Saturday morning to verify program status.

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Paradise Found: The Skyline Trail

"... the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings."

That was John Muir’s reaction upon seeing the Paradise valley for the very first time in 1889. I dare say you might have the same reaction yourself. The best way to explore the Paradise valley below the southern slopes of Mt. Rainier is to hike the Skyline Trail loop. This hike was so incredibly beautiful that it was the first time that I ever kept my camera in my hand for the entire trip. The amazing scenery never ended!

For more information and photos on this outstanding hike (now one of my all-time favorites), please click here to visit our new Discover the West website.

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Temporary Closure of Chimney Tops Trail

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced the temporary closure of the Chimney Tops Trail from Tuesday, November 12 through Thursday, November 14, 2013 to stabilize trail renovation areas for the winter season.

Since April 2012, the Park’s Trails Forever Crew has been rebuilding the trail as part of a three phase project to renovate the popular trail. The crew constructed rock steps along the first 1.2 miles of trail in the steepest areas to prevent erosion along with redefining sections of trail that have become unsafe or difficult to navigate. Crews also improved trail drainage by modifying water bars, constructing drainage structures, and building raised turnpike structures out of sustainable materials to prevent further erosion.

Phase 1 renovations were completed in 2012 from the trailhead to the trail juncture with Road Prong Trail, but Phase 2 progress was significantly impacted and delayed in 2013 due to January floods and the partial government shutdown. Work will resume in the spring to finish Phase 2 renovations and begin Phase 3 work. These sections along the remaining 0.8 mile of trail include the most continuous technical trail reconstruction needed on the entire rehabilitation project.

Trails Forever is a partnership program between Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Friends of the Smokies with generous support from the Knoxville based Aslan Foundation. Through this partnership, the Park has performed major trail renovations on Forney Ridge Trail along with the ongoing work on Chimney Tops Trail.

For more information about trail closures, please call the Backcountry Information Office at 865-436-1297.

Hiking in the Smokies

Blue Ridge Parkway Road Closure North of Asheville

A section of Blue Ridge Parkway from Milepost 376 at Ox Creek Road to Milepost 355, near the entrance to Mt. Mitchell State Park, will once again close on November 12, 2013. The closure allows work to resume on the stabilization of a failed slope just north of Tanbark Ridge Tunnel, at Milepost 374.

While alternate routes are available, the detour route marked with road signs directs traffic from Asheville, NC, along Interstate 40 to U.S. Route 221, back to the Parkway at Spruce Pine, NC, and alternately from Spruce Pine south to Asheville via U.S. Route 221 and Interstate 40. Mt. Mitchell State Park will remain open and accessible from the northern approach along the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 330, near Spruce Pine, NC, or from state Route 80.

Due to the dangerous nature of this slope stabilization project, complete closure of the Parkway to motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists is necessary. Parkway managers ask for the public's cooperation with this closure, asking motorists to stay alert, be aware of barrier signs, and follow the signed detour to insure optimal visitor safety.

It is anticipated that this project will be completed by late spring of 2014, with the Parkway again open to all traffic in this area during the 2014 summer visitor season.

Hiking in the Smokies

New U.S. Bicycle Routes Approved for Maryland and Tennessee

Adventure Cycling Association and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) today announced that AASHTO's Special Committee on U.S. Route Numbering has approved U.S. Bike Route 50 in Maryland, which follows the C&O Canal Towpath, and U.S. Bike Route 23 in Tennessee.

“Development of the U.S. Bicycle Route System is a product of the many partnerships being fostered all across the country between state transportation departments and community groups,” said Bud Wright, executive director of AASHTO. “We are proud of the role state DOTs play in helping grow this national bicycle system and appreciate the work of Adventure Cycling and all the organizations involved in making these new routes possible.”

The U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS) now encompasses 6,196 miles of approved U.S. Bike Routes in 12 states: Alaska, Kentucky, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

U.S. Bicycle Route 23 in Tennessee:

Newly designated U.S. Bicycle Route 23 (USBR 23) in Tennessee covers 154 miles between the Kentucky border, where it joins Kentucky's existing Mammoth Cave state bicycle route, and Alabama. Heading south from Kentucky, USBR 23 begins in rural Robertson County before passing through the community of White House with its marked bicycle lanes. From there the route enters metropolitan Nashville, traveling through residential neighborhoods and past unique culinary establishments through East Nashville, Downtown, The Gulch, and Midtown. The route then cuts through the heart of Nashville's music scene past the Ryman Auditorium, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and dozens of local clubs, as well as skirting several universities including Vanderbilt, Belmont, Libscomb, and Fisk. Leaving Nashville, cyclists have the option to take a three-mile spur to connect with the 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway, or continue on USBR 23 south through Franklin, which features several Civil War historic sites and a wonderful downtown. The route south of Franklin is rural and very scenic; there, a second spur connects to food and lodging at Henry Horton State Park, Chapel Hill, and Lewisburg. Further south, cyclists may travel for an hour or more and not see an automobile. U.S. Bicycle Route 23 enters Alabama at Ardmore, a city whose main street is also the Tennessee-Alabama state line.

The U.S. Bicycle Route System is a developing national network of bicycle routes, which will serve as visible and well-planned trunk lines for connecting city, regional, and statewide cycling routes, offering transportation and tourism opportunities across the country. Adventure Cycling Association has provided dedicated staff support to the project since 2005, including research support, meeting coordination, and technical guidance for states implementing routes. Work on the U.S. Bicycle Route System is highly collaborative and involves officials and staff from state DOTs, the Federal Highway Administration, natural resource agencies, and nonprofit organizations including the East Coast Greenway Alliance and Mississippi River Trail, Inc.

Support for the U.S. Bicycle Route System comes from Adventure Cycling members, donors, and a group of business sponsors that participate in its annual Build It. Bike It. Be a Part of It. fundraiser each May. The U.S. Bicycle Route System is also supported in part by grants from the Lazar Foundation, New Belgium Brewing, Climate Ride, and the Tawani Foundation.

When complete, the U.S. Bicycle Route System will be the largest official bike route network on the planet, encompassing more than 50,000 miles of routes. You can learn more at

Hiking in the Smokies

15 Year Old Girl Becomes Youngest Person to Solo Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail

Reaching her goal to be the youngest person to solo thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, 15-year old Neva ‘Chipmunk’ Warren completed her 2,200 mile trek on October 23, 2013.

On April 1, 2013 in Springer Mountain, GA, Neva took her first steps towards completing her goal to be the youngest person to ever solo thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. On average, Neva covered 12 – 13 miles per day, taking her just under 7 months to reach her goal. For her safety, Neva’s parents tracked her daily via a Spot GPS and she carried a cell phone for emergencies. Every day she would carry a backpack with enough supplies for 2-3 days in the wilderness but would often meet her parents at night and sleep in the family camper dubbed the ‘Chipmobile’.

When asked about her accomplishment, Neva said, "The whole time I was hiking, I kept in mind a favorite quote by Babe Ruth: 'Don't let the fear of striking out, hold you back.” Neva followed that up with “I'm tired but I'm glad I didn't strike out."

Quite the adventuresome girl, Neva has a personal goal to perform 12 Herculean tasks in her lifetime. This Appalachian Trail hike is the second of the 12, while her first was celebrating her 13th birthday in the summer of 2011 while riding 3,842 miles, visiting 28 race tracks in the Eastern U.S.

Asked about the one piece of gear she depended on to get her through the entire 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail and Neva will quickly respond that it was her Vasque Breeze 2.0 GTX boots. The Breeze 2.0s, which kept Neva’s feet dry and comfortable for 7 months, are perfectly tuned to the realities of today’s hiking trends where lighter loads and a faster pace rule the trail.

You can read about Neva’s journey at

Hiking in the Smokies

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Parts of Graveyard Fields Loop Trail Closed for Improvements

The U.S. Forest Service today announced that portions of the Graveyard Fields Loop trail are closed for upgrades. The agency expects to complete the work by late December.

The Forest Service will construct a board walk on the east end of the trail, which will be closed. Users can access the Upper and Second Falls via the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Also, users can park in the Graveyard Fields Loop parking lot and start at the west end of the loop.

In addition, the Blue Ridge Parkway will make improvements at the parking area for the Graveyard Fields in the near future. The work will include increasing the parking capacity and construction of a restroom facility. Dates for repairs at the parking lot have yet to be determined.

Funding for the project comes from a Scenic Byway Grant awarded to the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation. The grant matching funds are provided by the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation to pay for the trail work. This work is a joint effort between the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service.

Hiking in the Smokies

Blue Ridge Parkway: Two-month Closure Milepost 270-281

A section of the Blue Ridge Parkway from Milepost 270 to Milepost 281 will close on November 6, 2013, in order to make repairs to a bridge that crosses Highway 421, in Boone, North Carolina.

A detour will be signed from Milepost 270, at Phillips Gap north of the bridge to Milepost 281 at the Old U.S. 421/221 access. Critical repairs are being made to granite retaining walls and bridge abutments.

It is anticipated that the closure will be in place for approximately 2 months or until January 1, 2014, weather depending. We ask that visitors be aware of closure gates and detour signs in the area. Blue Ridge Parkway managers regret any inconvenience this detour may cause to local businesses or park visitors.

Hiking in the Smokies

Monday, November 4, 2013

Night Closures for Shenandoah's Skyline Drive

Park Superintendent Jim Northup announced today that portions of the Skyline Drive, the famed mountain road through Shenandoah National Park, will be closed at night during hunting season. He noted that this is the thirty-third year that this closure has been undertaken and stressed its importance in reducing illegal hunting activity within the park during the Commonwealth of Virginia hunting season outside the park.

Beginning Monday, November 11, 2013, and ending Sunday, January 5, 2014, the Skyline Drive between Front Royal (Mile 0 at U.S. Highway 340) and Thornton Gap (Mile 31 at U.S. Highway 211) and between Swift Run Gap (Mile 65 at U.S. Highway 33) and Rockfish Gap (Mile 105 at U.S. Highway 250) will be closed daily between 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. The central portion of the Drive, between Thornton Gap and Swift Run Gap, will remain open for overnight access to Skyland Resort until that facility closes on December 8. Beginning Sunday, December 9, 2013, and ending Sunday, January 5, 2014, the entire length of the Skyline Drive will be closed daily from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 a.m.

Superintendent Northup said, “Closing portions of the Skyline Drive enables rangers to concentrate patrols on problem areas and to increase contacts along the park boundary.”

Superintendent Northup also reminded the public that the park has a reward program to assist in combating illegal hunting in the park. "A reward will be paid to anyone who furnishes information which leads to the conviction of any person who hunts, transports, or attempts to transport illegally taken wildlife within the park," said Northup. Anyone with information about such activities should call the park (toll free 1-800-732-0911; or 540-999-2227). The identity of persons furnishing information will be kept strictly confidential, and a person does not have to reveal his or her name.

Hiking in the Smokies

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Walk in the footsteps of the ancients

Just north of Santa Fe is a relatively unknown and detached unit of Bandelier National Monument known as Tsankawi. Although this area is easy to overlook, park visitors shouldn’t pass up a chance to visit this gem. The primary attraction at Tsankawi is the short loop trail which provides access to numerous unexcavated ruins, cave dwellings carved into the soft volcanic tuff, as well as several petroglyphs from the Ancestral Tewa Pueblo that lived here until the 16th century. The trail offers hikers the opportunity to literally walk in the footsteps of the ancients. Generations of use have carved trails into the soft volcanic tuft:

For more information on this unique hike, please click here to visit our new Discover the West website.

Hiking in the Smokies

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Chattahoochee River NRA Seeks Input on Proposed Annual Fee Increase

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is seeking comments on a proposal that would raise the price of annual park passes from $25 to $35. The daily pass price would remain the same at $3.

"Our mission is to provide recreational opportunities for urban residents," said Superintendent Bill Cox. "We realize that many of our visitors come here to experience a national park for the first time. Many prefer to pay for one visit at a time. For these visitors, the one-day cost will remain at $3, as it has been since 2005. Our annual pass will go up to $35 to help us maintain services in danger of being cut by budget reductions, such as the BacteriAlert system, and build more visitor amenities such as restrooms at popular sites such as Sope Creek."

In the federal fiscal year just ended (October 1, 2012, to September 30, 2013), the park collected approximately $627,000 in fees. The park expects to raise an additional $120,000 per year through the proposed annual fee increase.

To comment on the proposed annual fee increase, please send an email. There will also be a public open house at park headquarters in Sandy Springs (1978 Island Ford Parkway, Sandy Springs, GA 30350) on Tuesday, December 3, from 7:00 to 8:00 PM. The public comment period will end Friday, December 6, 2013.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, November 1, 2013

August in Cades Cove

With a bit of a chill already detected in the air, and the fall season soon coming to an end, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back at this past summer with this short video from the Great Smoky Mountains Association:

Hiking in the Smokies