Thursday, January 30, 2014

Brins Mesa

For years my uncle raved about Sedona, telling me how beautiful the red rock landscape was, and every Christmas would encourage me to visit one day, saying that I would absolutely love the area. Well, that one day finally came. Two years ago my wife and I finally got the chance to visit Sedona. We spent the day hiking the Brins Mesa Trail, one of the more popular trails in the area. For details and photos from our hike, please click here. By the way, Sedona isn’t a bad place to visit for a mid-winter getaway!


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Are Backpackers Boycotting the Smokies?

Are backpackers boycotting the Smokies? Based on the number of backcountry overnight stays for 2013, I think you can say something definitely is going on.

Two weeks ago I reported that visitation in Great Smoky Mountains National Park was down 6.7% in 2013. Earlier this week, one of the commentors on that posting asked about backcountry overnight stays in light of the new backcountry fees that were implemented back in February. If not familiar with this decision, suffice it to say that it's been an extremely controversial topic within the backpacking community since the fees were first proposed back in 2011.

In light of this controversy, I thought Tom's question was a valid one. Essentially: have the fees had an impact on backcountry overnight stays in the Smokies? It appears the answer to that question is yes. In 2013 there were only 62,863 backcountry overnight stays - a whopping 25.4% decline from the prior year. When compared to 2011, those same numbers are down 30.5%!

However, as with all statistics, you need to take into account a few caveats:

* The park was shutdown for 2 weeks during October due to the Federal Government shutdown. No doubt this impacted the numbers. For the sake of argument, since overall park visitation was down 6.7% in 2013, I think we can safely assume that backcountry overnight stays were also down by 6.7% - mainly due to the government shutdown. Roughly speaking, that would've added about 5012 additional backcountry nights, meaning, if there wasn't a government shutdown, total backcountry overnight stays would've been around 67,875 (I used the average for the 2000-2010 time frame as my baseline).

* There was a sharp increase in backcountry overnight stays in 2011 and 2012 when compared to the prior decade. Was this in response to the proposed fees? In other words, were backpackers getting out into the park while it was still free? I think it's very possible that some of that may have been going on.

Taking those two caveats into account, it's still obvious that backcountry overnight stays were negatively impacted in 2013. If we look at the trends (below) for the years prior to 2011, the average number of backcountry overnight stays was roughly 74,800. If we adjust the 2013 figures for the government shutdown, and use the 67,875 number instead, you could argue that backcountry overnight stays were off about 9.3% when compared to the long term trend. Moreover, that number is still the lowest figure over the last 13 years. It will be quite interesting to see what happens over the course of 2014.

Hiking in the Smokies

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Forest Visitors Urged to Avoid Ice on Waterways

The U.S. Forest Service is discouraging visitors to the Pisgah National Forest from walking on ice formed along area lakes and rivers. The warning comes following reports of people walking on ice formed on Lake Powhatan outside of Asheville, N.C.

Walking on ice is extremely dangerous and should be avoided at all costs.

Visitors who walk on ice run the risk of falling through the ice and drowning or suffering hypothermia. For more information on hypothermia, click here.

Forest Service officials urge visitors to take additional safety measures to protect themselves, family members and pets when visiting the national forests in winter.

Hiking in the Smokies

NC Wildlife Commission Helps Construct New Trails near Blue Ridge Parkway

Hikers interested in trails near the Blue Ridge Parkway now have three new trails to explore, thanks to a partnership involving private citizens, The Conservation Fund, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and the N.C.Wildlife Resources Commission.

The three trails wind through Wildlife Commission game lands in western North Carolina — the Rose Creek Trail and Little Table Rock Mountain Trail on Pisgah Game Land and the Saddle Mountain Trail on Mitchell River Game Land. The Rose Creek Trail is a 1.3-mile loop trail that is rated easy. The Little Table Rock Trail is a straight 2.1-mile trail that provides a moderate hiking challenge, particularly if hikers plan for a 4.2-mile round trip. The Saddle Mountain Trail is a 2-mile loop trail that is rated moderate.

The trails are accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway or nearby access roads on Commission game lands. Wildlife Commission staff marked trail heads with stonemarkers, as well as informational and directional signs.

Each trail offers unique views that date back to the pre-Revolutionary War era when Native Americans and early settlers walked through the same forested mountains, according to Kip Hollifield, a land management biologist with the Commission.

The Rose Creek Trail is part of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail that follows the route taken by Patriot militia when they crossed the mountains on foot and horseback in late September 1781 on their way to defeat British-led forces at Kings Mountain. The trail generally follows Little Rose Creek for much of its length through oak and cove forests, Hollifield said.

The Little Table Rock Trail also winds through oak and cove forests, but the summit offers multiple views of different natural landmarks.

“Hikers can view the North Toe River Valley to the north, and Roan Mountain is visible at the skyline to the north on clear days,” Hollifield said. “The view to the east is not as good, but hikers can see Linville Mountain during months when trees are bare.”

The Saddle Mountain Trail goes through oak and mixed oak-pine forests that also feature a dense understory of mountain laurel along much of the route.

“Hikers will notice where prescribed burning has been conducted along the trail to suppress the mountain laurel understory and create browse for wildlife,” Hollifield said. “At the summit of Saddle Mountain, hikers can view the Mitchell and Fisher River valleys to the south and east. The Sauratown Mountains, including Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain, also may be seen in the distance.”

Because the three trails are located on game lands, Hollifield recommended that hikers wear a blaze orange garment during hunting seasons — September-February and April-May.

Partnerships involving state government, non-governmental organizations and private citizens, including Fred and Alice Stanback, made the trails possible, according to Gordon Warburton, mountain area ecoregion supervisor for the Commission.

The three Stanback Trails are family-friendly trails designed for casual hikers. The trails, which are easy to moderate, are well-marked and accessible from gamelands roads or directly from the Blue Ridge Parkway. More information, please click here. For maps of game lands in western North Carolina, click here. Trailhead addresses and directions are as follows:

Rose Creek Trail: Park at the Hefner Gap overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway (Parkway milepost 325.9). Walk across the Parkway to Old Woods Road. The trail follows the Old Woods Road to Altapass Road (SR 1121). Alternatively, from the Heffner Gap overlook, travel south on the Blue Ridge Parkway to McKinney Gap. At McKinney Gap, turn right onto Altapass Road. Continue for 0.25 miles to the parking area on the right.

Little Table Rock Mountain: From the Heffner Gap overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway (Parkway milepost 325.9) travel north 1.25 mi. and turn left onto Bear Den Mountain road (SR 1126) immediately before passing through the Blue Ridge Parkway seasonal gate. Travel Bear Den Mountain road for 0.1 mi. to stop sign. Continue straight onto Humpback Mountain road (SR 1128). Continue for 0.5 mi. and turn right onto Whiterock Road. Follow signs to the parking area.

Saddle Mountain Trail: From the intersection of U.S. Hwy 21 and the Blue Ridge Parkway travel the Blue Ridge Parkway 7.75 mi. north and turn right onto Saddle Mountain Church Road (SR1461) (Parkway milepost 221.8). Travel approximately 200 ft. and turn right onto Mountain Lake Road (SR 1481). Travel approximately 300 ft. and turn left onto game land access road. Travel gameland access road 0.5 mi. to parking area.

Hiking in the Smokies

Study: Hikers are poorly able to recognize Lyme disease

According to an article recently published in Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, the official Journal of the Wilderness Medical Society, 46% of Appalachian Trail hikers are unable to recognize symptoms of Lyme disease (using photographs).

In the study conducted between June of 2011 and May of 2012, 379 hikers responded to a survey given by 4 researchers at 3 geographically separate locations at or proximate to the Appalachian Trail. Ten percent, or 37 of those hikers, stated that they had been diagnosed with Lyme disease as a result of hiking.

Lyme disease is an infectious disease that's transmitted to humans through the bite of infected ticks. Early symptoms of the disease may include fever, headache, and fatigue. A rash occurs in 70–80% of infected persons at the site of the tick bite, after a delay of 3–30 days (average is about 7 days), and may or may not appear as the well-publicized bull's-eye (erythema migrans). The rash is only rarely painful or itchy, although it may be warm to the touch. Approximately 20–30% of infected persons do not experience a rash. Left untreated, later symptoms may involve the joints, heart, and central nervous system. In most cases, the infection and its symptoms are eliminated by antibiotics, especially if the illness is treated early. Delayed or inadequate treatment can lead to more serious symptoms, which can be disabling and difficult to treat.

The disease has been reported in all states with the exception of Montana. However, 99% of all reported cases are confined to five geographic areas: New England, Mid-Atlantic, East-North Central, South Atlantic, and West North-Central.

The study (abstract) warns that with nearly 2,500 Appalachian Trail hikers entering the endemic area for as long as 6 months, exposure to the disease is likely.


The CDC recommends wearing protective clothing, including a hat, long-sleeved shirts and long trousers tucked into socks or boots. Light-colored clothing makes the tick more easily visible before it attaches itself. People should also use special care in handling and allowing outdoor pets inside homes because they can bring ticks into the house.

The CDC also recommends using insect repellents with Picaridin, IR3535, DEET or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus to repel ticks. Additionally, Permethrin sprayed on clothing kills ticks on contact.

After returning from a hike, or any area where you might have been exposed, closely check your skin and clothes for ticks. Immediately remove them from your body using fine-tipped tweezers. Grasp the tick firmly and as close to your skin as possible, and then pull the tick's body away from your skin with a steady motion. Make sure to clean the area with soap and water. Removing infected ticks within 24 hours reduces your risk of being infected with the Lyme disease bacterium.

For additional information on Lyme disease, please visit the CDC website. For a first hand account on what it's like contracting the disease, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Monday, January 27, 2014

Two Kayakers Rescued on Obed Wild & Scenic River

The NPS is reporting this morning that on the evening of January 12th, rangers and Morgan County rescue squad members responded to a 911 call from a 28-year-old man who said that he and a 32-year-old companion had been kayaking from Obed Junction to Nemo on the Obed Wild & Scenic River when they experienced problems and became separated. The caller said that he was lost and cold and did not know where his friend was.

After locating the caller’s position with the help of Morgan County dispatch and the man’s cell phone, rangers paddled across the river at Canoe Hole and began looking for him, finding him around 10:30 p.m. Rangers escorted him back to the other side of the river, where the rescue squad was waiting to transport him to the ambulance.

Shortly after rangers began a ground search for the second man, a Tennessee Highway Patrol helicopter located him along the river downstream of Alley Ford. With the help of GPS coordinates and guidance provided by the crew onboard the helicopter, Obed and Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area rangers found him just after midnight.

Both men were suffering from exposure when found, but were treated and released by Morgan County Ambulance service.

Hiking in the Smokies

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

58NationalParks produced this excellent overview of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If this video inspires you to visit the Smokies this year, the best way to explore this wonderful park is to hike along one of the many trails that meander throughout the park.

If you do plan to visit the Smokies this year, please note that our website offers a wide variety of accommodation listings to help with your vacation planning.

Hiking in the Smokies

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Blount Partnership Launches Cades Cove and Hiking & Biking App

Planning a trip to the Smokies most visited spot—Cades Cove? Need a quick reference for hiking and biking trails around Blount County? Two new apps will help guide you through this historic landmark along with maps of trails and paths for those on foot or two wheels.

The Blount Partnership has just launched a driving tour mobile app that provides a history of Cades Cove, GPS mapping, voice narration and historical photos to add to visitors’ experience as they explore the Cove.

The hiking and biking app features trails in and around the National Park, including the Cades Cove Loop and the Maryville-Alcoa Trails. Also included is a listing of outfitters, GPS enabled maps, social media and web links to travel information.

The apps were created by Populace, Inc, an award-winning mobile app developer that also created the partnership’s vacation guide and driving tour apps last year. The apps also connect visitors to Blount County’s website and social media. Like the other tourism apps, the Cades Cove and Hiking and Biking apps are free.

“We are integrating technology like these apps more and more into our tourism strategies,” said Tami Vater, director of Tourism for the Blount Partnership. “Smart phones and tablets play such a pivotal role in our daily lives now, so it’s a great way to give visitors a way to navigate our area, learn about our history and make their experience more complete.”

To download the apps, search “Cades Cove” and “Hiking and Biking the Smoky Mountains” in the Apple App Store or the Google Play store. For the vacation guide, search “Townsend, TN” and for the driving tour app, search “Circle the Smokies” or “Townsend Driving Tour.”

Vater said the Blount Partnership has more apps in the works, and the next to debut will be the "Smoky Mountain Scottish Festival & Game" app that will be available soon.

Townsend is known as the “Quiet Side of the Smokies”? If you've never had the pleasure of staying in the Townsend area, you may want to note that it's much easier getting in and out of the park, and is fairly close to Cades Cove. If you need a rental cabin during your visit, please visit our Townsend Accommodations page.

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Naches Peak

Although the Naches Peak Loop is considered to be a fairly popular hike, it doesn’t attract the crowds that some of Mt. Rainier’s star attractions see, such as in the Paradise or Sunrise areas. There are several reasons why you should put this gem on your hiking itinerary: it’s a relatively easy hike, it provides outstanding views of 14,410-foot Mt. Rainier, and it mostly travels through open country and lush meadows bursting with wildflowers.

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Should cameras be installed on popular hiking trails?

Should cameras be installed on popular hiking trails? According to North Shore Rescue in British Columbia, Canada, the answer to that question is yes.

North Shore Rescue spokesman Tim Jones told CBC News that once a search and rescue is activated, crews will be able to review film footage to get a better idea on where to look when a hiker goes missing. He makes this argument in light of the $40,000 in air time, and 1600 hours that his team put into searching for a 22-year-old man that went missing in the North Shore Mountains last November 25th. Had there been video surveillance footage, rescuers believe they could've narrowed their search for the man.

I'm not sure what the conditions were like the day Tom Billings went missing, but I do know that rescuers had to deal with snow and cold during their 7 or 8-week search. What if Tom wore a balaclava? Or what if he was wearing a ski hat and sunglasses? Would rescuers have been able to identify him on film footage?

For me, the question comes down to the issue of privacy. More and more, cameras are creeping into our everyday lives. How far are we willing to allow cameras to intrude into our lives - in the name of safety and security? By using the line of reasoning I've heard for more cameras and more security, you could make the argument that we should be installing cameras in our homes so authorities can make sure were not abusing our spouses or children.

One of the commentors on the story cynically stated:
"Why not make everyone who might possibly go off hiking in the wilderness take a course (Hiking 101), then take a test, much like a driving test, and issue them a Hiking Licence once they've passed the test? Sure, it sounds ridiculous, but not as ridiculous as installing surveillance cameras on hiking trails, IMHO."
Another commentor said:
"Why don't they make everyone have a GPS chip implanted in them so the police . . . i mean SAR can find them easier."
On the other hand, this commentor presented this viewpoint:
"Every time you walk into a convenience store, gas bar or any make and manner of business and most probably even your own employment you subject yourself to being captured on video yet you still enter so what's all the yippin' about."
So what are your thoughts? How do you feel about surveillance cameras at trailheads? Would we also have to install them at all trail junctions as well, so that potential searchers will know which direction hikers have turned? Perhaps more importantly, is the idea of getting away from it all slowly becoming an illusion?

Thanks to Jeff Clark at Meanderthals for giving me a heads-up on this story.

Hiking in the Smokies

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Highlighting the Highline Trail

Below is an excellent "hikelogue" from The West is Big! Travel Guides. The film highlights one of the best hikes in America. This epic starts from Logan Pass in the heart of Glacier National Park, and takes hikers along the famous Highline Trail to the Granite Park Chalet. From the Chalet the filmmakers take you up to the Continental Divide at Swiftcurrent Pass, and then down the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail and into the Many Glacier area. In all, this quintessential Glacier trip covers roughly 15 miles!

Although this might be a fairly difficult hike for most people to do in one day, hikers still have several options for enjoying this spectacular scenery. You could plan to stay overnight at the Granite Park Chalet, thus breaking the hike into two relatively easy days. However, reservations are usually needed several months in advance to stay at this popular backcountry inn. You should also note that you'll need to have two cars, or hire a shuttle to do this one-way hike.

Another option is to take the one-way, 11.8-mile hike from Logan Pass to the Loop. This option takes hikers along the Highline Trail to the Granite Park Chalet, and then travels west bound down the mountain to a spot on the Going-to-the-Sun Road known as the Loop. Hikers can take the free park shuttle back up to Logan Pass (actually, it's better to park your car at the Loop, and then take the shuttle to Logan Pass first thing in the morning). If this still seems like too many miles, you'll also have the option of hiking out to Haystack Pass. This moderate 7.2-mile out and back hike still offers hikers a lot of world-class mountain scenery.

If you do plan to visit Glacier this year, please note that our website offers a wide variety of accommodation listings to help with your vacation planning.

Hiking in the Smokies

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Great Smoky Mountains Scavenger Hunt

The time is now to gather your friends, family and co-workers to create a team! On March 22nd the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont will hold its 7th annual Great Smoky Mountains Scavenger Hunt.

The hunt ranges over most of the park, using roads and official trails to access particular areas. Some questions require research to answer. As it is illegal to remove items from the park, one digital camera with a flash memory card will be required per team.

Questions are awarded point values based on level of difficulty. The team with the most points may get prizes, but everybody wins! You can have as many people on your team as you like, provided all fit into one vehicle. The event will take place over a 25-hour period with teams receiving their hunt questions via e-mail by 3:30 p.m. on Friday, March 21st and are due back at Tremont no later than 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 22nd with your answers. A light dinner will be served while tallying takes place. This event is limited to 200 participants so register early!

One registration form per team must be completed and submitted to Tremont. If interested, the cost is $50 per team, if registered by Thursday, March 20th at 4 p.m. It will be $60 after that time. Proceeds from the Great Smoky Mountains Scavenger Hunt will benefit the Tremont Scholarship Fund.

For more information and to register, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Saturday, January 18, 2014

United States Mint to Launch Great Smoky Mountains National Park Quarter

The United States Mint will join National Park Service officials and hundreds of local area school-aged children on January 29, 2014, to launch the new quarter honoring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. The ceremony will take place at the Mills Auditorium in the Gatlinburg Convention Center. Following the ceremony, the public can exchange their currency for $10 rolls of new Great Smoky Mountains National Park quarters.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park quarter is the 21st coin of the America the Beautiful Quarters® Program, a 12-year initiative to honor 56 national parks and other national sites. Each year, the public will see five new national sites depicted on the reverse (tails side) of the America the Beautiful Quarters. The United States Mint is issuing these quarters in the order in which the honored site was first established as a national site.

The newest quarter depicts a historic log cabin found within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It features a segment of the lush green forest and a hawk circling above. Inscriptions are GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS, TENNESSEE, 2014 and E PLURIBUS UNUM.

The event will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, at 10 a.m.

Mills Auditorium- Gatlinburg Convention Center
234 Historic Nature Trail
Gatlinburg, TN 37738

Hiking in the Smokies

The Fun Hogs

Viva Los Funhogs! That was the motto for five adventurers who traveled 8000 miles, from California to Patagonia, in a Ford Econoline Van during the summer of 1968. Their goal: to climb Fitz Roy near the southern tip of South America - and have a lot of fun along the way.

These weren’t just any five people. This crew included Doug Tompkins, the founder of The North Face, as well as Yvon Chouinard, who would go on to found Patagonia, a name that was inspired by this trip. The team also included Lito Tejada-Flores, a budding filmmaker who produced a movie about the trip, called Mountain of Storms, that went on to become a cult-classic.

In celebration of this epic road trip the climbers have published a new book to mark the 45th anniversary of their big adventure.

Climbing Fitz Roy, however, isn’t your ordinary climbing book. Its set-up is more like that of a slide show, the way climbers used to present their expeditions in order to raise funds to feed future adventures. Interspersed within the photos (slide show) are essays written by members of the Funhogs that provide insights on their thoughts and perspectives on the trip. There’s also an excerpt from the original 1969 American Alpine Journal article, the premiere journal of all things climbing.

It’s a bit of luck that this book was even published. It was thought that all of the photos were lost in a wildfire that destroyed the home of Funhog photographer Chris Jones in 1996. Fortunately the fifth member of the team, Dick Dorworth, found copies he had kept in a storage locker some eight years later.

As the group made their way down through Central and South America, a journey that would take three months, they spent a great deal of time skiing and surfing along the way. Their ultimate goal, however, was to climb Fitz Roy, a daunting 11,289-foot granite spire on the Argentine-Chilean border. The Funhogs would become only the third team to climb the mountain. Despite its moderate height, it’s considered to be among the most technically challenging mountains on Earth.

Climbing the peak took a lot longer than they expected. The Funhogs were forced to wait through 60 days of storms before they could even attempt the climb. This included 31 days of living in ice caves. Finally, on December 20, 1968, they reached the summit during a 30-hour roundtrip trek.

Climbing Fitz Roy includes dozens of outstanding photos. Some of them you can tell have been scanned, while others look like they’ve been taken by modern-day digital cameras.

My only complaint with the book was with Dick Dorworth’s essay. I thought his re-hashing of the 60s (for the umpteenth time!) was mostly off topic. Speaking as a post-boomer, how many more times do we have to be told how great “their generation” was?

If you’re into climbing, or enjoy spectacular mountain photography (especially that of Patagonia, one of the most stunning mountain ranges in the world), this is a great pick.

For a little more perspective on the historical context of the adventure, here’s the original trailer from the film, Mountain of Storms:

Mountain of Storms (Trailer) from Patagonia on Vimeo.

For more information on the book, and to purchase, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, January 17, 2014

Tracking Elk in the Smokies

Friends of the Smokies has received a grant for $13,720 from Charter Communications, Inc. for support of wildlife management in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The grant provides for the purchase of 15 radio collars and 2 receivers for tracking and monitoring elk throughout the Park.

Two hundred years ago elk roamed the southern Appalachian mountains and elsewhere in the eastern United States. With the financial and in-kind support from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Friends of the Smokies, Great Smoky Mountains Association and The University of Tennessee; the Park began reintroducing elk in Cataloochee Valley in 2001. Initially, all elk were fitted with radio collars allowing biologists to efficiently monitor the growth, survival, and movements of the population. As the elk herd grows, today numbering at least 120 animals, biologists continue to monitor a subset of the herd annually to monitor population dynamics particularly focusing on newborn calves and females. This donation helps provide much needed collars to fit the calves and five adult females per year along with any nuisance animals.

“Charter is a communications and technology company,” said Joe Pell, vice president and general manager for Charter’s operations in Louisiana and Tennessee. “Funding the radio telemetry that Park biologists use to ensure the elk’s success fits with our company’s focus.”

Radio-transmitters are one of the most useful instruments to help track animal locations and survival. This is true, not only for elk, but other wildlife species as well. Information gained from the use of radio telemetry equipment has been vital in making short and long-term management decisions regarding bears, elk and bats within the Park, and continues to be an integral part of ongoing wildlife monitoring and management efforts.

“We find it very satisfying to have a healthy elk herd. Our job is to help maintain that by giving them the supplies they need,” says Jim Hart, Friends of the Smokies.

Mark Spilman, vice president and general manager for Charter’s operations in the Carolinas and Virginia adds, “The Great Smoky Mountains is the country’s most visited National Park. Many of our own employees that live and work in the region have experienced seeing these majestic animals thrive in Cataloochee. And now, they are officially a “Friend of the Smokies.”

For more information about the programs mentioned here, visit the park’s website. To learn more about Friends of the Smokies, go to

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Getting High in Yosemite

The hike to Gaylor Lakes near Tioga Pass traverses one of the highest maintained trails in Yosemite National Park, and offers some of the most spectacular high-country views off Tioga Road. The hike visits two alpine lakes, and during the summer you’ll enjoy a profusion of wildflowers that grow in the surrounding meadows. You’ll also have the opportunity to visit the abandoned Great Sierra Mine where you’ll find the remnants of stone cabins, a powder house and a blacksmith shop. 

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Beyond the Bear

I just finished reading an outstanding book this past weekend called Beyond the Bear. It’s a first-person account by Dan Bigley who tells his story of being attacked by a grizzly bear in the Alaskan bush, and his long road to recovery.

Dan survived a horrific mauling by a grizzly sow while fishing on the Russian River on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula in 2003. The attack was probably about as much as a person could take without actually dying, and left the 25-year-old badly disfigured and permanently blinded.

Although what he experienced was horrendous, his story is extremely inspiring. The book describes how Dan would overcome the attack. It all started at the Russian River that evening. While lying in a pool of blood, and almost drifting off forever, he remembers making the conscious decision to live. Dan discusses how he survived with the help of his friends, medics and doctors, what he had to do to reclaim his life, and how he refused to allow his blindness to stop him from enjoying life.

Interwoven in this story is a woman whom he had just met weeks before, and more or less fell in love with on the night before his attack.

Although you might think this could be a pretty heavy read, the opposite is true. Dan comes across as having a great sense of humor, and it’s obvious he was able to move forward with a mostly positive, can do, attitude.

All in all I thought this was a great read, and highly recommend it. For more information on the book, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Smokies Visitation Down 6.7% in 2013

Visitation in Great Smoky Mountains National Park was down 6.7% this past year. The park recorded 9,040,430 visitors in 2013, versus 9,685,828 in 2012.

No doubt the washout of Newfound Gap Road had an effect on visitation last winter and spring. However, it was the Government Shutdown in October that had the biggest impact on the Smokies. The shutdown came during one of the peak tourist seasons when visitors from all over the country come to see the fall colors. For two weeks the park prevented visitors from enjoying the spectacular fall season. October normally attracts roughly 1.1 million visitors, and is the third most popular visitor month behind June and July.

Here's a graphical look at visitation counts since the Smokies became a national park:

Hiking in the Smokies

Go west, young man

Take my advice, "go west, young man".

That famous quote is attributed to Horace Greeley, the influential 19th century author. Greeley, who was also the founder and editor of the New York Tribune, saw westward expansion as the ideal place for hard working people to find opportunities to succeed.

Today, the west symbolizes the place for adventurers and enthusiasts to enjoy and play in the great outdoors. One of the most iconic destinations in the west is Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Coincidentally, less than 50 miles away from the park is the small town of Greeley, which happens to be named after ole Horace.

So what does all this have to do with anything? Actually, it brings me to our newest hiking website, which we just launched in November of 2012. Just like, offers details on many of the trails throughout the park. In fact, you'll find quite a lot of information to help plan much of your trip.

First of all, trying to figure out where to hike can be challenging, especially if you're unfamiliar with the area. The park offers more than 350 miles of trails that lead to some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. As a starting point you can check out our list of the Top 10 Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, as well as our list of the Best Easy Hikes in the park.

Our website also offers many lodging options on our Accommodations page. Here you'll find a wide variety of overnight accommodations that offer a wide variety of amenities in the Rocky Mountain National Park area.

If you're looking for additional activities during your stay, besides hiking, take a moment to check out our Things To Do page. Then, take a day to go horseback riding, rafting, birding, photography touring, or maybe even take a hot air balloon tour of the Rockies!

If you're currently planning, or just considering a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park this summer, now's the time to begin making reservations before accommodations begin filling-up during the peak travel season.

Please know that by supporting one of our advertisers you help to support

Finally, if you know anyone else that's planning a trip to RMNP this year, we would really appreciate if you could forward this link onto them as well.

Thank you very much!

Hiking in the Smokies

Monday, January 13, 2014

New Hikers Hostel to Open in Townsend

I wanted to give everyone a heads-up about a new hostel that will soon be opening in Townsend, Tennessee - the "Quiet Side of the Smokies".

Called "The Smoky Pearl - A Hikers Hostel", has just recently announced their upcoming grand opening of the only hostel in East Tennessee. The Smoky Pearl is already taking reservations for their March, 2014 opening.

The Smoky Pearl is owned by Teresa and Bill Muhlfeld, who also own, a website and a brick and mortar store that offers outdoor gear for campers and hikers. is also one of the advertisers on our website.

The new Smoky Pearl is a 12-bed hostel with 2 or 4 beds being reserved for couples or families. There is a common bathroom and shower on the main sleeping level, with a private half bathroom located on the main floor. There are also 3 sleeping bag locations for economy hikers.

The Smoky Pearl will also offer shuttle service throughout Great Smoky Mountain National Park. TSP will pick hikers up at their destination point, and then return them back to their vehicles. Also, Appalachian Trail thru hikers who are staying at The Smoky Pearl can receive free pick-up from pre-arranged locations.

TSP will also provide Airport, Bus Station and Rental Car shuttle service to the Knoxville area.

These services certainly expand the possibilities for backpackers and hikers alike! For more information on the new hikers hostel, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Reelfoot Lake State Park Hosts Eagle Tours

Reelfoot Lake State Park invites visitors to attend the annual eagle bus tours to observe bald eagles and waterfowl. Tours are conducted seven days a week through March 2.

Daily tours depart from the park’s visitor center at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Park personnel lead the approximately two-hour tour, which includes opportunities to stop for photos and sightseeing.

Reservations are required and tickets can be purchased at the visitor center for $5 per person. Special groups should make reservations in advance. All visitors should dress warmly and bring field glasses and cameras.

“The Reelfoot Lake Eagle Tours and Festival is one of America’s premier wildlife watching adventures,” Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill said. “Bird watching in a fantastic venue of scenic beauty such as at Reelfoot Lake is an excellent way to learn about our natural world by experiencing first-hand this very special state park.”

In addition to tours, each Saturday night in January and February will feature a guest speaker at 7 p.m. in Ellington Hall. For more information on eagle tours and guest speakers, contact 731-253-9652.

Reelfoot Lake State Park will also host the 10th Annual Eagle Festival Friday, January 31 through Sunday, February 2. The festival will include eagle and waterfowl tours, sunrise photography walks, art and photography contests, a Birds of Prey program and children’s activities. For more information on the festival, contact 731-253-2007.

Hiking in the Smokies

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Winter Postcard from the Smokies

Below is a "A Winter Postcard from the Smokies" from the Great Smoky Mountains Association. This beautiful video offers some of the sights, scenes and sounds that visitors can find while in the Smokies during the winter. In many respects, winter is the best time of year to visit the Smoky Mountains.

If you're planning a visit to the Smokies this winter, please note that our website offers a wide variety of accommodation listings to help with your trip planning.

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Three Hikers Rescued in Great Smoky Mountains

Although this story was widely covered in the local press, the following account from the NPS Morning Report provides several more details on the incident in which three hikers had to be rescued after suffering from various stages of hypothermia, while attempting to hike the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies:

On the evening of January 2nd, park dispatch began receiving reports of a three person hiking party in distress somewhere along the Appalachian Trail. The cell phone signal indicated that the group was between Mollies Shelter and Fontana Lake, approximately five to six miles from the nearest trailhead.

At the time, the park was experiencing heavy snowfall and single digit temperatures associated with a large storm affecting much of the East Coast.

Cell phone contact was established with the three men from South Carolina, who ranged in age from 21 to 32 years old. The three men indicated that they were ill prepared for the weather conditions, that they had no shelter, and that they were cold, wet, suffering from hypothermia and unable to move. Through a series of broken phone calls, they stated that one member of the group was shivering and had gone to sleep and could not be awakened and they were burning their clothes in an attempt to provide warmth.

Rangers Brad Griest, Kent Looney, and ranger/medic Phil Basak hiked throughout the night to locate the group. During the hike, the rangers experienced wind chill temperatures between -10 and -15 degrees. Due to the high winds and blowing snow, it was difficult at times for the rangers to locate the trail.

Early the following morning, rangers found the three men, all of them suffering from various stages of hypothermia and possible frostbite. While the rangers provided medical aid and attempted to re-warm them, a Blackhawk helicopter from the North Carolina National Guard with hoisting capabilities responded.

By early afternoon, all three men had been safely hoisted aboard and flown to Mission (Memorial) Hospital in Ashville, North Carolina, for treatment. The rangers hiked back out with assistance from a second rescue team utilizing UTVs on portions of the trail.

The three hikers had planned to hike across the Appalachian Trail on a ten-day backpacking trip. Intending to stay in shelters, they didn't bring a tent. They also didn’t bring proper clothing that was warm enough for the extreme cold temperatures they would encounter.

Hiking in the Smokies

Hike Report: Humphreys Peak

Are you a peak bagger, state high pointer, or just looking for something additional to do while in the Grand Canyon or Flagstaff areas? Take the opportunity to hike above the tundra and stand atop the highest point in Arizona…or even sit on the bench at the 12,633-foot summit of Humphreys Peak:

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Deer relocation project to benefit Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

According to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, Morrow Mountain State Park will be participating in a long-term project to relocate white-tailed deer from the park to reservation lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Partners in the initiative are the state parks system, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, biologists from Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee Fisheries and Wildlife Management program.

The agencies intend to augment the reservation’s sparse population of white-tailed deer, an animal that figures prominently in Cherokee lore and cultural traditions. The deer will be gradually released onto the 56,000-acre Qualla Boundary, in habitat improved for browsing and currently off-limits to hunting.

In each of the next three years, between 25 and 50 deer will be relocated, primarily females in small family groups. Initial collections will begin in January, with biologists using darts to tranquilize the animals, collecting data on age and health, and fitting each with a tag and radio collar. The deer will be kept in a large pen on the reservation and closely monitored for about four weeks before being released.

A 2013 herd health study by the state park and the Wildlife Resources Commission suggests that such a project will benefit the remaining herd and habitat at Morrow Mountain in Stanly County. The relocation project will be carried out under specialized scientific protocols developed by the wildlife agency.

“Environmental protection of the Natural Resources of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has been paramount for my administration,” Cherokee Principal Chief Michell Hicks said. “The Cherokee Fisheries and Wildlife Management program has worked to protect those resources and has worked to restore native species to the region. The white-tailed deer restoration continues this important tribal work and demonstrates the tribe’s commitment to work with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources in collaboration. These efforts will have lasting effects on our tribal community and on the region.”

A byproduct of the relocation project will be a unique research opportunity that can offer insight into white-tailed deer health and best practices for rebuilding and sustaining healthy herds. This type of information will benefit wildlife management agencies as well as private, nonprofit groups involved in deer rehabilitation.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Walk Amongst the Mighty Redwoods

Arguably one of the best hikes in Redwood National Park to enjoy the grandeur of the tallest trees on Earth is the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Nature Trail. This 1.4-mile loop trail takes hikers through an old-growth forest of ancient redwoods. While the trees tower more than 300 feet above, the forest floor is painted lush green with ferns, evergreen huckleberry and rhododendron.

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Left Loop of Tsali Trail System Closed

Nantahala National Forest officials announced this afternoon that the Left Loop of the Tsali Trail system is currently closed due to a slide along the trail. The other 3 loops in the trail system will remain open. The Forest Service will work to evaluate and repair damage to the trail and issue an alert when the trail is reopened.

Located near Fontana Lake, Tsali Recreation Area is nationally known for its 42-mile trail system. The four-loop network is open to hikers and horses, but the system is best known as a challenging mountain bike course.

Hiking in the Smokies

Delicate Arch

You probably recognize this famous landmark:

If not the best known arch in the world, Delicate Arch certainly qualifies as the most iconic rock formation in Arches National Park. There’s more to this relatively easy hike than just the arch: hikers will also pass by an old settler’s home, as well as a petroglyph panel left by Ute hunters several hundred years ago. For more information on this outstanding hike, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Alum Cave Bluffs in Winter

The hike to Alum Cave Bluffs is probably my favorite winter hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I love seeing the icicles hanging over the bluff – sometimes several feet long. If it warms to just a little above freezing, the icicles drop like missiles to the ground. Below is a video from the Great Smoky Mountains Association highlighting the trail during a winter hike from a couple of years ago. For more detailed information on this classic Smokies hike, please click here.

If you're planning a visit to the Smokies this winter, please note that our website offers a wide variety of accommodation listings to help with your trip planning.

Hiking in the Smokies