Saturday, August 29, 2015

Quick Tips for Viewing Elk Safely

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

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


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How to Climb (hike) a Mountain

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


Saturday, August 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

As always, thank you very much!


Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Largest Wildfires in U.S. History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

My Top 11 Tips For Beginner Cyclists

As you're probably already aware, this blog is primarily focused on hiking. However, when I'm not out on the trail, my favorite form of exercise is cycling. I've been riding on a regular basis (5 or 6 times a week) for almost 30 years. At a family gathering a few weeks ago my brother-in-law announced that he was going to take up cycling. As a result, I was inspired to write this blog and impart some advice to him and anyone else who's thinking about taking up this wonderful sport, or anyone who's recently caught the bug.

To help newbies dive into the sport, the following are my top 11 tips for beginner cyclists:

1) Buy the right bike (Part 1): Before dipping your toes in, the first thing you need to consider is what kind of bike to purchase. The answer to that question will be determined by what kind riding you plan to do: off-road trail riding, dirt/gravel roads, cruising around the neighborhood, or venturing out to do one or two-hour rides on urban and rural roads. Answering that question will determine whether you need to purchase a mountain bike, hybrid, touring or road racing bike. The difference in the latter two will be determined by the amount of riding you plan to do. Although you may never enter a race, a road racing bike will be the preferred choice if you plan to ride several times a week, and especially if you wish to progress by going farther and faster as time goes by.

2) Buy the right bike (Part 2): After determining the style of bike, the next thing you'll have to do is determine the correct bike size. To do this you'll have to measure your inseam, which will determine the correct size as measured by the frame size.

3) Get a proper fit: Once you've purchased your bike it's extremely important to have it properly fitted to your own body measurements. Having a seat set too high or too low is a recipe for knee problems down the road. An incorrect fore-aft seat position could cause back problems. If you purchase the bike from a reputable bike shop they should be able to help you through this process. You can also find out how to do this on your own by clicking here or here.

4) Before hitting the road: After purchasing your bike you're going to need some additional gear before hitting the trail or road. You'll definitely want to purchase a CPSC certified bike helmet, seat fanny pack, water bottle cage(s), an extra inter tube and a flat tire repair kit. Although frame air pumps were quite common several years ago, I much prefer CO2 cartridges for re-filling a fixed flat tire. The cartridges easily fit into your seat fanny pack, and are very easy to use. Other items to strongly consider include: bike gloves, jerseys, cycling shorts, a floor air pump for home (tire tubes tend to lose significant air pressure after a week or two), chain oil (to keep your chain spinning efficiently), and a bike computer. Although it may not be apparent to a beginner, most of these items serve a variety of important functions.

If you do plan to ride frequently I would also strongly recommend purchasing clipless pedals and cycling shoes. Clipless pedals allow you to apply pressure throughout the entire pedal motion, while standard pedals only allow you to apply pressure during the downward stroke. Because of this, clipless pedals are far more efficient and make cycling a lot easier as they allow you to spin, rather than push your pedals.

5) Choose safe routes: Once your entire "kit" is ready to go, it's time to hit the road or trail. As a beginner you'll definitely want to ride on bike friendly roads and trails. Fortunately, with the internet, there are many resources for finding safe routes. It's possible your own city or town has published a map on their website showing all the safe routes in town. Google Maps has a function for finding bike-friendly routes. TrailLink and MapMyRide are also great resources. You can also try checking with your local bike club or bike shop for recommendations as well.

6) Hold your head up: To quote the old Argent song, "hold your head up!" While riding it's extremely important to know everything that's going on around you. Don't stare down at your pedals, or your computer. Look ahead to know where traffic is, or where any obstacles might be on the road or trail, such as broken glass, a pothole, gravel (be especially cautious while turning corners), or a tree branch, etc.. Look from side to side to make sure a dog, wild animal, child, or even lawn professionals (for some reason these folks regularly step out onto the road without looking) don't decide to walk in front of your path.

7) Your butt will hurt: Unfortunately your butt will definitely hurt during the first couple of rides. Actually, the same holds true for experienced cyclists after we emerge from a long winter's rest. The best thing to do is to limit your rides to less than 30 minutes on the first couple of rides. You'll also be better off by not riding on consecutive days for the first week or so. Padded cycling shorts will be of help as well. Although you'll feel a little discomfort the first couple times out, don't worry, in no time you'll get used to it and will find that sitting on a bicycle seat is no longer a problem.

8) Never assume a driver can see you: With our epidemic of distracted and inconsiderate motorists texting and yapping on cell phones, you should never assume a driver can see you. Just because you made it to a stop sign first, make sure you make eye contact with a driver before crossing an intersection. Also, just because you don't have to stop at another intersection, don't assume the driver approaching from a perpendicular street is going to stop. Over the years I've seen numerous drivers ignore stop signs right in front of me. Luckily I slowed beforehand to make sure they were going to stop first. Also, don't assume someone crossing your path while turning into or out of a driveway or parking lot can see you. Finally, watch for parked cars. It's possible that someone is in that car and about to open up their door - you don't want to test your ability to strip a door from a car.

9) Hold that line!: As an example, let's say you're riding one foot from the side of the road. You should try to maintain that distance (called "holding your line") as much as possible. Not only will you be more predictable for drivers approaching from behind, but you never know when another cyclist might approach you from behind without saying anything. If you cross paths (touching tires), it's likely one or both of you will go down. If riding in a group this rule is even more important. Obviously there will always be obstacles along the course. In those situations be sure to look quickly behind you to make sure it's alright to alter your line. Also, as a reminder, cyclists are considered to be a vehicle in the eyes of the law, so you must obey all traffic laws.

10) Let the terrain dictate your gears: To be an efficient cyclist you need to maintain a fairly constant pedal speed, as measured in RPMs. This is the number of "Revolutions Per Minute", or complete pedal strokes in a one minute time period. The most efficient pedal speed is in the 90-100 RPM range. Take the time to count your RPMs to get a feel for what 90-100 RPMs feels like. Over time this pedal speed will be instinctive and will come naturally to you. If you're only doing 70 or 80 RPMs it's likely you're in too large of a gear. Over time it will feel like your simply grinding out the miles. Maintaining 90-100 RPMs is the most optimal range, and will allow your legs to feel fresher for longer periods of time, thus allowing you to ride longer and faster. As the terrain changes adjust your gears to maintain that optimal range. Obviously, on steep hills, it will be impossible to maintain that pedal speed. Simply shift down to your lowest gear and try to spin as much as possible.

11) Avoid the death grip: Many new cyclists will hold onto their handlebars as if they were about to fall off a cliff. This is a big mistake, as this only causes tension and will result in a stiff upper back. It's best to relax your upper body and let your legs do all the work. Learn to have a light touch while holding onto the handlebars. Use different parts of the handlebars as well, such as the break hoods, the outside and inside portion of the tops, as well as the drops. Switching around on different areas of the handlebar will allow you to use and rest different muscles in your arms, shoulders and back, thus helping to prevent them from stiffening up. Here's pretty good video that shows how and when to use the different positions.

In my view these are the top things you need to know to get started in the sport of cycling. There are many other tips and techniques to make cycling safe and fun, but are beyond the scope of this article. Reading online articles, books and magazines will be of help, but experience will be your best guide. I also recommend taking beginner type rides with your local bike club. More often that not you'll be able to find someone who is more than willing to teach you the ropes.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Programming Note: Friends Across the Mountains Telethon is Thursday Night

This Thursday, August 20th, is the 21st annual Friends Across the Mountains Telethon. The event will be broadcast on WBIR-TV Channel 10 in Knoxville, TN and WLOS-TV Channel 13 in Asheville, NC from 7:00 PM - 8:00 PM.

The broadcast will highlight projects and programs that Friends of the Smokies has funded over the years. It's a fun event that raises awareness of both the Park's needs (as the only major national park without an entrance fee), and the ways that Friends of the Smokies helps to fulfill some of those needs every year. The telethon raises roughly $200,000 each year, and has raised more than $3 million dollars over the last 20 years.

Volunteers will be on hand to help answer phones and keep running totals of the money raised throughout the evening.

If you wish, you can make a donation right now by clicking here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Celebrate the 99th Birthday of the National Park Service: All National Parks Will Offer Free Admission on August 25

The National Park Service is turning 99 years old on August 25, 2015, and everyone is getting a present, free admission! Visit a park in your neighborhood or plan a trip to one of the 408 National Park Service sites across the country to join the party! To inspire visitors, the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, have created a birthday list of 99 Ways to Find Your Park.

“The National Park Service’s 99th birthday is an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the role of national parks in the American story,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “And it’s also a time to look ahead to our centennial year, and the next 100 years. These national treasures belong to all of us, and we want everyone – especially the next generation of park visitors, supporters and advocates – to discover and connect with their national parks.”

In preparation for the centennial celebration next year, the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation are partnering to help audiences nationwide Find Your Park. To encourage visitors to discover everything a park experience can be, the list of 99 Ways to Find Your Park includes a wide range of activities: from urban hikes and taking a sunrise selfie, to earning a Junior Ranger Badge and writing poetry. Visitors are encouraged to share their park experiences with friends and family by using #FindYourPark on social media.

On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation to create the National Park Service, which preserves and protects 408 sites throughout the country. Each one, whether it’s a national park, a historic site or a national seashore, was established by a president or Congress to protect, preserve and share its national significance for future generations. Some parks commemorate notable people and achievements; others conserve magnificent landscapes and natural wonders; and all provide a place to have fun and learn.

The National Park Service waived all of its entrance fees on nine days in 2015. The remaining entrance fee free days are August 25 for the National Park Service’s birthday, September 26 for National Public Lands Day, and November 11 in honor of Veterans Day. The entrance fee waiver does not cover amenity or user fees for activities such as camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours.

To find a national park near you, and to learn more about the Find Your Park campaign, visit


Friday, August 14, 2015

Gran Fondo Asheville To Benefit Friends of the Smokies‏

Join Friends of the Smokies on Sunday, August 30th, for the Gran Fondo Asheville!

Part ride, part race, and all party, the Gran Fondo Asheville begins in funky art-deco downtown and quickly transitions to winding roads in pastoral countryside, as well as up to stunning mountain ridge vistas.

The ride is designed for cyclists at varying skill levels with courses covering 30, 60 and 100-mile routes.

Gran Fondo Asheville features four timed sections, mechanical support, fully-stocked aid stations along the route, food and beverage at the finish, a cash purse, and prizes for overall and age-group winners.

For more information on this ride/race, please click here.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Update on Wildfires in Pisgah National Forest

The Southern Area Gold Team and the North Carolina Forest Service are now in unified command, managing both the Bald Knob and Wolf Creek Fires. Yesterday was the first day of full management of the incidents under this command. Both the Bald Knob Fire (confirmed lightning start on July 17th) and Wolf Creek Fire (likely lightning start on July 31st) started on the Pisgah National Forest. The cause of the fire was likely lightning, although the ignition source remains unconfirmed.

The team will continue to use a “confine and contain” strategy to manage both fires for multiple objectives. Limited access, rough terrain and heavy fuel loading make direct access unviable for firefighters on the Bald Knob Fire. Firefighter crews will work to construct and enforce fire lines using dozers and hand crews where they have access.

The Bald Knob fire is now estimated to be 1019 acres, and is 20% contained. 212 firefighters are currently fighting this blaze.

The Wolf Creek fire is 305 acres in size, and is 60% contained. 35 firefighters are working on this wildfire.

A temporary closure of a section of the Mountains to Sea Trail between the footbridge over the North Fork of the Catawba River and Dobson Knob Road (Forest Service Road 106) remains in place.

Heartbreak Ridge Trail (208) and Star Gap Trail (209) remain closed to public use and will be in effect until further notice. Jarrett Creek Road (FS4030) is also closed to public use. Forest Service officials are asking the public to avoid this area for their own safety and the safety of emergency response personnel on scene.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy Launches Video Series Aimed at Educating Hikers

Volunteers and staff at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) have created a series of entertaining and informative videos that will teach visitors how to reduce their imprint on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). The videos, titled “Don’t Be That Guy – Appalachian Trail - Leave No Trace,” were released this past weekend.

Filmed by professional videographer and former thru-hiker Tara Roberts with support from the U.S. Forest Service, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, the ATC’s Tennessee License Plate Fund, and the ATC volunteers, the series illustrates the proper practices for hiking and camping that minimize impacts on the A.T.

“‘Leave No Trace’ is a great program that encourages everyone to minimize their impacts on the outdoors. These methods are needed on the Appalachian Trail, especially due to its popularity,” said Tom Banks, video producer and director. “There’s a lot of good information available from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics teaching the principles, and what these videos add is information that applies specifically to the Appalachian Trail. We illustrate the techniques in a direct, but entertaining, way.”

The series features a clip on each of the seven principles of Leave No Trace, which include plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife, and be considerate of other visitors. Additional videos, to be released later in the month, will also include engaging elements like interviews with recent hikers and actors in the series as well as a lighthearted bloopers and outtakes reel. “We have to be vigilant. Our duty is to take care of the Appalachian Trail,” explained Sarah Jones Decker, a creative consultant, actor in the videos, and former A.T. thru-hiker. “As the Trail becomes more popular, we need to make sure that we are working diligently to spread the ‘leave no trace’ message."

The video series is one way the ATC is preparing for a surge in Trail use following the release of the film A Walk in the Woods, a comedy adventure starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte as old friends who make the improbable decision to hike the 2,190-mile Trail. The film will be released September 2 by Broad Green Pictures. The ATC acted as a consulting organization during production and assisted with the film’s environmental messaging.

“Effort will be necessary to keep the Appalachian Trail in its natural state, especially given the increased attention that the Trail is receiving,” said Javier Folgar, the ATC’s director of Marketing and Communications. “Whether you are new to hiking or are an experienced 2,000-miler on the Appalachian Trail, everyone can benefit from watching these videos as a reminder of how to reduce impact.”

Here's an intro from the video series that explains "the Story Behind the Videos":

And here's a short clip of the "bloopers and outtakes" from the series:

To view the entire “Don’t Be That Guy – Appalachian Trail | Leave No Trace” video series, click here.

For more information about Leave No Trace and the A.T., visit