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Beta on the Smokies in March
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Derek Medlin
(dmedlin) - F

Locale: Southeast
Beta on the Smokies in March on 02/03/2009 10:41:42 MST Print View

I'm planning to take my little brother on a 4-5 day lightweight backpacking trip to the Smokies in Mid-march during his Spring Break this year.

Can anyone give me some beta on the following:
1) Weather Possibilities
2) 60-80 mile loops that are nice to hike and fish
3) Local fare to check out pre or post hike
4) Fly fishing - getting a permit, where are best sites, etc
5) Best off-line resources (maps, etc) for planning the trip

Note that we will be carrying a tarptent so shelters are not necessary.


Misfit Mystic

Locale: "Grand Canyon of the East"
RE: Beta on the Smokies in March on 02/03/2009 11:19:40 MST Print View

Ah, the Smokies. Doesn't get much better than that place. As a start, visit the NPS GSMNP site. Lots of info, weather links, and best of all, a downloadable full park map showing the entire trail network (there's alot, over 800 miles!). The map shows you all the potential loops; for a loop 60-80 miles long, I'm thinking AT north from Newfound Gap to Tricorner, down into Big Creek on Camel Gap, up Swallow Fork to Mt. Sterling, then south on the Benton Mackay route and then west on Kephart Prong/Sweet Heifer Creek back to the AT and Newfound Gap.

As for weather, you could have anything from late-spring conditions to deep-winter conditions, maybe all on the same trip. I had a trip about 10 years ago that started in the 60's and finished in the teens with 3 feet of snow! The big things to be prepared for in March are cold rain and mud. Make sure your raingear is solid, and take gaiters. Check out Chris Townsend's article here on hiking in cold rain. Be prepared for winter temps and possibly snow on the AT and anywhere else in the park above 5000 ft. elevation. The big highspots (LeConte, Clingmans, Guyot) can have temps around 0F even in March.

Also, be wary of the bears. This is the highest density of black bears in the East, and they aren't as fearful of humans as in many places. Check trail and shelter closings on the NPS site and at the trailhead before starting. I know Russell Field shelter on the southern AT is closed right now because of aggressive bear activity.

The best book I know of on GSMNP is "Hiking Trails of the Smokies" by the Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association. It has a mileage/elevation profile and narrative about every trail in the park. Awesome resource.

Have a great time!

Michael Landman
(malndman) - F

Locale: Central NC, USA
Re: Beta on the Smokies in March on 02/03/2009 11:51:23 MST Print View

These folks have some good hiking resources:

Derek Medlin
(dmedlin) - F

Locale: Southeast
RE: Beta on the Smokies in March on 02/03/2009 13:08:44 MST Print View

Thanks Scott -- Great tips and I will definitely map out that suggested route you gave. I found some used versions of that book too - thanks again!

Michael - Thanks to you too - I found some solid resources on the CMC's website, including some links to info on fishing.

Any other insights are more than welcomed! Thanks!

Brad Fisher

Locale: NC/TN/VA Mountains
Re: RE: Beta on the Smokies in March on 02/12/2009 17:09:39 MST Print View


I have hiked the Smokies several times and I think you will find it very enjoyable. However, it does require more pre trip planning than most trips.

Things to consider:
1. Some campsites need to be reserved and they fill up quick. The remaining campsites only require you to register at the trailhead.
2. You must reserve shelters unless you are through hiking the AT. About 70 miles of the AT split the park and shelters are your only option on the AT.
3. The park is quite large and the distant between campsite sights can be long. Even with 900 miles of trails you can have some long days of hiking.
4. Try to read up on the trails you will take. Some can have a lot of elevation gain quickly without the benefit of switchbacks. The park has plenty of sections with 600-1000 ft elevation per mile.
5. March and April will be full of AT thru hikers so I would stay away from AT unless you want company.
6. Water is plentiful. Campsites have nice cable system for bear hanging and yes the park is full of bears, but no worries.
7. I would highly recommend getting the National Geographic National Parks Map software for planning your trip. I have an old version and it works great. I just check online and it seems that they now have a Smokies only version. The neat thing about the software is you can use the mouse and drag along the trails you are taking. It will give you distance, elevation profile, etc. Real nice for planning the loop and campsites.

I have hiked a lot of sections of the park, but the place I have next on my list is the southeast corner of the park. I have done a lot of research and it seems that this section is the least used, but most amazing area. Hazel creek is suppose to be excellent for fishing. The views from high rock are great.

The best book I have found is "Hiking Trails of the Smokies" by Great Smoky Mountain Association. It has all trails listed with narrative, elevation profile, trail junctions and campsites.

If you have additional questions just let me know

Derek Medlin
(dmedlin) - F

Locale: Southeast
Beta on the Smokies in March on 02/12/2009 22:17:58 MST Print View

Thanks Bradley. Your comments are very helpful - especially the reminder that Thru-hikers will be coming right about then. I have nothing against them, but I prefer to try and avoid others if possible.
Last week I picked up that book you suggested from the GSMA website, and it seems very descriptive and helpful. I will also give a look at the NG software.

Thanks again for the tips and suggestions.