Information Superhighway to the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee

This internet "Book" is written for day hikers and campers in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. However, we try to consider all the possible adventures one might wish to encounter in this wild wonderland. Neither of us are avid fishers or tubers (for those who may not know, that does not refer to potatoes, but those who ride innertubes down rivers). However, we make every effort to remember such undertakings and mention the best spots we know for them. The large number of books available have proved to be a mixed blessing. Often obsolete or just plain wrong, the standard (and non-standard) guides are helpful, but sometimes frustrating. We hope to present an accurate, interesting and comprehensive description of the park's trail and recreational facilities. However, I must totally disclaim up-to- the-minute accuracy since I have not been so intimate with the mountains for many years. (And hurricane Opal did make some substantial changes to the trails in some cases.)

We would like to take the opportunity to express some opinions about the park in general. We are very grateful to the National Park Service, the rangers and other workers at the park. Your efforts are out of love for the area and are often overlooked by the visitors. In writing this book every effort has been made to accurately describe the walks and sights of the park. We are always frank and sometimes critical of things. But this is in no way intended as an attack of any group or individual. We offer opinions only as outsiders who use the park as often and responsibly as we can. So again, we honor and thank the rangers and countless others responsible (yes, even the politicians) for giving us the park.

We present our opinions as our own. Where they are divergent from mainline philosophy, it is perhaps because we see the park as a place where the responsible, informed camper can do whatever their heart desires in spite of potential dangers to themselves. We feel strongly that it is not up to the Park Service to assume responsibility for careless or inexperienced hikers. Sole responsibility rests upon the hiker to be informed of the inherent dangers. Likewise, we believe that it is the responsibility of the user of the park to share in the maintenance and upkeep of the park in order to permit its continued free access and protection. It is a fallacy to think that some one else (i.e. the government) can efficiently provide service to the public without our support. The people of the United States are the government. It is truly shameful that congressional budget cuts have a major impact on park maintenance. When trails need repair, there should be a volunteer (i.e. not mandatory - as in Volunteer State) crew rotating continually to step in and the reduce the dependence upon budget cuts and squabbles. All hikers and campers should be willing to work to maintain the park, regardless of funding. Thus as fellow users, we attempt herein to relate the experiences that you are likely to have as joint explorers with us of this tameless wonderland.

Speaking of dangers, it is essential that all visitors to the park be aware of the potential dangers inherent to the wild. We cannot begin to list either the warnings or solutions to potential hazards (though we occasionally offer specific ones in the trail descriptions). Legions of brochures and books are available covering such topics. You, the hiker, are responsible to know the dangers of your hike, your abilities and most importantly, your limitations. It is you who must suffer the consequences of exceeding these limitations. The park offers thrilling and nearly unlimited opportunities for exploring "new frontiers." But the back country is, for lack of a more accurate word, cold blooded when it comes to reckless behavior. It offers no warning, sympathy or assistance to those who venture beyond their capabilities. Foolhardiness not only affects the victim, but through increased restrictions, causes the loss of opportunity to the qualified outdoorsman. An example is the Ramsey Cascade overlook. For decades, thousands of casual hikers have successfully climbed to the top of the falls to awe the view. But because of a few deaths, the way is now barred to all. We have made several trips to the falls, each time hoping that a new trail would be cut to the top. Each time we have been disappointed. We have yet to lay eyes upon the summit.

We would like to accurately, completely and currently describe every inch of the trails of the Smokies. Alas, this is a hopeless task (at least alone)! Trails are constantly being discontinued, created, re-routed, and added to as well as evolving naturally or otherwise, through fires, mud slides, insects or whatever. "Over 800 miles" of trail are claimed. However, unpublished paths are so common, (and no two maps seem to agree) that to include most of them is a formidable objective. Of course we note the unpublished ones that we have found. We hope to hike every inch of the Smoky's trails in our lives. But after the ten years or more practically required to finish this while working real jobs, (hey, we are not professionals here) our descriptions doubtless are occasionally going to be partial and obsolete. We have attempted to verify that our information is still current, but who knows.

Regarding equipment, many excellent books and magazines are out there. Most all seem adequate. The biggest issue is to make certain that your needs dictate what you buy, not salesmen. As much and long as I have hiked, (this is Albert writing) I have never used or found need for a pair of hiking boots. I have very good ankles and find a pair of tennis shoes adequate for all normal hiking. Winter hikes, cross-country (off-trail where invisible dangers may lurk) and hikes on bad rocks will require extra weight. However, boots should not be your first expenditure. You should stick to the good trails and mild weather at first. If ankles are prone to twisting, then by all means get high-tops or boots. But first, I would say get a good pack. This will release you to hike all day with food and emergency equipment. Camping gear will move you to the overnight realm. This is sufficient for most folks. By the time you are comfortable with night-time out of doors, you will likely know for yourself what is necessary.

A hat, sunglasses and suntan lotion are worthwhile investments. Non-cotton clothing is also high on the priority list. Cotton is wonderful until it gets wet. It can stay cold and clammy for days. Unfortunately, there are few shortcuts here. You get what you pay for. The most worthless piece of equipment available is the "hiking stick." Don't go buying one, which will run anywhere from five to fifty (or more) dollars. It will only be a nuisance except when walking logs or rocks over creeks. I have yet to see a creek in Tennessee without an abundance of perfectly saleable sticks by the bank. (And the Smokies normally come equipped, courtesy of previous hikers, with several fine specimens at the entrance to each trail.)

Concerning wildlife, neither of us are experts at identifying trees, birds, flowers, fungi, insects or any of the other park wildlife. We apologize if we incorrectly identify species. I am continually finding some tree or critter that I have identified incorrectly my whole life. For example, there is an oak tree, the leaves of which are nearly identical (to my eye) to a chestnut, but slightly smaller. The acorns are completely hidden inside the spiny cap until about three-eights of an inch long, also giving the appearance of a chestnut. I once identified this as a chestnut until the acorns became evident. I then assumed it to be a chestnut oak, which it is not. I think it is a chinkapin, but it looks much more like chestnut leaves than the books show. Although I can now readily identify the standard chestnut oak, I have a distinct lack of respect for the fellow who gave the name "chestnut oak" to a tree which bears no resemblance to its namesake, when another variety is a spittin' image. Well, I am a hiker, not a biologist. So I will try to stick to hiking and use generic names (i.e. 'maple') unless I know the variety with relative certainty.

In order to try to keep things current, we have rent in twain the park. (i.e., we only can offer a fairly comprehensive guide of the Tennessee half.) Living in Knoxville, we were able to hike the northwest half very often on day hikes. We dream of some day including the North Carolina half and the A.T. (Appalachian Trail) description in both editions, as it is both popular and provides a natural division between the halves. But this must wait as we now live in Pennsylvania. The only major stretch of Tennessee trail we have yet to hike is the Old Settlers Trail. However, trail descriptions are not yet available here for everything. Be patient and pray that we can return to the mountains for a long spell!

Our pictures are for the most part pretty good. This is not because we are talented photographers. On the contrary, it is because we take such a large number of snapshots, pure statistics guarantees that at least every once in a while, one will turn out well! And we do have a room full of them! However, we are unfortunately, not equipped with a nice scanner. Hence the little $50 hand scanner cannot grab the images at a good resolution. Some day, I'll cough up a few hundred bucks and get them redone real pretty like. But for now, it's economy style!

Personal preference and opinion of trails is inevitable. Every article ever written or published is biased by the author(s). Few will admit it, but that does not change the facts. Our opinions are all we can offer. The way in which we were introduced to the great outdoors plays a central role in our likes and dislikes. Are Albright Grove or the Chimneys really as incredible as we make them out to be? Or is it just because they were the first places Albert regularly visited in the park? Who knows. Does it really matter? These are issues which cannot be answered. You must become acquainted with the park for yourself. Second hand information can only give you ideas and a desire to visit. It is our hope that you develop a life long love of the Smokies - a healthful, exhilarating, clean, beautiful and absolutely fun relationship!

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