|Appalachian Trail Guide for Great Smoky Mountains National Park|
The Appalachian Trail, also known as the AT, runs for more than 71 miles through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, entering from the south at Fontana Dam, and exiting in the northeast at Davenport Gap. The highest point anywhere along the 2175-mile trail is 6625 feet, at Clingmans Dome. The trail also passes by other notable landmarks in the Smoky Mountains, such as Charlies Bunion, Rocky Top and the historic stone fire tower atop Mt. Cammerer.
It usually takes 7 days for most people to hike the Smoky Mountains section of the Appalachian Trail. If you don't have that much time, this hike can be easily shortened by using Newfound Gap or Clingmans Dome as a mid point. Either of these sections of the AT can be done in 3 or 4 days. Of course, since these are all one-way trips, you will have to arrange for some sort of transportation at the end of your hike.
The Appalachian Trail is marked using a system of "blazes" painted on trees, posts, and rocks. There are some local variations, but most hikers grasp the system quickly. Above tree-line, and where snow or fog may obscure paint marks, wooden posts and rock piles, known as "cairns," are used to identify the route.
A blaze is a rectangle of paint in a prominent place along the trail. White-paint blazes two inches wide and six inches high mark the Appalachian Trail. Side trails and shelter trails use blue blazes. Two white blazes, one above the other, signal an obscure turn, route change, incoming side trail, or other situation that requires you to be especially alert to changes in direction. In some states, one of the two blazes will be offset in the direction of the turn.
The Appalachian Trail was the brainchild of Benton MacKaye, a Massachusetts regional planner and forester for the United States Forest Service, as well as a cofounder of The Wilderness Society. His idea for a continuous wilderness trail was proposed in an October 1921 article in the Journal of the American Institute of Architects, entitled "An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning." The trail was to provide leisure, enjoyment, and the study of nature for people living in the urban areas of the eastern United States.
Just two years later, on October 7, 1923, the first section of the Appalachian Trail, from Bear Mountain-Harriman State Park to Delaware Water Gap, was opened. MacKaye then called for a two-day Appalachian Trail conference to be held in March 1925 in Washington D.C., which resulted in the formation of the Appalachian Trail Conference (now called the Appalachian Trail Conservancy). Little progress, however, was made on the trail for several years.
The trail wasn't completed until August 1937 when the Civilian Conservation Corps connected the ridge between Spaulding and Sugarloaf Mountains in Maine. The 1968 National Trails System Act made the AT a linear national park, and authorized funds to surround the entire route with public lands, either federal or state, and to protect it from incompatible uses. Roughly 2175 miles in length, the Appalachian Trail is the nation's longest marked footpath. It passes through 6 national parks and touches 14 states.
Although the Appalachian Trail was the brainchild of Benton MacKaye, it was Harvey Broome and Paul Fink that made it a reality in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Harvey Broome was an early environmentalist, another one of the cofounders of The Wilderness Society, and a longtime president of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. He, along with seven others, hiked the 71+ miles of AT through the Park in 1932 before the trail was even completed. He was largely responsible for sighting most of the route thru the park.
Paul Fink, another leader of the movement that led to the founding of the Smoky Mountains as a national park, was also instrumental in blazing the AT through the Smokies. Fink was a member of the Board of Managers of the Appalachian Trail from 1925 to 1949, and was the author of "Backpacking Was the Only Way", an account of early 20th century camping and backpacking adventures in the southern Appalachians.
While in the Smoky Mountains, hikers are required to camp only in designated campsites or in shelters. There are 12 shelters located along the 71.6-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies. All of them have been refurbished in recent years, and several now have moldering privies, which use an active biological soil layer to break down waste. Additionally, when the shelters were refurbished, the chain-link fences that were used to keep bears out have been removed. It's now extremely important to cook and eat away from the shelters in order to keep the bears away.
Backcountry shelters are the best places to overnight during bad weather, and tend to fill up fast when it rains. Shelters also eliminate the need for tents. They're often a good place to meet and talk with other hikers, and most have privies and water sources nearby. Most importantly, however, staying at shelters reduces hiker impact to the surrounding environment, which is a good "Leave No Trace" practice. It concentrates use in a relatively small area, leaving nearby areas in a more pristine state. Reservations are required for all shelters in the Smoky Mountains and can be made by calling (865) 436-1231. If you're caught without a permit, you could be issued a $125 ticket!
The Park Service recommends that all drinking water should be treated as a result of the presence of Giardia lamblia in park waters. When ingested, their reproductive cysts may cause an intestinal disorder that appears weeks after your trip. The easiest method of effective water treatment is to boil water for one minute or use a filter capable of removing particles as small as 1 micron.
Based on a study conducted in 2006, biologists estimate that 1500 black bears live in the Smoky Mountains, a density of approximately two bears per square mile. These bears are wild and their behavior is sometimes unpredictable. Although extremely rare, attacks on humans have occurred, inflicting serious injuries and death. Treat bear encounters with extreme caution.
To avoid encounters while camping or backpacking, it's extremely important to know how to store food and trash. When not being consumed or transported, all food and trash must be suspended at least 10 feet
off the ground and four feet from the nearest limb or trunk. This protects you and future hikers, as well as bears. To get a better understanding of bear behavior and what to do if you see one on the trail, click here.
National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map for the Smoky Mountains
Campsite and Shelter information (GPS waypoints, maps, etc.)
Appalachian Trail Forum: info, articles, tips, advice and pictures
Appalachian Trail Shuttle Services