As always, you should obey all warning signs. They are there to for your safety and to protect the park, its wildlife, and its plants. Remember it is illegal to deface park property or to remove anything.
The National Park Service offers flyers regarding the wild Black bear population in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. To quote from the flyer:
"Black bears in the park are wild and sometimes unpredictable. Though rare, attacks on humans do occur, causing injury or death.
* Never feed or approach a bear.
* If a bear follows or approaches you, stand your ground. Do not run. Make yourself look large and throw rocks or sticks at the bear.
* If you are attacked by a black bear, fight back with any object available. The bear may see you as prey.
WHEN CAMPING OR PICNICKING:
* Do not throw food scraps or trash in fire rings.
* Dispose of all trash in bearproof dumpsters.
* Never leave food or coolers unattended. Store inside a vehicle or hard-sided camper.
FEDERAL REGULATIONS STATE:
Willfully approaching within 50 yards (150 feet), or any distance that disturbs or displaces bear or elk, is probibited. Violators are subject to imprisonment of up to six months and/or fines of up to $5,000."
For more information, go to www.nps.gov/grsm
Vehicle Navigation Systems and GPS units may provide inaccurate information in the mountains—sending drivers the wrong way on one-way roads or leading them to dead ends in remote areas. Free park road maps are available in park visitor centers.
When we drove through the park. I asked to stop at an overlook to take some pictures. I had a hard time, especially with a digital camera, in taking photos from the car. The stuff close to the car was going by too fast and was blurred. I wasn't sitting in the front seat where I could take a photo through the windshield. Pictures of distant things tend to lack scale.
The primary thing I remember from our trip in 1959 is the heat and the traffic - crawling up the mountain behind slower and slower cars waiting for the engine to overheat. We didn't see much except the road and trees and the backs of the cars in front of us.
Other dangers are brake fade from riding the brakes on the way down the mountain and running out of gas. There are no gas stations or other related services available in the park. Complete services are available in Cherokee, NC, Gatlinburg, TN, and Townsend, TN.
Fatalities and serious injuries do occur in the national park. The average number of serious injuries in the park each year:
Motor vehicle accidents - 50
Walking or hiking accidents - 38
Bicycle accidents - 16
Falls from waterfalls - 9
Horse related - 7
Tubing related - 5
Bee Sting reaction - 4
A newer hazard is that the Vehicle Navigation Systems and GPS units may provide inaccurate information in the mountains—sending drivers the wrong way on one-way roads or leading them to dead ends in remote areas. Free park road maps are available in park visitor centers.
This time, I was not only not driving, but I was not navigating either. But even though it was winter, there was still considerable traffic. It wasn't as hot of course but now we had to watch for icy patches.
Hundreds of Black Bears make the Great Smoky Mountains National Park their home - about 1,800 of them acording to the latest official estimate. Those who spend much time in the backcountry will eventually encounter a bear. I have seen several on my hikes in the Smokies, and a few while driving along the Park's roads. Each time it was a thrill.
Bear's almost always will avoid contact with humans, but there have been isolated instances of injury, and one recorded instance of death, by people/bear encounters within the Smokies. In the rare case that a bear approaches you, don't run. Stand your ground, make yourself look big; throw things; make noise. In virtually every case the bear will retreat. You cannot outrun a bear, and they are very adept at climbing trees. Remember, if a bear does chase you, you don't have to outrun the bear. You only have to outrun your buddy. GRIN!
Don't let this scare you. Millions of people hike in the Smokies every year and most don't even see a bear, let alone have an unpleasant encounter.
Campers in the backcountry should be especially careful to camp only in disignated places where there will be a cable and pulleys for you to tie up your food far above the reach of the largest bear. Anything that can smell even remotely like food to a bear - toothpaste, soap, etc., should be stashed with the food.
Remember, bears capture our imagination, but far more outdoorspeople are injured or killed by falls, lightening strikes, drowning,or insect bites than those who are chomped by a bear.
Click on the web page below to read the official National Park warnings concerning bears in the Smokies.
One of the things we love most about the Smokies are the hundreds of miles of swift flowing rocky streams. They're everywhere. and with the dense vegetative cover and high rainfall the streams flow cool and clear - just begging you to take a drink. However, if you do you may regret it.
A microscopic intestinal parasite, giardia, makes drinking the water risky. Dogs, horses, and wild boar spread the parasite and the disease it causes, giardiasis. All water should be treated by boiling, filteration, or another accepted method before drinking. That said, I have quenched my thirst many times and suffered no ill effect when I was able to gather the water from a spring where it came bubbling from the ground.
Black Bears are a common fixture in Great Smoky National Park. Come prepared with a bag to hang your food with and a good rope to hang your food from.
If you are staying at a shelter most are set up with bear hangs. All you need to do is provide the bag.
Don't forget to hang your toothpaste, all food, and any other items that smell 'unnatural'.
For the safety of everyone please do not leave food unattended in cars or campgrounds. Use the bear proof containers at all park facilities. The park's campaign is called "Leave no Trace". It is for the safety of us all!!!!!
During the summer months, mainly July and August, and the month of October, traffic can be awful!!!!!! My first recommendation is travel in the offseason if possible. My favorite times are November and April. In November you can miss the crowds but still catch some foliage and maybe if you are lucky.........some flurries!!!!! April is less crowded and the wildflowers are spectacular!!!!!!
I only gave myself a day at the Great Smoky park. Could have been a serious blunder if the weather hadn't cleared a little bit.
This photo shows the extent to which the vistas were shrouded by cloud and fog in the morning. At least it wasn't raining (much). In the afternoon, there was a little break in the clouds, saw intermittent sunshine and patches of blue sky.
The following day was a complete washout. I had planned to enjoy the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville to Roanoke. But the pounding rain changed my course. Traveling in the spring in the eastern United States is always a bit iffy. Have alternatives planned in case rain ruins the outdoor fun.
The only way to get around in the park is to walk and drive. The mountain roads throughout the park can be dangerous anytime, but especially at night and when it is foggy. They aren't called the smoky mountains for nothing. The fog can get so thick that you sometimes can't see 10 feet in front of you. It is a very neat thing to experience, being up on top of a mountain and walking around in the fog, but driving can be deadly. Also, be sure to watch out for animals crossing the roads. I hate to see roadkill anywhere, especially if its something like a deer.
Lastly, it is advised that while hiking one should not try to be quiet, hoping to be able to see animals that would run if they knew any humans were coming. While this may allow you to see some wildlife up close, you could also wind up sneaking up and startling something that you would not want to, such as a bear. Some people suggest wearing a small bell on your backpack or something that will make noise as you walk, but i generally just keep up a good conversation with my companions. This should be enough to warn off any animals that humans are near.
Like most of our other national parks, the bathrooms at Smoky appear to have been constructed several decades ago. While I never found the plumbing in an outright state of neglect, the lighting in the huts gave off an odd amber glow, better suited the colonies of daddy-long legs which clung to all appurtenances like cottonseed hulls.
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