Take a summer hike in Gatlinburg.

In several of our recent posts we have discussed Gatlinburg scenic drives, short hikes you can take in the Gatlinburg area, and places where you can enjoy the outdoors. Gatlinburg surely offers dozens of enjoyable nature trails, and summertime beckons visitors to explore the beauty of the Smokies. While these trips offer the perfect setting for making memories, we'd like to offer some practical advice to help you get the most out of your summer hiking.

Preparedness is definitely key to safety, and taking a few moments to get ready for the activity that you'll undertake is important. We've included two checklists here, one for short hikes and one for journeys lasting several hours to all day. Planning ahead can help ensure a pleasant and safe outing.

Bone Up on Bear Safety

One word of caution that applies to both short and long hikes: While black bears are much admired by residents and visitors, it must be remembered that they are wild creatures. Some of them have lost their fear of man, and people must not encourage them by feeding them or leaving food around that can entice them. Bears should be discouraged from approaching you.

If you see a bear, follow this advice: If the bear is still several hundred feet away, climb a tree to 30 or 40 feet off the ground. You should make a lot of noise to try to scare it away and if it still approaches, throw rocks and sticks at it and talk loudly. Most bears will then back off. If a bear does approach you, don't run away as it can run faster than you and bring you down from behind. Put distance between yourself and the bear. Keep binoculars with you to scan the area for bears as you hike.

Please note this warning from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website: 'Willfully approaching within 50 yards (150 feet), or any distance that disturbs or displaces a bear, is illegal in the park. Violation of this federal regulation can result in fines and arrest. Use binoculars, telephoto lens, or a spotting scope to view the animals.' You can visit the park's website for more information on staying safe around black bears.

The Short Hike Checklist

Many visitors who take short hikes bring children along. Some of the items that can keep kids comfortable on a short hike are:

  • Stroller
  • Child carrier
  • Water or other drinks
  • Sun block
  • Hat

Sunblock and a hat are actually good ideas for hikers of all ages. So is water. It's always better to bring some water and have it, versus not having it and wishing you had brought some. A bottle or two per person should suffice.

Seniors might want to check ahead of time on what the terrain is like on the trail they'll be walking on. Some people prefer a paved trail, and there are a few of these in the area.

Even though most short hikes in this area take only 1 - 2 hours, anyone on a short hike should wear comfortable shoes in case the ground is a bit uneven and to keep feet from getting tired.

Long Hike Checklist and Tips

Longer hikes of several miles to all day trips require more extensive planning. While each individual or group is different, we offer these tips to help you stay safe and enjoy your day:

  • Bring food and water: Depending on how long you will be out, plan accordingly. Bring some food and water, but note the caution stated previously in this post about bears.
  • Bear spray: Purchase a canister of bear spray and know how to use it. Usually it can only reach a bear that is at very close range (around 10 - 12 ft. maximum) so don't discharge it unless absolutely necessary.
  • Make or buy a paracord bracelet: When on the trail often there is need for a bit of cord; for a broken shoelace, lashing things together, for a clothesline and more. Many people like to wear paracord as a bracelet to keep it handy at all times. If you don't want to buy a paracord bracelet you can easily make your own.

Here's a great step-by-step tutorial on how to make your own paracord bracelet.

  • Bring a walking stick: Even if you can walk well, a walking stick is invaluable if you get tired, if you need something to lean on to take off your shoe, or for dozens of other uses. Walking sticks can be purchased that are made from wood, aluminum or other materials.
  • First aid kit: Bumps, scrapes and cuts happen outdoors and it's always a good idea to have a basic first aid kit handy. You can make your own or purchase a basic kit that contains bandages and other necessities.
  • Rain poncho: Some of the outfitters here and online sell foldable rain ponchos; some of the ponchos are light and won't weigh down your pack. The weather can change during the course of the day and a foldable rain poncho can keep you dry without weighing you down.
  • Change of clothing: This is entirely up to you, and depends on how long you'll be out and where you'll be going. You could at least bring a change of socks and a spare shirt.
  • Pocket knife: There are many types of pocket knives on the market, but the ones that feature several extra tools can come in handy on a long hike.
  • Bring someone else with you: The old adage 'Safety in numbers' is good advice. A hike is fun with a group, and it's safer too. Wild animals keep their distance from groups more often and if anyone should become ill or hurt, there will be others there to assist.

We hope these hiking safety tips will help you have a fun and safe time hiking the many trails around Gatlinburg and in the National Park.

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