I hit Great Smoky Mountains National Park on a great day in spring. Winter was losing its grip and nature was slowly starting to come alive. Driving through the park from North Carolina to Tennessee, I had to stop at the border sign for a quick stretch.
While having a snack and pondering what trail to take in the park for a little exercise, I saw the nearby mention of the Appalachian Trail. Here I was only about 200miles from the southern terminus of this great trail, I had to check it out even if it was just a teaser of a hike.
As a Canadian, my opportunities for hiking long stretches of the Appalachian Trail are few and far between. Lacing up the hiking boots at the North Carolina / Tennessee border, I was excited to be stepping foot on one of North America's greatest trails. Apparently the portion in the Great Smoky Mountains is one of the most remote along the entire trail as well, which had me even more excited.
What didn't have me overly excited was that multiple people had recently gone missing and died in the park, because they got lost or stuck out during poor weather conditions. With that in mind, and the fact that the sun was going to be setting in less than a couple of hours, I told myself I was going to hike the trail for 45 minutes, then turn around no matter where I was.
I have a penchant for pushing further and further, wanting to know what is around the next mountain peak, river crossing or bend in the trail. But when night temperatures are dipping low and you don't have a trail map of navigation instrument with you, it’s best to take fewer risks.
I am pretty sure I may have been slightly hopping along as I started this little taste of the Appalachian. Along the way I was thinking of how much effort it took to create the trail that runs for nearly 2000miles north to Maine. I thought about taking that summer off and hiking the entire trail. I thought about all the great wildlife and scenery that could be seen along this mountain trail.
It didn't take long before those wandering thoughts carried me on for almost an hour and I had to force myself to turn around as light was already starting to fade. I only crossed path with one couple, who were walking their dog, at the very start of the trail. The rest of the time was enjoyed by the sound of swollen rivers, birds chirping and wind blowing through the still leafless trees.
If you're wondering about this part of the Appalachian Trail, let's just say it is not a simple leisure stroll section of the trail. The 71miles of trail that meander through the park are pretty rough in places and it is recommended to take 6-7 days to hike through the entirety of the trail in the park.
When I visited debris from the winter and muddy sections were common. If I had continued on further plenty of ascending and descending would have happened as the trail crosses over countless peaks in the park. Definitely a great hike for anyone who loves the outdoors, and I can imagine if I had visited a month later when spring would have bene in full bloom I would have been even more impressed. A side note too, is that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to an abundance of bears, at about 2 per square mile. So if you do head off on the trail or are overnighting, be bear prepared.
After this little taste of the Appalachian I was itching for more, but was unable to trek any of the rest of the trail this year. For next year, it's on my list to head to Katahdin, Maine and start the trail for the north; who knows how far I'll get next time?