The Great Smokey Mountains, Elk, & Ten Tips for a Good Hike

At the beginning of August we visited Gatlinburg Tennessee for a three days trip where we ended up getting engaged, which you can read about here. We visited Dollywood, stayed in Gatlinburg (which you can read about here), and hiked in the Great Smokey Mountains where we saw some elk!  We have your recommendations, tips, a few stories, and many photos (ok, mostly photos).

Have you ever been hiking? It’s the best way to connect with nature. There’s really nothing better. Some hikes, however, get you much closer to nature than others. Alum Cave Trail was one of my favorite hikes so far (and for more than MadMan proposed to me, promise) Preface: if you’ve never been hiking, this is not something you want to start with. It’s a very hard trail that many people hiking that day could not finish. We only hiked 4 of the 12 total miles ourselves.


Alum Cave Trail: Photos & Tips

Warning: Alum Cave Trail is NOT a beginner hike. You should have experience in hiking and a bit of endurance before making this trek.

If you do want to do it though, it is gorgeous. The hike begins following a river and hits the mid point/end at Alum Cave (not a cave). You can continue for another 4 miles to the top point of the mountains in the area but this is a good turn around as you will have already hikes 4.2 miles by the time you get back to the car.

MadMan Waits to Propose
The Start

Fuel up first: Don’t go hiking dehydrated or on a empty stomach. It will end badly and you will be sad. Fuel up for a run on a HEALTHY meal. You need protein, carbs, veggies, and fruit to be healthy. Try to keep away from too much sugar. Drink tons of water!

A Note For Longer Treks: If you plan on backpacking and staying on the trail for a few days, make sure to have proper food for everyone for the whole time. You don’t want to go hungry half way through.

* I am not a nutritionist, if you need more specific advice, you can talk to your doctor or another trained professional. *

MadMan on a Bridge
MadMan on a Log Crossing

Light Weight: The above said, there is no need to be trekking with 50 lbs of gear for one day. Try to keep as little with you as you will need. If you are going out for a day, a single backpack with less than 10 lbs of gear will be more than enough. If you are going out for 7 days, a pack with 50 to 70 lbs of gear may be what you need.

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Stairs Under Arch Rock

Wear good shoes: not just tennis shoes but good solid hiking shoes or trail running shoes. These shoes should have a good soul and should be sturdy. You don’t have to spend an arm and a leg, but I would advise getting some if you plan on making this a regular thing.

If you are camping over night, some flip flops or lighter shoes are a good deal. These can be used at the camp site to give your feet a break. Try not to hike in anything like that though.

GOOD Clothing: It’s not just your shoes to think about. You don’t want to get caught hiking in your jeans. That’s going to get painful quick. To to at least wear athletic clothing. If you plan on hiking often, splurging on an outfit or two from Northface or Columbia might be perfect. Some further tips: 

  • You want to look for something that is dry-wick and protects you from the elements.
  • The most important part of the outfit is socks. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Proper socks can keep your feet from blistering and keep them both dry and cool/warm. You should try to use athletic or hiking socks only. Don’t use your flower socks or the socks that don’t match.
  • Raincoat or poncho, you never know when a quick storm could role in. Ponchos can pack down small and be carried even as a key chain.
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Perfect Day for a Hike

Plan Ahead: Know where you will be walking, what color to follow, and what turns you will make. Also, look at the temps, sun rise and set times, and all other information that could effect your hike. Is the weather set to be good all day? What time is it going to start raining? Knowing as much information as you can will make sure you stay as safe as you can.

Time: Make sure you have twice the time to ascend the mountain as you have to descend it. Don’t forget, hiking takes longer than regular walking. Overestimate how long it will take so you aren’t left in the dark trying to get to your car.

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Three “hills”

Walk & Talk: You should be able to talk while walking. If you are having a hard time maintaining a conversation, it’s going to be even harder to make it to the top. Slow down and enjoy the ride.

Take a break: in the long run no breaks will slow you down so try to take a 10 min break every hour. It can be good to sit somewhere were you can prop your legs up. Take photos, sketch the view, enjoy your time. The summit might be the goal, but sometimes the views along the way are even better.

alum cave
Reaching Alum Cave

Have Fun: There are many tips for staying safe. There are many tips to make it to the top. There are many tips to stay comfortable. Most important is to have fun. You can stick to all the rules and come out alive, but make sure you have some memories to go along with it.

If you want to go The Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee then you need to (provided you have hiking experience) do the Alum Cave Trail! There are many other options, a whole mountain chain full of them. Let us know your favorite. We want to try them all.


What’s your best hiking story?
What place has been your favorite?
What tips do you have for new hikers?

 

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