Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most scenic nature escapes in the southeastern U.S. With 522,419 acres of land to explore and more than 14 million visitors annually, it's no surprise that people come from all over to experience this landscape for themselves. The park is also home to some of America's highest peaks, which include Mount Guyot, Clingmans Dome, and Mount Le Conte, all of which make for a breathtaking hike, to say the least.
With that being said, not every hiker or camper leaves the park without having learned a few survival basics along the way. With such a vast area of terrain to cover, it's not entirely unusual to have some people get lost, stray from the trail, or be out in the wilderness for longer than their intended dates. In this case, SmokyMountains.com has some expert dos and don'ts when it comes to hiking, and camping, in the Smoky Mountains.
10 Do: Be Prepared When Hiking, No Matter What
Every hiker should be equipped with both knowledge and the supplies to deal with scenarios that might arise unexpectedly. With a total of 41% of hikers finding themselves lost by simply wandering off the trail, it's not surprising that many of these end up turning into rescue situations. More often than not, the hikers themselves have no access to extra food, water, or shelter.
9 Don't: Go Hiking Or Camping Without Giving Someone The Plan
SmokyMountains.com strongly advises against a 'self-rescue' situation, where a hiker might need to find a way to get themselves rescued because they haven't told anyone their whereabouts. In this case, it would rely on the hiker to find an open field to signal help, survive one or more nights in the wilderness unprepared, or find high ground in order to get cell phone service to phone for help.
8 Do: Ration Provisions If You Are Off-Course
For those camping, packing food for the overnight is a no-brainer. However, in a survival situation, especially in the Smoky Mountains where the terrain is tough, and the trails are long, rationing food might be a necessity. In the case of
Austin Bohanan, who was lost for 11 days before being found in the Smoky Mountains, food was not even an option. With data showing that the human body can survive on stored calories for 30 days or more, Bohanan was able to continue hiking out of harm's way without finding any sustenance at all.
7 Don't: Head To Lower Ground If Cell Service Is An Option
It might be tempting to head to the lower ground by following a stream or river, and while this is a good option for backcountry where cell phone reception isn't an option, it's not always foolproof. Again, in the case of Austin Bohanan, his first instinct was to head to higher ground - thus, a cell signal could be found. While he was unable to find a signal at a mountain summit, he was able to head back down, following a creek that eventually led him to other park-goers.
6 Do: Consider Learning About Different Types Of Shelter
According to SmokyMountains.com, this can be a significant life-saving measure. In the Smoky Mountains alone, there are a seemingly endless number of resources as far as timber and underbrush that can be used to create various shelters. Fall or easily broken branches can quickly become a lean-to, while pine branches and dry leaves can quickly form a cushion between a hiker and the ground. It's also not uncommon to find shelter in shallow caverns or caves.
5 Don't: Attempt To Hunt, Forage, Or Trap With No Prior Experience
While this survival instinct might tap in and immediately become an overwhelming urge, it's not the best idea, according to SmokyMountains.com research. The reason behind this is that it expends calories and energy that a hiker can't afford to lose, and wastes precious time one could be moving or staying put.
4 Do: Always Pack High-Calorie and Protein-Rich Foods
Whether hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park or elsewhere, packing snacks that are high-calorie and filled with protein is a must. Not only can these be rationed for days, but they'll also provide the energy one needs to look for other food sources or continue moving until they can find help or a way out. Suggested are almond butter or something like coconut oil packs, which are easy to consume and provide fast energy.
3 Don't: Forget A Map Of The Area Before Hitting The Trail
Another common mistake according to data is when a hiker leaves for a hike without bringing along a physical copy of a regional map. A topography map is also helpful in understanding elevations and where one might expend more energy, so the value of a good old physical map should not be underestimated!
2 Do: Download Digital Maps As Well, And Consider A Hiking App
For parks like Great Smoky Mountains National Park, especially, a digital map from a site such as SARTOPO can literally be a lifesaver. Additionally, hiking apps are a great thing to use on the trail, including hiker-approved Avenza, which s a GPS app.
1 Don't: Panic When Lost On The Trail
Statistics show that hiker rescues usually occur within the first 24 hours of a hiker going missing. These odds are increased if hikers have given someone else a plan regarding where they'll be, their campsites, and the trails they plan to follow along the way. Therefore, panicking will only make it worse - stay put to avoid wandering off the trail, or consider an open field or higher ground for a self-rescue.