What to Pack for a Great Smoky Mountains Park Vacation

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Backpack and hiking boots

You are headed to Great Smoky National Park, the nation’s most visited park. Bordering North Carolina and Tennessee, you will find yourself surrounded by rolling hills, forests, wildlife and cultural relics. How do you pack for your Great Smoky adventure? Here are the top 13 items to bring to the park.

1. Sturdy Hiking Boots to Help You Really Experience the Smoky Mountains

A good pair of hiking boots is a must. To make the most out of your trip, pack a pair of supportive, waterproof and breathable hiking boots. These will allow you to navigate both wet trails beside waterfalls and dry trails up mountainsides with ease and enable you to explore farther than you maybe would have.

To get you started on your research, one of our staff members raves about his Sportiva Synthesis Mid GTX. Our friends at Backpacker magazine really liked the 2016 Vasque Skywalks GTS.

2. A Rain Jacket For a Wet Place

The lowlands of Great Smoky get an average of 55 inches of rain per year, but that number rises to 85 inches per year at Clingmans Dome. Bring your rain jacket to avoid getting caught in the rain. Temperatures, especially if you are higher up in the park, can drop dramatically when it rains, turning a warm day into one that feels freezing. When it rains and temperatures plummet, you want a jacket that can keep you warm and dry. Be sure to take cover from thunderstorms and lightening.

3. Food to Fuel Adventures in the Park

There are no restaurants in Great Smoky Mountains Park so you'll need to bring a sack lunch for a day trip or food for meals while camping. The Cades Cove Campground Store does have a limited variety of groceries. The store also has grab-and-go breakfast items, hot and cold sandwiches, pizza and soft-serve ice cream. Elkmont Campground Concession has snack items, ice cream and beverages. Smokemont Riding Stables has vending of snacks and beverages.

4. EpiPen If You have a Bee Allergy

In the fall, the park’s yellow jacket wasps are especially aggressive. If you have an allergy to wasps, pack an EpiPen (epinephrine injection) or other medications and have them with you at all times. Park officials urge you to remove your rings immediately if you are stung on your hand.

5. Daypack for Extraordinary Hikes in Hardwood Forests and Over Log Bridges

Make going for a hike on Kephart’s Trail or Porters Creek much more comfortable with a daypack. Place all your (and your family’s essentials) like extra layers, extra snacks, a flashlight, binoculars, pocket knife, whistle and simple first-aid kit in it.

6. A Couple of Water Bottles or a Hydration System

Combat the effects of the park’s summer heat by drinking water. Drinking water ensures you won’t get dehydrated, which can lead to headaches and more serious conditions like heat cramps and heat stroke. Plan to drink .5 -1 liter per hour of hiking.

7. Clothing Layers for Great Smoky Mountain Temperature Extremes

In the summer months, expect afternoon temperatures to climb into the 90s before cooling down in in the evening in the 60s and 70s. Know that the higher you go, the cooler the temperatures with the 6,593-foot Mount Le Conte rarely getting over 80F during the day.

Be sure to pack light layers for daytime and others that will keep you warm in the evenings for when the sun sets and cooler air moves in. You will be surprised at how quickly temperatures drop as the sun sets.

8. A Star Chart or Star App to See the Southern Skies

You’ll find some dark skies in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. With a star chart, you’ll be able to identify some of the formations you may never have seen before, especially if you are coming from an urban environment. Or use technology and download the SkyView® Free app for iPhone or Android, which enables you to identify stars and so on by pointing your phone at them. You may be able to see up to 15,000 stars in the park’s sky in comparison to 500 in an urban sky. It’s far out!

9. A Tablecloth for One of the Park’s 13 Picnic Sites

It’s the little things that make a big difference. When you stop at one of the park’s 13 picnic sites to eat lunch, pull out your tablecloth to go from downhome to gourmet in a matter of seconds. You’ll also avoid getting hard-to-remove splinters when you lean against the table.

10. Bug Spray to Combat Bugs

Spend more time enjoying the scenery instead of swatting bugs. There aren't too many mosquitoes in the Smoky Mountains, but there are plenty of biting midges and gnats. If you don’t want to use traditional formulas that do or do not include strong chemicals, there are plenty of bug sprays available these days that are made from natural ingredients and are safer for use by children.

11. Headlamp to Read or See at Night

Read at night in your tent comfortably with your headlamp or use this great lighting device to safely walk to and from evening ranger talks.

12. A Sun Hat, Sunglasses and Sunscreen to Protect Yourself from the Sun

You only need to get one sunburn at altitude before you realize how strong the sun really is, especially since Great Smoky Mountain National Park’s elevations ranges from 875 to 6,643 feet. Bring a wide-brimmed hat, which is preferable over a baseball cap, to cover your entire face.

Then, apply sunscreen over all exposed skin, including the back of your neck. Sunglasses will protect your eyes from being burned and polarized lens will help you see views more clearly. Don’t forget you are a lot closer to the sun than at sea level.

13. Plastic bags to Leave No Trace

Plastic bags come in handy to keep things dry in the event you get rained on, as well to pack out used toilet paper if nature calls while you are hiking. It’s a big no-no to try to bury toilet paper in the back country. It has to be packed out.

Plastic bags can also me used to safely handle salamanders. The animals breathe through their skin so it is harmful to touch them directly with your hands. Temporarily and gently scoop one up with a clean plastic bag to see them up close. Use a fresh bag for each animal.

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