Outdoor Recreation

Water Safety in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Drowning is one of the leading causes of death in the park, second to motor vehicle accidents.

Water is everywhere in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and many visitors come to see the waterfalls and streams in the park. Although beautiful, these waters can also be dangerous. Water sports, such as swimming, kayaking and tubing, are not recommended in the park because of hazards. Every year, an average of five people get seriously injured while tubing in the park.

Hiking Near Water

Be careful when hiking. Almost all trails cross or are near water in some form. When crossing streams be aware that the rocks are often covered with algae and moss making for a slippery surface should you step on them. Before you do a water crossing, test the depth of the water. It can help to have a walking stick. Never cross a stream at a point where the water is above knee height.

And avoid crossing a stream that has surged because of rainfall. Another thing to consider is that often a river will swell from rain that fell far above the river in a localized rainstorm. So, while you are completely dry, it could be raining elsewhere in the park. This rain water racing down the river can lead to dangerously fast-moving water in lower elevations. Be aware of the weather conditions around you and in in the park. If you accidentally fall into fast-moving water, do not try to stand up as most drownings takes place when a person’s foot gets wedged in rocks. Float on your back feet first, using your arms to direct you to shore.

Use Caution near Waterfalls

Great Smoky is full of incredible waterfalls, many of which have inviting pools beneath. Some are popular swimming and wading sites, but stay away from the base of the waterfall itself as it may have a strong undertow. Furthermore, do not attempt to climb on or near waterfalls. The rocks on and around the waterfalls can be extremely slippery because they covered in moss and algae. People in the park have died or been seriously injured trying to climb waterfalls in the park. Ever year, an average of nine people get seriously injured in Great Smoky after falling from waterfalls.