Going hiking in the Smokies? Here are some tips

Associated Press • Jun 23, 2013 at 9:53 PM

Challenges to hiking in the Smokies shouldn’t deter folks from stepping out and visiting trails the park has to offer.

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park’s website offers a variety of tips for ensuring a fun and safe experience.

One of the most daunting tasks facing hikers is choosing a trail. Start by deciding on what you would like to see, whether it be waterfalls, old-growth forests or scenic views.

Then decide how far to hike. For those who haven’t hiked much recently, be conservative. Five miles round trip is a good maximum distance for novices.

Anyone thinking about a multiday backpacking trip should remember reservations and permits are required for all overnight stays in the park’s backcountry.

When choosing your route, check the park’s website. Click on the Backcountry section of the Temporary Road and Facilities Closures page to determine if the trail you are considering is open and there are no warnings or special notices posted for it.

Be sure to allow plenty of time to complete the hike before dark. As a rule of thumb, hikers in the Smokies travel about 1.5 miles per hour. Many people travel slower. Sunset times vary from just after 5 p.m. in December to almost 9 p.m. in June.

Important hiking safety tips:

• Download a copy of the park’s trail map or purchase one from the Great Smoky Mountains Association, which also sells a wide variety of hiking books, maps and guides to help choose a hiking route and plan a backcountry trip. Visit the association’s online bookstore or phone (888) 898-9102. The Backcountry Information Office can be reached at (865) 436-1297 for information to plan a hiking or backpacking trip. The office is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• Beware of parking lot thieves who break into cars parked at trail heads to steal purses, cameras, and electronic equipment. The best defense is for hikers to lock their cars and take valuables with them, or leave them at home.

• Bear pepper spray may be carried by hikers within Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the strict purpose of protection against bodily harm from aggressive wildlife. It should not be applied to people, tents, packs, other equipment or surrounding area as a repellent. It must be commercially manufactured and labeled as “Bear Pepper Spray” and be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency and individual states. Bear spray must contain between 1 percent to 2 percent of the active ingredients capsaicin.

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