In two months, touch wood, we will be setting out on the long drive to the Great Smoky Mountains. “We” because my eldest daughter (“D1”) bravely supported the idea of an adventure together a year ago, and has not backed out as it turns into reality. I have – see Hike List – been to the Smokies once before, and have mixed memories.
On the one hand, I remember lush forest, “balds” with beautiful views, and solitude. On the other, there were the busy roads around Newfound Gap and Cades Cove, some crowded trails and the diseased Fraser firs on top of Mount Le Conte. At times it felt as if Gatlinburg (yes!, Bill Bryson’s Gatlinburg, the place that is “packed from end to end with the most dazzling profusion of tourist clutter”) was just waiting for the Park Service to doze so that it could spread into the park. Let’s see how the park feels 11 years on.
The plan is to spend five full days in the park, with three given over to a backcountry hike – a big loop starting and ending at Cades Cove, taking in Abrams Falls, Gregory Bald and the Appalachian Trail (see map – route in red dashes; start, green star; finish, blue star). My main worry is not the Smokies black bears (two per square mile!) but human competition for backcountry campsites. It seems to work like this:
A permit and reservation are needed to camp in the backcountry, and you can only camp at official campsites and shelters. The place to get the permit and reservation is here. You can’t get them more than 30 days ahead of your trip. On the A.T., there appear to be shelters but no campsites. In the spring, a proportion of shelter spaces are set aside for A.T. thru-hikers. They are also allowed to camp next to shelters. The rest of us are not. Bottom line, I will make reservations ASAP in mid-April. I called the Backcountry Information Office today, and they thought I’d find spaces at the site and shelter where D1 and I propose to stay, but I’m not going to leave it late.