Blog for Zip line Attraction in the Smoky Mountains

Located in Pigeon Forge, TN and near Gatlinburg and Sevierville.


Trail Safety - Part 1

By Ross Bodhi Ogle
Posted on October 25, 2022

Autumn is a big season for hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park's 800 miles of trails offer seemingly endless paths by which outdoor enthusiasts can explore the rugged beauty of the mountains (especially during the fall color change) and witness the spectacle of features like meandering streams, majestic waterfalls and even historic structures from the 1800s. (Hiking in the park is the ideal companion activity to visiting our Smoky Mountain ziplines.

And while simply walking along a path in the wilderness seems like a simple and basic process at first blush, there are risks to consider and prepare for, depending on the number of people in your party, location, time of day, experience level and gear, just to mention a few of the factors. Just this past week, a 40-somethng male descending along the Alum Cave Trail took a tumble and injured his head and also dislocated his shoulder. We'll touch on this more later in the post, but it's just one example of how an otherwise carefree outing can quickly turn into a serious safety concern.

The National Park Service offers a number of recommendations to consider before embarking on your next hike. Consider your experience level as well as your current fitness level. Are you in shape enough to take on a miles-long hike, or might you be better off limiting yourself to a shorter trek? If your hike requires carrying supplies in a pack, can you carry the pack comfortably over a long distance?

Also consider the topography and the environmental conditions such as temperature and humidity for the day you plan to hike. If you typically don't hold up well on extremely hot, humid days, you might want to rethink a midday hike in summer. If you have musculoskeletal issues, that could come into play if your intended route includes steep climbs and descents. And if you have breathing/lung issues, remember that oxygen levels are lower at higher altitudes, so plan accordingly.

Another factor to consider is whether you should hike alone. It's always safer to travel with at least one other person, but there's certainly nothing wrong with hiking alone. If you do, however, make sure someone knows your intended destination. In the case of the injured hiker mentioned previously, he was with a large group of people, which ultimately was to his benefit when it came to getting him off the mountain in a timelier manner.

Hiking along some of the more popular and developed trails in the Smokies, especially, if you're planning a shorter hike, generally doesn't require as much forethought and planning. However, if you're thinking about doing any back country hiking or making a day-long (or overnight) trek, there are extra safety measures to consider. The Park Service suggests completing a trip plan detailing where you'll be hiking, along with your contact info, expected departure and return times, fellow hikers, etc. and leaving that info with a trusted friend or family member who's not going on the trip. This can come in handy in an emergency or search-and-rescue situation.

For back country and longer hikes (like going to the top of Mt. LeConte), it's never a bad idea to have a way to communicate with the outside world. But don't count on your cell phone. More often than not, it's not going to serve as much more than a camera. Electronic devices like a personal locator beacon are one suggestion. In the case of the injured hiker on the Alum Cave Trail, two of the women in his group had Garmin inReach satellite communication devices, which they were able to use to send out help messages. That led to park rangers being able to travel immediately to the Alum Cave Trail head and begin their rescue effort. They were able to carry the injured man off the mountain on a litter, but had his fellow hikers not had the satellite device, it might have taken hours longer for someone to contact rescuers.

We'll continue this post next week with even more helpful tips for staying safe on the trails of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


This content posted by Smoky Mountain Ziplines. Visit our home page, for more information on zipline adventures in the Smoky Mountains.

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