When the average yearly snowfall ranges from under 7 inches in Gatlinburg to over 80 inches on Clingman’s Dome, you know you’re going to have some wild winter swings. That’s only a 22 mile drive. Don’t let that scare you. Preparing the right way can help you enjoy all areas of the Smokies, all year round.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park year after year. If you’ve been up lately to take in the fall colors, you know first hand how busy the weekends can get. Now that the busy season is wrapping up though, that doesn’t have to mean you can’t enjoy the Smokies. This might be the best time to get out and take it in.
“During the summer your views along the ridges are occluded by all of the foliage. During the winter you have some unparalleled views that you can’t see any other time of the year,” said GSMNP spokesperson Dana Soehn.
Besides those views, the Smokies offers ever-changing landscape, swift flowing streams and active wildlife – the kind of stuff memories are made of. We’re after good memories though and winter in the Smokies can be harsh. You should also be aware of wide temperature swings and all types of precipitation on top of a variety of terrain.
“A lot of the high ridge trails, like the Boulevard Trail or portions of the Appalachian Trail heading to places like Charlies Bunion, as soon as we start to get this wet, winter weather and it gets cold enough to form an ice layer, those trails are very challenging because they have a rock base trail tread. And they stay icy all winter long. Even a mild winter day at the higher elevation is going to cause those streams to rise rapidly,” Soehn said.
The first thing you can do to stay safe during winter in the Smokies is to know the weather. Whether it’s rain, snow, ice, fog or even freezing fog, if you know what you’re in for, it’s easier to prepare. You should prepare your clothing in layers. You want to be able to peel some layers based on your exertion and then add them back on later or the higher you get.
“Everyone has their own style of layering, but that wicking style of layer that’s going to be able to get that some of that moisture off of you while you’re hiking up is really the best,” said Sohen.
You want to avoid cotton. Cotton traps moisture and as temperatures drop, you can get yourself into a critical situation.
Next up is an insulation later. Wool and synthetics are always a good option, something thick to hold your body heat in. all covered up by a top layer, if needed, to keep any rain or wind out. Don’t forget about the hands, feet and your head.
“Many people hike with a couple of different layers of socks. Again, you can hike with that liner that will help wick moisture away. And then wool is always an outstanding choice for being in the Smokies. Every prepared hiker in the winter has an extra pair of socks with them.”
It’s the little things that help you enjoy the hikes. You should also drink a lot of water.