10 Reasons Why I Hated the Smokies
My name is Amanda but on the Appalachian Trail, I go by Moss. How did I get the trail name Moss? We’ll get into that later.
For now, I must explain why you are just now hearing from me when I’m over four hundred miles into my thru hike.
Well, back in September 2021, I applied and was accepted to be a Trek blogger. A month before my hike began, I emailed Zach and told him I no longer was interested in writing for the Trek; I just wanted to hike. Zach was more than understanding and wished me happy trails.
All of this changed once I got out of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Why?
A) I felt as though by the time I exited the Smokies I was a more confident hiker with a routine and better idea of how to time-manage hiking, town visits, and writing. I thought that if I could update my Facebook then I could blog for the Trek. This had nothing to do with the Smokies in particular, but more so with having over 200 miles of thru hiking under my belt.
B) I hated the Smokies so bad that I wanted to tell everyone in the world. Or at least everyone in the Trek world.
So I emailed Zach and asked if I could return to the Trek and he and Kendra welcomed me back with open arms.
So let’s get started. It seems as though thru hikers either really love or really hate the Smokies. I choose the latter. Why I hate the Smokies (in no particular order):
1. You have to pay to hike
I know the Smokies are in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the key words being national park and they are not known for having tons of funding. But charging each thru hiker $20.00 to hike through the park seems a little steep. Especially when the park is no longer prepared for the amount of hikers that come through. Many thru hikers, even the beginners, by the time they reach the Smokies are more experienced with Leave No Trace Principles than day hikers. In my experience, it isn’t thru hikers who vandalize and destroy the trail; it’s the visitors who are only at the high-trafficked locations for only a few hours. Why charge the thru hikers?
I understand permits serve more purposes than just monetary gain for the GSMNP, such as having emergency contact information and accountability in the event a hiker is injured or missing. It does seem as though the GSMNP would have the ability to maintain process for obtaining a permit for these reasons, and eliminate the fee for thru hikers.
My entire point for this reason is that I had to pay to have no tent space, little water sources, and no shelter spaces, on top of the crappy weather conditions.
2. There were very little water sources actually on trail
Off of the top of my head, I can only remember one water source in the Smokies that was actually on trail and it was towards the beginning (NOBO). I understand that water sources are predominantly not man-made but this was just another reason for my dislike of the AT through this section. Majority of the water sources were located at shelters and when I say at shelters I mean another quarter mile passed the shelters into the middle of an abyss and always downhill.
3. Shelters are far off trail
This is not true for ALL the shelters in the Smokies, but a few of them and it was always the ones where I needed to go. The shelter placement in the Smokies is odd, although pretty frequent, some are in odd locations in relation to mileage.
For example, one day I remember from where I started the first shelter was three miles away and the second was about another eight. I chose the second, as most do. Because of this, majority of the thru hikers would end up at the same shelters every night. Meaning the shelters would fill up, there would be little places to tent because pre-COVID, tenting was discouraged. One Ridgerunner we ran into in the Smokies even admitted that the Smokies were not made for stealth camping or tenting, which is why the shelters were built large. And they are. They’re very nice too. Double deckers that I witnessed fit sixteen hikers in and some with a fireplace inside of it. Don’t mind the “Choose not to build a fire” sign.
4. No campsites on trail
See reasonings above. But I wished while hiking through the Smokies that there were designated campsites along the Trail like in other areas of the AT mainly because of the crowded shelter locations along the way.
Not only are campsites not on trail, there are very few tent sites at the shelters too. One night, my tramily and I set up tents on an embankment so steep we needed our trekking poles to get out of it. We had no choice either. By the time we got to camp, two dozen others were already there and that doesn’t include the hikers utilizing the shelter. It was also the coldest night we experienced during our time in the Smokies.
After Newfound Gap reopened, it became a race every day to the next shelter. We all knew shelter spaces and tent spaces were limited so it became a first-come first-served with the last hikers to arrive getting the bottom of the barrel options. This made our daily hikes not as fun and feel more like a competition.
5. Sometimes a privy, sometimes a poop field
I very much realize I signed up to go live in the woods for six months and with that comes the need to answer nature when it calls and more often than not I need to pick up whenever I’m in the wilderness. With that being said, in the Smokies, you may have a privy, you may have a poop field. That’s because, if the word on the street (trail) is true, Tennessee has poop fields and North Carolina has privies. Staying at a shelter in NC became a luxury during the Smokies. It beat the heck out of walking into a “toilet area” filled with toilet paper signifying that some hiker before you relieved themself there. Is it mud? Feces? Animal or human? The poop field is a game in itself.
Some hikers enjoyed the Smokies because of the challenge and part of that challenge was the completely unpredictable weather. I like to compare it to the Hunger Games where someone sits at a control panel and at random changes the weather. Though challenging, and rewarding upon completion, I still add this to my list of why I hate the Smokies.
7. Bottleneck of people during road closures
I’m never going to fault authorities for closing roads for safety reasons, the problem however with closing Newfound Gap for example, is once it opened we had over a dozen additional hikers on top of us the remainder of the section because they all got back on as soon as it opened. This led to overcrowded shelters which I’ve already discussed.
8. No dogs
One of my favorite parts of hiking is seeing doggies. And they’re not allowed in the Smokies.
9. No cell service
Again, I know I signed up to live in the woods for six months and part of that agreement is understanding there’s not always cell service. But it seems as though every time I’m near a infamous brown national park sign there’s no cell phone service. I must admit, at times, I enjoy not having cell service. I get much more reading and writing done. But sometimes it’s nice to be able to call a shuttle in a national park.
10. Other trails and lack of blazes
Some days in the Smokies I wondered if I had gotten lost on one of the many other trails because of poorly-marked sections. When coming up to signs designating which trail was what, some signs were so old they were hard to read and most had inaccurate mileage on it. I tend to be on the “the more blazes the better” train when it comes to finding my way around. There were so many additional trails in the Smokies that intersected with the AT that this was a daily occurrence.
With all that being said, I must admit that my time in the Smokies I was very fortunate because I had great weather. It could have been much worse. This tells me that if I hated the Smokies with great weather, I would definitely hate it with worse weather. And my dislike for the Smokies is more so in comparisons to other sections of the trail thus far.
I believe that hiking the section from Erwin, TN to up and over Roan Mountain would be a great alternative to hiking the Smokies if one still wanted great views, challenging weather, and spruce trees with mini pine cones. This section was beautiful and I would definitely re-do it in a section hike but I can’t say that I would re-do the Smokies.
Putting the second half of my Smokies permit in the lockbox is definitely a memorable moment for me. I don’t see myself returning.
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