Avoiding the Town Food Trap, Making Reservations, and Other Tips

Leaving the Smokies brought all the heat I had been missing in the park. The lower elevation brought warmth and a change of landscape: waterfalls, creeks, and no more pines covered in moss. And the first stop was for pizzas at Standing Bear Hostel, which brings me to tip number one:

1. Don’t fall for the town food trap.

Especially on a hot day. That $10 (yes, really) frozen pizza is not as good as you think it will be. Fight your stomach. Particularly when it’s hot, you and your full stomach will feel nauseous and miserable when you hike out. And it will make you cranky.

Luckily, there is a beautiful campsite near the Standing Bear Hostel at Painter Branch. The water source is bubbling and the tenting is flat. I highly recommend it. Plus, it will put you at a good spot to hike and camp at Max Patch.

2. Take the time to camp at beautiful spots.

Maybe it is on Max Patch. Maybe it is at a hidden gem like Painter Branch. But take the time to enjoy the views and landscape. And make the effort to watch the sunset or tent without your rainfly and wake up to watch the sunrise.

3. Make reservations.

Particularly if you’re headed into a popular trail town. Particularly if the weather is shit. Particularly if you or those you’re hiking with have special circumstances like budget constraints or a dog. Finding accommodations can be tricky in the hiker bubble.

I came into Hot Springs, N.C., at a perfect time. The weather was unsavory and I was tired. I stayed at Laughing Heart Hostel right off trail. The staff was friendly, but if possible, I recommend a private room. Get a whiff of a hostel bunk room after wet, rainy days and soggy hikers, and you’ll know why. Hot Springs is quaint, charming, and if you do nothing else, go to the Smoky Mountain Diner for a breakfast biscuit sandwich and (obviously) French toast.

4. Ease into your hike when leaving town.

I like to have a good breakfast before I hike out, and with Standing Bear pizza fresh in my mind, I took my time leaving Hot Springs. A slow and steady day after time in town works best for me.

Leaving Hot Springs, Bear Box, Waterfall, and I camped at Rich Mountain Tower. We arrived at camp at a reasonable time and I threw my bear bag line early, which brings me to my final tip.

5. Don’t use a dead tree for a bear bag line.

Even if it looks strong. And especially not with a post-town food bag. The branch will break and you will have to find a new tree in the dark.


Enjoy your town food, your town time, and savor the moments. But be pragmatic and find a balance.

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Comments 1

  • Avatar
    Aaron : Dec 30th

    Did you really need new Trail runners by Neel Gap? Im guessing you didn’t carry an extra pair, but you’re wearing different ones in the picture. I’m still up in the air as to which type of boots to get.


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