View Full Version : AT Smokies section

One More
04-06-2015, 23:19
So besides the pain of the permits, the reservations, and having to stay at the shelters, how tough of a section of the AT are the Smokies? Scale of 1-10 and which direction is better? Start at Fontana or Davenport and south? I'm thinking of knocking the section out in early May

04-07-2015, 00:28
Which way may come down to something as simple as how are you going to arrive/leave Fontana/Davenport?

If you plan to leave a car at the end of your hike, your ride is likely to be safer at Fontana. If you plan to leave a car at both ends, rather than hiking to Davenport, it would be a little safer to leave a car parked at the Big Creek Ranger Station and access the AT via Chestnut branch (but that misses about the last mile and a half of the AT in GSMNP).

I hear the north/east side of the AT has better views than the south/west... so if you want to save the best for last, you might consider Fontana to Davenport.

As for how tough, either way, you're going to start with a pretty major climb getting up to the ridge line, followed by up-n-down-up-n-down either way. The only way to scale it is to compare it to other sections of the AT... since I've only hiked around GSMNP and not other parts of the AT, I'll have to let others give you that comparison.

04-07-2015, 04:23
Double post

04-07-2015, 04:25
Not any different fom rest of GA, NC, TN, just go do it. To me, its a 6 on a scale of 1-10. Long well graded climbs for most part.

04-07-2015, 12:11
I've hiked the AT-Smokies 3x going northbound. Just like doing it that way better. You can leave a car at Fontana Dam, or leave a car at Standing Bear Farm hostel (for a fee), or Big Creek ranger station. Like others said, it's primarily long well graded climbs, a few rocky sections in the southern half. Other than the views at Rocky Top, I thought the views in the northern half were better. Much of the AT in the Smokies feels like hiking in a gravel filled drainage ditch due to the trail erosion. It's a fun hike if you can avoid thru hiker season and the crowded shelters.

04-07-2015, 13:21
Other than the views at Rocky Top, I thought the views in the northern half were better.
For the most part, hiking the AT thru GSMNP (and I suspect many other parts of the AT) is a hike thru a green tunnel. Even though you might be hiking a mountain crest, there's usually trees, bushes, and other vegetation growing higher than your head keeping you from seeing anything but the path in front of you. Notable exceptions include the Shuckstack Fire Tower, Rocky Top, Clingman's Dome observation tower, New Found Gap, The Jumpoff, Charlie's Bunion, and the Mt Cammerer fire lookout (The Jumpoff, Charlie's Bunion, and Mt Cammerer require side trails to access the views).

Otherwise, there are only occasional breaks in the vegetation that allow you to see a view. However, the Northern half of GSMNP seems to have more of these occasional breaks than the Southern half does.

04-07-2015, 18:51
I was disappointed going through the smokies. Found out why it was called such.

There was a couple of good views but as you look from a distance at the GSMNP you say to yourself, "there must be some great views" I'm certain there were, I just wasn't privy to them. There is always fall.

I do want to go again through the other trails and such, and will wait until fall to do it.

I have no problem with shelters, they are what they are. I never had a problem with them.

Overall I enjoy getting out on the trail period. If I get a great lookey loo place I enjoy it even more.


04-07-2015, 20:13
The AT going through the GSMNP is overused, eroded, and highly traveled. Once you get up to the ridge line, you mostly stay there. As others have said, the half north of Clingmans Dome has much better views. The reservation system is one hell-of-a-lot easier than trying to get a permit for the JMT, The Wonderland Trail or many others out west. I have now hiked the Smoky 900 - in other words, I've hiked every single trail in the park, the AT is one of my least favorite. (Welch ridge is my least favorite).

04-08-2015, 01:06
I found the AT through the Smokies to be pretty nice, well maintained trail. The shelter system is pretty easy to figure out, if you don't want to stay in the shelter hike late and arrive in the late afternoon. I didn't really do this on purpose but that's the way I always ended up and got to tent most of the way. As compared to the rest of the AT I would rate it at 4 of 10 in difficulty.

full conditions
04-08-2015, 07:10
I fell head over heels in love with the Smokies on my thru. So much so, that I moved to a small town at the edge of the park after my thru hike so that I could hike there all the time. The permit hassle is nothing to me - a very small price to pay to help preserve the backcountry and its nothing compared to hassle I've experienced in many of the parks I've hiked in out west or canoeing the Everglades. The AT thru the Smokies is high, wild, and spectacular and I've never gotten tired of it. Just my two cents.

Rain Man
04-08-2015, 08:42
I hiked NOBO thru the GSMNP during Spring Break with my nephew in '05. "Pain of permits, reservations, and having to stay at shelters"? No such pain for us during our hike. It was a breeze.

I'd heard stories of the climb from Fontana up to Shuckstack, but simply paced myself and had no problem,-- actually enjoyed the climb. After doing the White Mountains in NH in the past 3 years, I'd rate rate the toughness of the GSMNP as a 5 or 6. It's right in the middle of difficulty for the AT miles I've done so far.

04-08-2015, 12:28
If you hike northbound you'll pass less people since most people will be going the same direction.

Difficulty? I'd say moderate for mountains. Easier than the White mountains.
1st day there's a little thigh burner getting upto the ridgeline initially.
After that you're crusing ridgeline, going up and down less than 900(?) feet between mountains.
Clingman' is the next biggest day. If you summit at sunrise the fog might still be trapped in the valleys. Charle's bunion and fontana firetower have better views though imo.

I trained for it, but ended up comfortably doing ~18 miles/day when the rangers only advised 10-13. Fontana-davenport took me 3.5 days.
If I could do again, I'd detour over to see LeConte Mountain as well to help fill up the week. I hear the ranger station on the summit is cool. If you hit it on the right morning you might see the llama train that supplies the station.

04-08-2015, 12:56
Here's an Elevation profile found at tnlandforms.us:
You can see going NOBO that you start with about a 3,500' climb to get to Mollies Ridge.
After Mollies, there's a 1,500' over about 7 miles to reach the top of Thunderhead mountain (high point beyond Spence).
Once you reach Derrick Knob, it's about an 1,800' climb over 10 miles to reach Clingman's Dome (with the last two after Double Springs being a relative killer).
After Newfound Gap is a 1,000' climb to reach the intersection with the Boulevard Trail
(About 1/10 a mile up the Boulevard Trail is a short side trail to "The Jumpoff". You won't find this trail on any of the official GSMNP maps, but there is a park sign at the trail head. If you've got the time... like you plan to spend the night at Icewater Springs, it's worth the side trip).
You have another 1,000' climb to reach Mt Guyot.
Finally a 900' climb after Low Gap (which leads you to the side trail to Mt Cammerer Fire Lookout).

04-08-2015, 15:29
I've always left from Fontana, and I've never had a problem leaving a car there. I agree with the assessment of a 6. If you've completed the section between the Windimg Stair and the NOC, then I think you'll do fine through the smokies.