View Full Version : SNP or GSMNP? Help me decide please.

05-16-2015, 12:06
I'm trying to select a section hike for my USA visit this summer (July). I'll be based in SW VA, so looking hikes that are not too far away I've done most of the AT between Damascus & Daleville.

I'm thinking about either the SNP or GSMNP, I'm a bit put off by the GSMNP crowds & shelter rules. On the other hand, I've heard that water is difficult to find in SNP in summer.

Which would you advise?

I'm looking at 4/5 nights...

05-16-2015, 12:13
SNP. Water ain't that hard.

You can do lots of hikes that aren't AT in there as well.

Spirit Walker
05-16-2015, 12:37
Agreed. SNP is very nice in the summer and permits are much easier to get than the Smokies. Being able to get ice cream or beer at the Waysides is a nice bonus.

05-16-2015, 12:45
First off, a pre hike welcome to our country, hope you have a good time.
I would recommend Shenandoah National Park also for the sake of the no hassle experience. The backcountry permits are free and are at trail side kiosks for your convience. Water in the southern section of the park can be sometimes an issue in July, but knowing this in advance you can plan ahead.
There will be water spigots available also at campgrounds , picnic areas so that helps with planning.

Good luck on your upcoming hike.

05-16-2015, 18:13
Well, SNP is more convenient and no reservations required.
I wouldnt say the AT in the smokies is real crowded , the limited shelter spots keeps the traffic down outside of thru-hiker season, just have to make reservations 30 day in advance and stick to them. Rest of the park, yes, its heavily visited.

The height of summer wouldnt be my choice of time to hike either, except out of necessity.

05-16-2015, 21:07
The Smokies without a doubt is more scenic. Hiked the Smokies for years and found SNP relatively boring.

05-16-2015, 21:17
I hiked the AT in tHe Smokies last week. It is remote and beautiful. You will not regret it if that's your choice. I found the AT in SNP to be too close to the road. Keep in mind that the Smokies has over 900 miles of trails. Many choices and lots of water. Good luck!

Violent Green
05-16-2015, 23:02
The Smokies aren't as crowded as you think. 99% of its visitation is confined to the roads and Cades Cove. The AT there has some hikers of course, but no more than most other AT sections IMO. There really is no comparison between the GSMNP and the SNP from a scenic perspective. Smokies hands down.


05-17-2015, 08:47
I guess it depends on what you value more - the hassle free planning or the better scenery. SNP is nice, but you're never very far from skyline drive which never gives you the feel that you're out in the wilderness and there are seemingly more people around. Yes, GSMNP has more visitors, but like someone above mentioned most of those are at the parking lots and short day hikes at best. In the summer months I'm sure both parks will have a decent amount of activity at the shelters - with GSMNP being more crowded and regulated - but to me the trade off of a better hike is worth the inconveniences in planning and shelters. Plus because of the reservation system at GSMNP you can see how crowded the shelter will be (barring through hikers) so you have an idea of what to expect before you head out.

05-17-2015, 08:58
As well, SNP is considerably easier than GSMNP. Not to mention available food at the waysides whwre you dont need to carry as much. SNP is a great place, but it is a park. It makes no pretense of being wilderness, while GSMNP north half is the largest roadless expanse east of the mississippi. Pity that its only 40 miles. They should have never built the road across it.

05-17-2015, 23:10
I hiked SNP mid-July a few years back - heat wave...99 degrees at the National Park stores...

Was one of the best hikes ever. Had no problem with water sources, sites were wonderful...even if the sweat was a-pouring out of me!

Gotta love the Waysides for those treats! (Cheeseburger at Big Meadow, Breakfast at Skyline, and Shake at Elkwallow!

05-18-2015, 07:42
Love Shenandoah. Best of both worlds. You get wilderness and access to amenities. I hiked it in 2011/2012 and found it to be a great trip. Good beginning/intermediate terrain, access to stores, and great views (southern district - Blackrock Summit and just off trail rock scramble Bearfence Mountain).

I'm working my way south to GSMNP, so I'll get to compare soon.

Can't go wrong with SNP though.

05-18-2015, 08:53
IMO, the GSMNP is incomparably more beautiful than the SNP. Also more remote and rugged. The ridge line in the Smokies is high enough in elevation that it isn't usually too unpleasantly hot in the summer.

05-18-2015, 08:58
It really baffles me why so many find SNP boring. The forests there are absolutely gorgeous and the trail is so easy. You don't even have to watch your feet! I suspect that GSMNP will be over crowded and you have to have permits for specific sites in advance. Keep in mind that GSMNP is one of the most heavily visited National Parks in the entire country! Hike SNP!!

05-18-2015, 09:13
GSMNP is one of the most heavily-visited Parks in the country, but those millions of visitors are in cars. They drive slowly through Cades Cove and may step out of the car at Newfound Gap, but that's about it.

Part of what I disliked so much about SNP is that the AT and Skyline Drive are often a stone's throw apart, with the AT taking the more annoying, less scenic path. I found the shelters frankly creepy because they are so close to road access. Those waysides and stores at which you can buy food in the SNP are there because they get lots and lots of visitors. Hiking the AT through the Park you will encounter many car tourists.

My main reason for loving the GSMNP, though, is the biodiversity. It's at the intersection of four climate zones, and contains the highest-elevation point on the AT, Clingman's Dome. The endpoints of the AT are at 1700', while the high point is 6600'. To cover that elevation change in a relatively short distance means you've hiked through several climate zones in a matter of days. The mountains are lush and wet (yes, it's often rainy and misty), with an abundance of waterfalls, streams, moss, and lichens. The flowering plants are incredible. There are fascinating amphibians.

SNP is certainly logistically much easier. You won't have to carry nearly as much food. You can even stay in hotels, if you wish. It's much easier to get to from a major airport. It just depends on what kind of experience you're looking for.

05-18-2015, 09:23
since you are going to be in the SW,VA area i suggest SNP water is not hard to find in the SNP, through my experience water is harder to find in the GSMNP in summer cause it's higher up in elevation.

so yeah i suggest the SNP.

05-18-2015, 09:40
You really cant go wrong in either park. They are both gorgeous. but I have to say to Marla.. SNP has fabulous tenting very close to the shelters. There are poles to hand your food from, and great water sources near by (I was there June of 2006). i may be a tad biased though because I had bright blue skies and very cool temps for my entire hike through the park (about 5 days if I recall). GSMNP has great views. When I went through, it took me a week and I don't think there was a drop of rain. That's unusual. GSMNP has a reputation for being a very rainy place. I suspect in the summer time humidity and t storms could dampen the experience. I was mid April of 2006 when I went through the park.

05-18-2015, 09:46
A variation is to hike the Blue Ridge Parkway south of SNP, it has the convenience and the views of the SNP with a few sections that run off the ridge line well away from the road. Less rules than a National Park.

05-18-2015, 10:04
Wow Ken, reading through these comments, it's obvious you'll have to return for a second trip, or extend your stay to do both SNP and GSMNP. :)

For a July hike, I would direct you to the Smokies. The higher elevations will keep you cooler, and that's a good enough reason by itself.

As has been stated, the AT through the Smokies has some really nice views. I especially liked the northern section where the trail traversed narrow ridges and you could see far to the left and to the right.

I wouldn't worry about crowds. The NOBO thru-hikers are done with the Smokies. We day-hiked up to Russell Field Shelter from Cades Cove two days ago (with some fresh produce to share with whoever we might find). There were 6 or 7 section hikers and a ridgerunner at the shelter - no thrus.

You'll have no trouble getting water in the Smokies: 58-60 inches of rain per year.

05-18-2015, 15:36

Thanks for all the input everyone! Both parks are very tempting! I was initially leaning towards SNP as it is easier from me to get to (amtrack in staunton), but maybe I will wait a couple of years until my boy(now 5yo) is ready for ovenight hikes. The level(er) trail and wayside treats and opportunity for early exits sound like a perfect first long hike for a kid.

So this year maybe I'll try the GSMNP (looks like I'll have to payout well over 200$ in shuttles to get to and from greyhound:-). Although peakbagger mentioned the BlueRidgePwy south of SNP, sounds like a good option also. I'll have to investigate...

I get to visit your beautiful country every summer to bring the kids to see their grandparents and each year I get to do ~40miles of the AT, but each year its getting further and further from base! Eventually I'll get it all done!! When the kids get older, I'll be able to spend more time on the trail and go further afield...

Thanks for all your help. There is a great community here.

05-18-2015, 15:38
Well then I guess it's settled,....have a blast hiking the Shenokies. :)

05-18-2015, 16:11
I hiked 5 days in the smokies and only saw a couple people go to the southwest end