View Full Version : Section GSMNP over 7 days?

01-06-2009, 14:57
Hello everyone... I'm an avid mountain biker new to backpacking, and I'm starting to make some plans for hiking the AT...

I'm thinking about hiking the 71 mile section of AT that covers GSMNP, as I'm somewhat familiar with the area, and I have about 7 days to spare this year.

The times I have open are either June 29- July 5 or Sept 29 - Oct 5.

Of course, I'm itching to hike the AT, so I'd rather go sooner than later, but I'm wondering if that section will be too hot and humid in early July?

Also, is 7 days reasonable for this section? I'm in very good cardio shape...but my wife is going to need to get back in better cardio shape. I'm thinking by this time we'll have plenty of shorter hikes in already and have some decent trail legs.

I'm also maybe considering bringing along our 5 year old boy, as he has already been on a few 4 mile + hikes with us.... would this section be too much for him?? He's a pretty tough kid and not the whiney type...

Thanks in advance for the info :D

01-06-2009, 15:09
I'd take the kid out on a few 20+ mile overnighters before I committed to this hike. Once you get "up" in the Smokies, it ain't that bad. But I'd hate for you guys to get 20 miles in and have to try to get off because the kid can't go any further. I mean, my 8 year old daughter is a strong as hell hiker, has some 13+ mile days under her belt and I wouldn't consider this section for her yet. HYOH though!

01-06-2009, 16:02
good advice...thanks for the input. i'll probably just go with the wife then...

so is this section possible in 7 days?

01-06-2009, 16:09
Yes, totaly doable in 7 days. I'm not in that great shape and I've done it in 5.

01-06-2009, 16:20
A group of five us us did it the first week of June 2 years ago. One had to go out at Clingmans Dome but the rest of us made in 5 days without much trouble. Not sure this is the hike for a five year old but if you take the full seven days that limits the amount of mileage for each day. The shelters are numerous but even with reservations they get crowded and when it rains and it will the Smokies can be very difficult.

We hiked from Fonatana and came out at Davenport Gap. After the first day it was not to difficulat but the first day from Fonatana is mosltly uphill.

It is a great hike and our group saw eight bears.

Make sure if yo bring your son he has some kind of small long sleave jacket as it gets a little chilly at night.

01-06-2009, 16:29
awesome...thanks for the input everyone... :D cant wait to do some of the AT finally.... i used to see signs for it whenever i drove past NOC on the way to Tsali when i lived in TN years ago, but i just never had the time to hike it...

01-06-2009, 16:48
The Smokies are great. Really. But they can be something of a hassle, too. You need a permit and a specific reservation for each shelter and campsite along the A.T., and the trail and shelters are often quite crowded. This doesn't lessen the beauty of the park, but it might be a bit much for your first long AT Hike.

You might consider doing a week of hiking just north of the Smokies. If you start at Davenport Gap (the northern edge of the park), and hike Northbound, it's about 75 miles to Sam's Gap, on I-26 at the TN/NC border. You will walk through a great trail town (Hot Springs) right in the middle of this section for resupply and a restaurant meal. (Actually, rethinking this, you might start at Sam's Gap and walk southbound to Davenport Gap. You can get a shuttle from the proprietor of Standing Bear Farm hostel near DG.) This is a very nice section of the Trail. (There are other good ones, of course. PM me if you want more ideas.)

A five year old can certainly hike -- we had our daughter out at that age and younger -- but the basic requirements of a long distance hike are often at odds with the realities of hiking with a small child. You have to make a certain number of miles every day, day in and day out. A large part of your reward is the feeling of accomplishment at the end of each day, and the end of the hike. Small children just aren't ready to think in terms of long-term goals and delayed gratification just yet. They want to see animals and muck about in creeks all day (not that there's anything wrong with that.) I think my daughter was 11 or 12 before we tried a linear LD hike.

Farr Away
01-06-2009, 16:57
I've done the section from Fontana Dam to Lost Cove in both directions (separate hikes). Having said that: it's a bear of a hike, and I don't plan to do it again; I'd rather take Twentymile. Shuckstack was something to see, though.

01-06-2009, 17:53
Seven days is a pretty slack schedule for this section, especially for someone your age, who is in decent shape. Unless you run into serious problems, you'll end up with a lot of spare time on your hands.

The general problem is that the shelters are about 7 miles apart. Seven miles is a pretty short day's hike; 14 can be too long for some folks; 21 is not that hard, but you'll be done in four days. As someone else mentioned, you have to make a plan ahead of time, get specific night-by-night reservations, and stick to them.

In July you will have plenty of daylight. The weather at those elevations shouldn't be too terribly hot, but there will often be a chance of afternoon thunderstorms. You may want to be done hiking for the day and down off the ridge before those start happening.

As someone else suggested, it would be good to do a couple of weekend hikes over similar terrain to find out if 1) the little one can make it those sorts of distances 2) what a comfortable daily distance is for you. The trail is, in general, pretty easy walking (well graded, good treadway, well marked), except that there's a lot of elevation gain and loss. If the slowest person in your party is in decent cardio shape, and no one is carrying too much either body or pack weight, it's a fun hike. If something goes wrong, it's a brute because there's not a lot of easy bailout options.

Frick Frack
01-06-2009, 18:20
I'm a mountain/roadie rider as well and the Smokies were my 1st section hike of the AT (and the 1st time more than one night) and I did the 71+ miles easily in 7 days (and just did them easily in 3.5 on a sobo hike!). Backpacking is much different than cycling so I would go on a weekend trip or two if you haven't already. I would recommend sept/oct over june because it is less likely to rain and the trees may be hinting of fall colors. 7 days will give you plenty of time to stop and enjoy all the beauty spots. I would do a short day the 1st and last day and have a little bigger days in the middle. There are plenty of recommendations for other hikes on the AT but for a beginner I think you are on spot with the GSMNP (it was my wife's favorite section of the entire AT). I do not know what to tell you about your son b/c mine has 4 legs and is not allowed in the park. It would be my inclination to take him if you give him some experience first. Good luck!

01-06-2009, 20:54
Once you are up on the ridge, the hiking is relativly easy. It is a bit of a climb "fresh out of the chute" from Fontana or Davinport Gap, but if you allow for this climb, it shouldn't be too bad even for a 5 year old. AND, about half way thru, is Newfound gap for an easy bail out point if you must.

Just a thought, & I have 2 sons so know of what I speak:
There are a few places along the AT, especailly near Clingmans Dome that a FIRM grip on the 5 year olds hand is almost manditory: The AT treadway is about 2' wide, the ridge it is on is about 3.5' wide, the drop on either side is a LONG one, & as you know the attention span of a typical 5 year old is an average of about 30 seconds :eek:

Rain Man
01-07-2009, 00:41
Yes, totaly doable in 7 days. I'm not in that great shape and I've done it in 5.

Ditto. As in, same here. :) That's for you. Don't know about the wife.



01-07-2009, 01:09

I have hiked through the Smokies on the AT 3 times, once each in june, July, and August, and the only time it was real hot was August. I have done lots of hiking there with my sons, and very young grandkids. Day hiked from Clingmans Dome to Cades Cove with my youngest son when he was a 13 yr old.
I would suggest, that if you want to take your son on the AT , start at the newfound gap and hike south towards fontana trying to make it to Derrick knob before turning around and going back out to newfound gap. Staying east of thunderhead mt. there are four shelters in that section and clingmans dome would be a good place to catch a ride if you had to bail out. As mentioned by another poster, keep an eye on the little guy.
You would probably have more fun hiking with him if you did overnights to places like, Icewater spring, Mt Collins, and Double Spring gap shelters staying a night in each and moving the next day. Putting Mt Collins in the middle for a short hike day.

My real advise would be for your to leave him at home and take him when he is a little older. Do the hike yourself adding Mt Le Conte in for overnight side trip. Did that myself with wife and kids in 6 days.

But don't forget to take the boy back someday.


01-07-2009, 01:17
Wife corrected me

We did the hike mentioned above in 7 days not 6.

She said if i had tried to make her do it in six, i would be dead.

ha ha

01-07-2009, 17:09
thanks everyone for the input especially in regards to my son...my main objective with this hike is to get a feel for the AT and start putting a [tiny] dent in sectioning the whole thing. if i push the little guy, it wont make for a very good first experience....

thank you bigcranky for the alternate route info... i'm interested in hearing about maybe some other routes as well...preferably closer to Ohio than farther...

i think maybe starting on the north end and heading sobo to fontana is a better option for me also... closer drive.

thanks again :D

01-07-2009, 17:37
Forgot about how narrow the trail is in places and there are spots that are pretty dangerous if you are not paying attention.

01-07-2009, 21:13
thank you bigcranky for the alternate route info... i'm interested in hearing about maybe some other routes as well...preferably closer to Ohio than farther...

Check your private messages in a little bit.

01-07-2009, 23:55
thanks big cranky... i think i just might go for the route you PM'd me.... i'm a very last minute sort of guy and hate dealing with details, so having to coordinate all the reservations for shelters in GSMNP would be a PITA to me....


01-08-2009, 00:10
I'm also maybe considering bringing along our 5 year old boy...

Don't even think about it!!!