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  1. #1
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    Default Question on Hiking Smoky Mountain National park

    Taking some scouts into the Smoky Mountains, entering at Fontana Damn and heading North. We have backpacked much of the trails south of Fontana and want a new adventure. My question is do you have to permit to use the camps? We don't use the shelters as most of the boys use hammocks. Just not sure what the rules are for hiking in the park. Any insight and advice would be welcome. Our plan is to hike just over 60 miles and then take a side trial out of the mountains.

    Thanks in advance for advice

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    Yes, if you plan on camping inside of the park----you'll need a reservation and a permit......

  3. #3
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    And if you plan on hiking the AT----you'll have to use shelters and not hammocks except at site 113.....

  4. #4

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    You need to go the parks web site and read the rules. National parks have strict rules.

    You need to get permits, you need to pay a fee, you need to limit your group size. You have to stay in shelters, you can not use hammocks or tents.

    Shelter space is limited. You can only reserve 30 days in advance. Do it exactly 30 days before the trip as the spaces fill up fast and you may not get enough spots in each of the shelters you want.

    If you do an alternative hike in the park which does not include AT shelters you would have more leeway as to using hammocks since other sites are set up for tenting. There would also likely be less competition for space, but group size is still limited.

    If you want to avoid all the hassles and regulations imposed by the park, do your hike a bit farther north, but please limit the group to no more the 10 total, including leaders.
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

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    Quote Originally Posted by bporter View Post
    Taking some scouts into the Smoky Mountains, entering at Fontana Damn and heading North. We have backpacked much of the trails south of Fontana and want a new adventure.
    Theres nothing different really about the smokies compared to the rest of the NC AT. Pretty much the same thing, with more restrictions, and less frequent views really.

    Quote Originally Posted by bporter View Post
    My question is do you have to permit to use the camps? We don't use the shelters as most of the boys use hammocks. Just not sure what the rules are for hiking in the park. Any insight and advice would be welcome. Our plan is to hike just over 60 miles and then take a side trial out of the mountains.

    Thanks in advance for advice
    They wont be hammocking in the smokies on the AT.
    You need reservations, pay fees, and stay in shelters with exception of one campsite only ~7 miles from fontana dam.
    60 miles on the AT, and a side trail out will be a much as 74 to davenport gap anyway. Taking a side trail out seems questionable after 60 miles, unless its the trail to the parking at Big Creek ranger station.
    Last edited by MuddyWaters; 01-10-2015 at 19:07.

  6. #6
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    Thanks, everyone for sharing your knowledge. Regarding the alternative hike in the park and not using shelters, how can I find the location of these other sites? I like that idea.

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    I really like the idea of alternative hike and using other sites. How do you find the locations of these sites? I get the group size. We will keep to 10.

  8. #8
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    You need the Great Smokies trail map. (This is a link to a PDF file.) The trail map shows all the trails, shelters, campsites, etc. You'll need to put together an itinerary with many trails to avoid the AT and shelters. You'll still need a permit and advance reservations for every night in the park. (Here's the link to the backpacking page.)

    Really, the best thing to do is call the backcountry information office (see link above) and let them put together an itinerary for you. It takes awhile to get through on the phone, but they are very helpful.
    Ken B
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  9. #9
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    I can't thank everyone enough for your help!!

  10. #10

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    The only problem with a non-AT hike through the park is that it will be a lot harder. If the troop consists of kids in their mid teens with experience and strong hikers, it might not be too bad. If there are younger kids, that might be a problem

    You don't indicate when you want to do this hike which would have a big bearing on it. Any time before the middle of May wouldn't be a good idea. The BMT (Benton Mackaye trail) route might be the best way to go through the park. It does have a lot of little ups and downs which can be tiring, a couple of big climbs and a number of stream crossings which can be tricky if the water level is high.
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

  11. #11

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    The National Geographic map is a good map for the park. There are guide books for the park but I don't have a recommendation. I have one, Day and Overnights Hikes in GSMNP, but I don't know if it would be suitable as you are looking for a multiday hike. It does have profile maps. If you had a topo program you could generate some of your own as well, would be cool to have the scouts do that if available. You could maybe have them create 2-3 itineraries with profiles. I expect you will not have problems getting reservations off the AT if you apply early but you'd have options if you developed a few alternates.
    "Sleepy alligator in the noonday sun
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    Call all he wanta but he can't call me..."
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  12. #12
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    How big is your party size?
    With some very limited exceptions (and I don't recall where those exceptions are), party sizes are limited to a maximum of 8 persons.

    Inside the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, you are only allowed to camp at designated camp sites. Some of these sites contain shelters. With the exception of the 1st campsite coming out of Fontana, all the campsites along the AT have shelters. Where there are shelters, you must camp in the shelter. Tents are not allowed at shelters (with some exceptions that won't apply to your situation).

    There are some specific rules regarding hammock. For one, the use of a hammock is considered the same as using a tent. Therefore, hammocks are not allowed at campsites with shelters. Hammocks can not be attached to any part of a build. Hammocks must use wide straps to prevent damage to tree.

    In addition to camping being permitted only at designated camp sites, you have to get reservations for each campsite. In addition to party sizes being limited to 8 persons, each camp site a maximum capacity. Some of these camp sites have a capacity below 8 persons.

    You can also get some additional information at the web page for making your reservation online:
    https://smokiespermits.nps.gov/index...PermitTypeID=1

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    We have sectioned hiked from GA to Fontana Dam. Usually go out a week at a time staring in June. Min age is 14, and most are+16. It sounds like if we want to continue the AT, our best option may be to start north of the Smoky Mountains and stay out of the park. I appreciate everyone's info. Our troop is located in Tampa, FL, so it is a pretty big commitment to get up there. The boys love it, and I enjoy getting them to experience something besides video games. Also learn how to push themselves.

    Again, thanks for your help.

  14. #14

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    The park is nice, but it is a hassle as are most national parks. Hot Springs to Erwin is a really nice section (67 miles). The little piece between Davenport gap and Hot Springs is okay (36 miles), but you won't miss much by skipping that and it makes the logistics a little easier. Since you only want to go about 60 miles starting at Davenport gap would mean getting off the trail in the middle of no where or having to go over 100 miles.
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

  15. #15
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    GSMNP is a very nice section. Even though the planning may be a little more difficult I believe the scouts would enjoy it. If your group is larger then 8 maybe half could hike NOBO and the other half SOBO. Getting reservations for 5 will be easier and if you get your permit on the earliest possible date (30 days in advance of the start of your trip) you shouldn't have any problem getting a reservation.

  16. #16
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    Why is group size capped at 8 people anyway (if the campsite holds more, like 10 or 12 or 16 or whatever)? so as not to completely lock up a campsite? Doesn't seem a scout-friendly rule. b/n kids and adults, an 8 person party from a scout troop doesn't seem likely to me.

    Anyway, bporter you could break up into 2 groups as someone suggested. Alternative to SOBO/NOBO is for 2 groups to leapfrog each other over the course of the same route. You might could start at Newfound Gap heading south (really west) on the AT to Benton MacKeye trail. That would get you a loop back toward Newfound Gap via a number of different ways. Or even Clingman's Dome if you wanted to cut some miles off. On the map it looks like the AT shelters on the west side of the park are close enough together where leapfrogging would work. You get some miles in together as a troop but dividing into 2 campsites at the end of the day to stay within the 8 person limit. My troop did that once when I was a scout. (1970s so I can't recall exact itinerary)

  17. #17

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    see here.

    • At some sites, special permits may be issued for parties of up to 12 people. Call the Backcountry Office at 865-436-1297 for more information.
    "Sleepy alligator in the noonday sun
    Sleepin by the river just like he usually done
    Call for his whisky
    He can call for his tea
    Call all he wanta but he can't call me..."
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  18. #18
    Registered User ATL Backpacker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alligator View Post
    see here.

    • At some sites, special permits may be issued for parties of up to 12 people. Call the Backcountry Office at 865-436-1297 for more information.
    encouraging, thanks for pointing that out. No exceptions is the rule at the shelters I'm guessing. But at least there appear to be some options available.

  19. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by ATL Backpacker View Post
    encouraging, thanks for pointing that out. No exceptions is the rule at the shelters I'm guessing. But at least there appear to be some options available.
    I'd guess that too about the shelters. Those are the most high use, it would be likely unless they also consider time of year when deciding. It would be interesting to know which sites allow it.
    "Sleepy alligator in the noonday sun
    Sleepin by the river just like he usually done
    Call for his whisky
    He can call for his tea
    Call all he wanta but he can't call me..."
    Robert Hunter & Ron McKernan

    Whiteblaze.net User Agreement.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by ATL Backpacker View Post
    Why is group size capped at 8 people anyway (if the campsite holds more, like 10 or 12 or 16 or whatever)? so as not to completely lock up a campsite? Doesn't seem a scout-friendly rule. b/n kids and adults, an 8 person party from a scout troop doesn't seem likely to me.
    As copied from the GSMNP Compendium of rules and regulations:
    This limitation is intended to preserve the tranquility of the wilderness setting. Larger parties create a level of social interaction and noise that is not congruent with wilderness values or the wilderness experience and is often disturbing to other visitors. Larger party sizes also create greater resource impact. Small party sizes are in line with currently accepted backcountry ethics, such as Leave No Trace.
    The exception I alluded to earlier is listed on the back of the Trail Map. It allows for group sizes upto 12 people at a handful of backcountry sites. While there are many sites that have capacities of 12 or more, they've only allowed an exception to the 8 person rule at the sites listed on the trail map.

    bporter,
    The GSMNP is a great place to hike. I would still recommend trying it. If you have a group size that exceeds 8, you'll need to break into the appropriate number of groups.

    If you want to sleep in hammocks, rather than travelling the AT (with all its shelters) you could hike the Benton MacKay Trail thru the park (trail segments marked in yellow on the backcountry trail map). This is sort of the alternate AT path thru the park as you can start at Fontana and end at Davenport Gap with either a side-trail or short road walk (BMT ends at Big Creek a couple miles from Davenport Gap). This trail is a total of about 100 miles. So if you want to limit yourself to 60 miles, you could hike the segment between "The Road To Nowhere" (Lakeview Drive - starts near Deep Creek area just west of Cherokee) to Big Creek.

    A few cool things to see if you hike the BMT:
    At then end of "The Road To Nowhere" is a 1/4 mile long tunnel that was built just before construction of the road was halted. Pretty neat thing to walk thru.
    Smokemont Campground is close to the midway point. It could be a resupply point, especially if you want your group to try the whole 100 miles.
    Compared to walking just a ridge line, the BMT will have creeks to walk along, as well as deal with unbridged stream crossings.
    Mt. Sterling has a 60' fire tower that you can still climb to the top and see the view.

    You do have to get reservations for each campsite you are going to stay at on each designated site. The good news is that you're allowed to start making reservations for your entire trip 30 days before the start of your trip.
    Last edited by HooKooDooKu; 01-11-2015 at 23:27.

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