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April 2000

The Smokies: Backwoods-Style

Here's your insider's guide to The Great Smokies, probably the epitome of a true backpacker's national park.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee isn’t the biggest, oldest, or the most obviously dramatic of our nation’s protected scenic lands. And lately, it’s been the subject of less than sterling press coverage: air quality that would choke a wild hog, a failed attempt to reintroduce red wolves, and to top it all off, 10 million visitors annually-the most of any national park-stressing an infrastructure that doesn’t even have the benefit of entrance fees.

Which begs the question: Why on Earth would you, a solitude-loving backpacker, want to visit the Smokies?

Because there’s plenty of wild and woolly countryside out of reach of your average windshield tourist. I visited the park in early June (May, June, and October vie for “most overrun month”) and was amazed at the solitude, diversity, and down-home comfort I experienced during my 5-day backwoods jaunt. No other park harbors such a wealth of human and natural history or such an astounding but unsung array of subtle attractions available only to those who travel by foot.

Yes, this park does have a few problems (which some determined people are dedicated to resolving), but it also has plenty of triumphs. Go see for yourself.

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