Gearing Up, Branching Out


Every spring people flock to the Smokies to view our park’s spectacular displays of wildflowers that begin blooming at the lower elevations and creep uphill as the temperatures warm and days grow longer.

Did you know… Geographers calculate that every 1,000 feet of elevation gain in the Smokies is equal to traveling 330 miles north and going 10 days backward on the spring calendar. That means when you hike to Clingmans Dome at 6,643 feet from down around Bryson City, N.C., at about 1,600 feet, you experience many of the same environmental changes you’d see driving from the Smokies clear up into northern Maine.

With all that happens in the park during the first weeks of spring, how can you manage your time most effectively? It starts with gearing up to Branch Out, of course.

First things first

Review the Leave No Trace Seven Principles . Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s favorite with an annual visitation of more than 11 million people in 2018! Please tread lightly.


Build your daypack by starting with the essentials:

  1. Navigation: Map, compass, altimeter, GPS device, personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger
  2. Headlamp: Plus extra batteries
  3. Sun protection: Sunglasses, sun-protective clothes and sunscreen
  4. First aid: Including foot care, insect repellent and EpiPen (as needed)
  5. Knife
  6. Gear repair kit
  7. Fire: Matches, lighter, tinder and/or stove
  8. Shelter: Carried at all times (can be a light emergency bivy)
  9. Food: Beyond minimum expectations
  10. Water: Beyond minimum expectations
  11. Clothes: Wear sturdy shoes for walking on uneven surfaces or rock-hopping through streams; beyond minimum expectations
  12. Personal items: Trekking poles and micro-spikes for (winter) high elevation, icy trails


Don’t forget the fun stuff. Your bonus gear can make all the difference!

  1. Nature journal: Keep notes about special sightings, locations visited, mileage hiked and more. Is nature journaling new to you? Join our Journal Your Experience event on the first day of spring, March 20, at Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, NC. Registration will open soon!
  2. Interpretive field guides
  3. Bring a friend or sign up for a professionally led adventure with GSMA and make new friends! Click HERE to see all your choices.