Welcome to HikingintheSmokys.com
Welcome to HikingintheSmokys.com, the most comprehensive site on the internet for information on hiking trails in the Great Smokey Mountains.
HikingintheSmokys.com provides detailed information on more than 70 hikes throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The site provides Smokey Mountain trail descriptions, photographs, key trail features, hike length, difficulty ratings, trail maps and elevation profiles. The authors of HikingintheSmokys.com have personally hiked every trail covered on this website, and have published original content based on those hikes.
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Explanation of Hike Difficulty Ratings
You'll probably read and hear a lot about the difficulty of any given trail within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I've found these ratings to be too general and highly subjective. While researching hikes for a trip to Rocky Mountain N.P. several years ago, I found a website that attempts to remove the subjectivism out of trail difficulty ratings by using a mathematical formula.
This formula originally came from Paul Petzoldt, a mountaineer and founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). In 1976 he proposed a theory to help backpackers plan trips and calculate their energy needs while on the trail in his book, Teton Trails. His theory states that one energy mile is equal to the energy required to walk one mile on flat terrain. He also said that you need to add two energy miles for every 1000 feet of elevation gain. In other words, if you hiked one mile while climbing 1000 feet, you would've used the equivalent of three energy miles.
Petzoldt's theory had never been tested before. That is until 2010, when a study was conducted at Western Carolina University's Exercise Physiology Laboratory, by Maridy Troy, assistant professor in WCU's health and physical education program, and Maurice Phipps, professor of parks and recreation management.
The study measured the energy cost and perceived exertion for walking on flat terrain, with and without a backpack, as well as an elevation gain of 1000 feet. Results from the data show an average of a 1.6-mile equivalent for a 1000 foot gain in elevation. Differences between females and males ranged from 1.32 to 2.02. Professor Phipps stated in an article for WCU news that the range revealed by the study was due to the "hikers" personal weight differences. The abstract from the study states that further research using heavier expedition packs at higher altitudes could also reveal changes in energy cost as well.
"It is remarkable that Petzoldt's energy mile theory is so close to the actual energy cost measured during our study," Phipps stated. He also said the energy required for hiking up steep mountain trails would vary for individuals and groups, and the variables of the trail would also factor in, but he recommends that backpackers stick with Petzoldt's theory of adding two energy miles for every 1,000 feet in elevation gain.
This formula has allowed me to roughly gauge the relative difficulty of trails in the Smokies.
Of course these ratings are only an indicator of hike difficulty - every hike has its variables beyond elevation gain and distance, including weather, experience, fitness level, unique trail conditions, start/end elevation, etc. This rating system simply gives the hiker a reference point between one trail and another.
As a general rule of thumb, a difficulty rating of less than 5 is considered to be an easy hike. Between 5 and 10 is moderate, and anything over 10 is considered to be strenuous.
Explanation of Variances in Mileage and Elevation
You may notice some minor variances between the mileage and elevations reported on this web site versus official maps, books and other sources of trail information for the Smokey Mountains.
I stand by the mileage figures reported on this web site. I am using the Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx GPS unit for all of my mileage and elevation figures on this web site. I have tested the Garmin against known distances and have found it to be nearly exact, if not exact, in its measurements. Furthermore, I spoke with a backcountry park ranger in Glacier N.P. a couple of years ago and he scoffed at the "officially" reported mileage figures for trails in that park. He claimed that he wouldn't trust any of those figures because of the way they were calculated.
Elevation figures, on the other hand, may be a little off. I've found that the Garmin can fluctuate by as much 20 or 30 feet for the same location from one measurement to another. The reason for this is because the Garmin uses barometric pressure to calculate elevation. That measurement will fluctuate when there's movement in barometric pressure such as when a front or a storm passes through the area.
Having said all that, though, I will be using elevation measurements from the Garmin GPS for all trails moving forward. Despite these small fluctuations, these measurements should be reasonably accurate.
One additional thing I should point out with regards to elevation. There will be some instances where total elevation gain is greater than the difference between start and ending elevation. The reason for this is because some of the trails are up and down. To give an accurate reflection of the difficulty of the trail, I add the elevation gains for each ascent of a trail, instead of just measuring the difference between the lowest and highest points.