Smoky Mountain Park in Winter

Smoky Mountain Park in Winter

One long weekend near the end of law school, my apartment mate Jim McKinney and I went on a winter backpacking trip to Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Planning the trip and providing our snowshoes was Jims buddy from Maryville, TN (whose name I am sorry I forgot).


We parked in the campground at the east end of Cades Cove and shouldered our heavy winter packs. Our route commenced with the Anthony Creek Trail, angling uphill to the southeast. Because of driving much of the day from Chapel Hill, NC, to Maryville, TN, and then into the Park, we only had time to backpack about a mile. We set up our first nights camp at the intersection with the Russell Field Trail.

Jim and I had done some cold weather camping, and I had been in the snow a couple times, but this was my first mid-winter trip in deep snow. For the most part, we were well prepared. We had no trouble with being too cold, wet or tired. We adjusted well to our first time on snowshoes. It was fun to be in an icy landscape and traipse across the top of the snow. But it was a lot work. Hiking in deep snow on snowshoes upped the effort level about 20%.

The next day we continued up the Anthony Creek Trail to the Appalachian Trail at the Spence Field shelter. That night was spent in the log shelter on the wooden bunks, with a fire in the fireplace. So far, so good, we had no significant problems.

The third day we backpacked southwest on the Appalachian Trail to the Russell Field shelter. Another good supper was eaten beside a nice fire in the fireplace. Another cozy night was spent in our down sleeping bags.

Our fourth and final day was spent descending the Russell Field Trail to its intersection with the Anthony Creek Trail. Unfortunately, the trail was not well marked, and we could not see it on the ground under the several feet covering of snow. We got partially lost. Fortunately, the trail mostly followed a ridge, so as long as we stayed on the highest ground, we were generally in the right place.

One time Jim tripped on a buried log and fell down onto his back. His pack pulled him into the deep snow and he floundered around, stuck upside down, like a turtle. After first berating him for lying around and being a slacker while his buddy and I searched for the trail, I then realized that he could not help it and was truly stuck. I helped him up and we continued on our way.

We eventually found our way back to Cades Cove and the safety of our car. A good time was had by all.

Bob Laney

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Bob is the site curator and writer of Blue Ridge Outing. Since starting the Blue Ridge Outing travel blog in 2002, Bob has written, recorded and documented countless expeditions in the US and around the world.