Packing for Wintertime in the Smokies

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Traveling in winter can bring lots of questions:  “what will the weather be like”, “what are road conditions likely to be”, and “what will be open” are just a few of the many.  Those are easy to answer for folks with Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg destinations.  The weather tends to be mild and pretty for the most part.  Roads stay clear and easy to drive on unless we get snow.  And absolutely everything is open year round, with the exception of Dollywood.  But honestly, riding rollercoasters while temperatures are in the 40’s just doesn’t sound like fun to me.  One question that may be a bit more difficult is “what do I pack?”  Even this can be easily answered if you keep these 5 things in mind:

Keep those tootsies comfy

resting by the fireNo matter the season, comfortable shoes are a necessity.  Plan out what you may be doing.  If you are thinking of spending a day shopping in one of the Pigeon Forge outlet malls or trekking up to Clingmans Dome above Gatlinburg, you will need very different footwear.  Make sure that your shoes are comfortable, fit well and preferably have a good arch support for whatever you are planning. Walking will likely be on the agenda.  Brand new shoes are probably not a good idea unless you are confident they do not need to be “broken in”.  Thick socks are a blessing for long days wandering around Gatlinburg, but, if you do go hiking, a thinner dry-fit material may be a better option as they dry quicker and stay warmer than traditional cotton and wool blends.  Hiking boots or “duck” style rubber boots can offer comfort and practicality with warmth and good tread for both trails and around town if the weather turns colder and snowy.  A second pair of socks is a good thing to take on outdoor adventures in case your feet get wet.  Remember, when your feet get cold or damp, it is much harder for the rest of you to stay warm and cozy.

Remember the skin you’re in

chapstickSunscreen is always a good idea.  In the wintertime, old Mr. Sun tends to be a bit sneaky and you can be burned much quicker than you might expect.  That is especially true if we get snow in the Smoky Mountains.  So pack at least a SPF 30 in your bag for exploring the Great Smokies National Park on a bright winter afternoon or spending the day on the slopes at Ober Gatlinburg.  You won’t regret it.  Lip balm is another often overlooked item to keep in mind.  Cooler temperatures can really dry out your lips.  Keep them supple and protected with your favorite balm.  This can be a purely luxury item with Shea butter and mint or practical with a SPF of its own.  Either way, Chapstick is definitely something to keep close at hand.

Layer up

coupleWeather can be a bit unpredictable in the mountains of Tennessee.  Mornings can be downright chilly while afternoons can rest comfortably in the upper 50’s and 60’s.  Nights can drop to freezing or below.  Bundling up with a layer or two in the mornings can lead to being comfortable all day.  Undershirts or tank tops are a great addition to your packing list.  Make sure to pack a jacket, preferably one that is water resistant in case of rain or snow.  If you are planning an outdoor adventure, a heavier weight jacket rated for at least moderate cold would be recommended.  Shopping in Pigeon Forge or exploring Gatlinburg might be fine in a fleece jacket or even a vest, but hiking would require a much sturdier and warmer coat.

clothes pileHats, Gloves, and Scarves… Oh my!

Unless you tend to run a little cooler in general, gloves and scarves may not be needed with the mild temperatures in the Smokies.  That is unless you plan on going into the Great Smokies National Park and spending the day outside.  In that case make sure you have mittens or gloves, a warm scarf and a knit cap or other head covering handy for the higher elevations.  Keep in mind that temperature tends to drop just over 3 degrees Fahrenheit per 1,000 feet of elevation, a little bit more if it is raining or snowing.  The higher you go, the colder it will get. Even stopping by one of the overlooks on Hwy 441 on your way through the mountains can inspire the gloves to come out while you take pictures.  All those shivers can make photography a little blurry.

Electronics galore

chargerMake sure you bring chargers or batteries for all your electronics.  Cameras, cell phones, and laptops all eat their weight in batteries faster than we would like to think about.  Having to rebuy a charger or extra batteries that you weren’t expecting can definitely make for a bad beginning to your trip and eat into your pocket money.  For longer excursions through the mountainside, it is a great idea to invest in an external power pack or power bank to keep your cell phone and other electronics charged for the duration of the trip. You will want to have battery left for that perfect shot while driving the Cades Cove loop if a bear appears.

Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg vacations are always a lot of fun, but wintertime here is a special experience.  Traffic is lighter and less hectic and the pace of life is calm.  And if you keep these 5 tips in mind, packing will be worry free as well.

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