Now that fall is here and the days seem shorter, many people take to the mountains and trails to get a glimpse of the bright reds, the deep orange and vibrant yellows that are popping up all over East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. No, we’re not talking about college football; we’re talking about beautiful fall colors that are painting the trees all around us. As the first two weeks of October are behind us, we will really start to see the leaves changing over the next couple weeks. Here are a few things to keep in mind this fall while hiking.
Check a fall color guide. Different trees turn colors at different times. The elevation of your hike can also determine the period when the trees will start to show their “true colors”. Visit the World Wide Web and do a quick google search for a fall color guide and you will see several hits come up for our area. You can search by state, specific National Forest or even our own Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Don’t miss the wonderful color show this fall!
Make sure you are prepared for changes in temperature. During the fall, the temperature can change 20 or even 30 degrees throughout the day. Make sure you check the national weather center and your local weather station to be fully informed of the area you are hiking in. Remember if you are climbing in elevation on your hike, the temperature will drop as you get higher. Here is a calculation to use when fall hiking with elevation: If you start out at 1000 feet, and climb to 6000 feet, that’s a 5000-foot difference (6000 – 1000 = 5000). So, since you’re gaining 5,000 feet, you’ll use a 5 in your calculation. 5,000 feet, times 3.5 degrees. Just drop the (thousand). So, (5 x 3.5 = 17.5 degrees). So roughly, you’ll expect to lose at least 17.5 degrees. We always round up to the nearest 5 just to add some safety buffer, so a 20-degree difference. Simply subtract this number from your expected low, according to the forecast, and you have your expected temperature. If the low at 1000 feet will be 65 degrees, when you reach the top at 6000 feet, the high will be 45 degrees.
Remember the days are much shorter the further into fall we go, so you will have less hours of sunlight. In the summer, we all get accustomed to being able to hike in the sun until after 9PM. Those long days are great for all-day hikes, but now they pose a problem. Make sure to know what time ‘sunset’ is before you set off on your trail and take a watch or something with the time on it so that you can keep track of how long you have. Something helpful to remember is to carry a stopwatch. If you have 8 hours of daylight when you start your hike, set a timer for 4 hours. That way no matter where you are in your hike, you will know when half of your daylight hours are left and you can then judge if you need to turn around and head back to your car or not. Pack a flashlight or headlamp just in case!
Be aware of hunting seasons. In the National Park you are safe as there is no hunting of any kind allowed. But in many areas within our national and state forests, hunting is allowed. You should always be aware of the season and how to keep yourself protected. During deer season, you should always check out the website for the area you are hiking as some parks and forest in our area do close some trails and offer reroutes to hikers due to popular hunting areas. Avoid hiking early morning or at dusk as these are the most popular hunting times. Observe all posted hiking/hunting safety signs and wear bright colors like orange so that you can easily be seen. Talk with your hiking buddy(s) as you are on the trail so that any hunters in the area can also hear your approach and not be startled by you.
As we always say, take a first aid kit. In the fall, more leaves are on the ground, water can build up and make trails slippery, leaves cover rocks and tree roots and it is much easier to fall on the trails. Taking the basic hiking safety kit can be handy for those autumn falls.
Fall hikes are some of the best ones for those amazing colorful views and our favorites to do. If you decide to head out this fall and enjoy the mountain in all their color, plan wisely and pack safely. Enjoy your hike and be sure to come back here and leave a comment and tell us and our readers about it. Are you ready for your hike?