Ep. 61 – Snakes in the Smokies and Kanati Fork Trail

SHOW #61  May 4, 2015


This week on Episode 61 Smoky Mountains Radio, Why did it have to be snakes?, listener feedback, and our Spotlight Hike of the Week (Kanati Fork Trail)! Let’s go!


It is Monday, May 4, 2015 and this is Episode 61 of Smoky Mountains Radio.  If you are a new listener, welcome aboard!  We are glad you have found us here at SMR. I am your host Mike, and I am here to bring my nearly forty years of experience in and around the Smoky Mountains help you have the best possible time on your next trip to the Smokies.  Whatever you plan to do and wherever you plan to go around here, we’ve got you covered.

I invite you to check out our website SmokyMountainsRadio.com to get all the information you need about your trip to the Smokies. You can contact me directly by emailing me at mike@smokymountansradio.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/smokymountainsradio or on twitter @smokies_radio.  You can also call the listener line at 865-325 9784.  Finally, of course, every one of our shows can be found on the website for you to stream or download. Of course, you can make sure you get episodes the moment they are released by subscribing to the show via iTunes or stitcher.  Leave me a review while you are there.  Those links can also be found on the site .  If you have anything you would like me to cover on the show, please feel free to contact me at any time.  Again, all the ways to reach me are right on the website at SmokyMountainsRadio.com

And with housekeeping out of the way, let’s get on with the show!

Why did it have to be snakes

If you listened to our previous show, I talked a little bit about snakes on the trail.  Well, we are in April now, so it is prime time for the snakes to be out and about as you hit the trails.  Like most people, one of my big phobias is snakes, so if that makes you a little apprehensive about hiking, you probably aren’t alone.  Snakes, spiders, and mice.  Not my favorite three things!  It’s amazing I get out at all isn’t it?   But, spiders and mice aren’t really going to hurt you.  Unless you get bit by a brown recluse, chances are that you are going to be fine.  Snakes are another matter.  After all, we all see spiders and mice.  Doesn’t matter if you are visiting from up north or down south, USA or England, we all see those critters around us.  Most of us don’t see snakes, at least on a daily basis.  So it can be a bit unnerving the first time you come across one on trail.  But not to worry, nearly 100 percent of the time you will have no issues with them.

If you do come across a snake, chances are that they are completely harmless.  The Smokies has twenty three different types of snakes.  But before that scares you, only two types are poisonous.  The most common is the Timber Rattlesnake.  You will often hear this one before you see it.  The other is the Northern Copperhead.  Other than that, you are good.  So how do you tell the difference?

My short answer is, you don’t.  Seriously?  That’s my advice?  Yes…well, sort-of.  There are some distinctive features and markings on each snake.  The rattler on the end of the snake obviously gives it away, right?  But colors and markings can change within the same species and over time.  And if you are looking at markings, you are probably too close anyway.  So my best advice?  Treat any snake like they were poisonous and you will not get hurt.  Speaking of hurt, the chances of a snake bite are thin.

I talked to a park spokesman this week and he told me that there were only two reported snake bits in 2014.  Both were minor and not life threatening.  Speaking of life threatening, not a single person has died, according to park info, from a snakebite.  Not just this year, but in any year.  That means the chances are higher that you will get lost, fall off a mountain, get attacked by a bear, get struck by lightning, find Atlantis, get hit by falling trees, and see Bigfoot than to get bit by a snake and die.  So, really, don’t worry about it.  So, that may have calmed you a bit.  How many are out there?  Snakes live and die quickly, so exact numbers are much harder to track than bears.  But let’s put it in simple terms.  Most visitors to the park never see one.  They are less common than seeing squirrels, deer, bears, turkeys, boar, elk, and naked hikers.  No, really.   In all the years i’ve been hiking, I have seen, that I recorded, 11 snakes.  That’s it.  Remember, I have been coming out here nearly forty years.  I’ve been recording my hikes for the last 20.  11 is the count i’ve got.  By contrast, i’ve seen 13 naked hikers.  Okay, if that seems weird….well, it is.  but there is a naked hiking day tradition on the appalachian trail, so most….but not all of them were on those days.

So let’s say that despite the odds, you still see a snake.  What then?  Like any wildlife, the best course of action is to give it space.  Just step away, and let it go by and continue your hike.  99 times out a 100, that’s all it takes.  If the snake is just sitting in the middle of the trail, don’t try to step over it.  I have actually seen that happen before.  How the guy didn’t get bit is a miracle to me.  Instead, it is time to pretend you are a two year old.  Stomp around the area and make noise.  They will go running…or slithering as it were, for the hills.  If that still doesn’t work, then from a distance, toss a rock in the vicinity of the area around the snake.  That will be all it takes.   Snakes tend to be creepy, but they are among the least harmful things in the mountains.  Really.

Let’s say that you are the 1 in 10,000,000 that gets bit by a snake.  What do you do?  Number one is to get down the mountain as quickly as possible and get medical attention.  Don’t assume it wasn’t poisonous even though it probably wasn’t.  Better safe than sorry.  Many first aid kits have a snake bite kit in it.  If yours doesn’t, get one just in case.  I’ve had mine for decades and never used it.  In fact, I have more snake bite aid than I have seen snakes.  The kits usually have an antiseptic and antibiotic ointment for the area.  There is also a syringe with no needle.  That is for sucking the poison out of your leg.  It may do an acceptable job, but still go to the doctor as soon as possible.  Another good thing to do is to put a tourniquet around the area that was bitten.  Keeps the blood from flowing freely all over your body.  Use a belt, rope, or whatever else you have.  Again, not much of a chance you ever see one let alone get bit, but there’s some info just in case you do.

The best way to make sure you don’t get bit is just to avoid them all together.  Tip 1:  Watch where you walk.  We get distracted by the beauty of the mountains and often don’t look where we put our feet.  That’s not only a good way to step on a snake, but also to just fall on your butt.  Tip 2:  Watch for holes.  Snakes holes are almost always circular and small.  They are usually located around shade, under rocks and roots and areas just off the trail around trees.  They are occasionally on trail, but not too often.  Again, just watch your step.  Hope that helps you out if and when you have your next encounter with a snake in the Smokies.

I’ll put more information about this in the show notes and on smokymountainsradio.com


Spotlight Hike of the Week (Kanati Fork Trail):

It has been several weeks since we had a new Spotlight Hike of the Week.  But is back just in time for the busy season to begin here in the next few weeks.  Once school is out, here come the crowds.  They have already started building over the last several weeks, so this week, we are going to take a hike to get away from a lot of the people that hides in plain sight and is still easy to get to for most people regardless of where they are staying.  This week we head to the North Carolina side of Newfound Gap Road and tackle the Kanati Fork Trail.

This trail is located right off Newfound Gap Road.  From Sugarlands, it is 22 miles up and over the gap.  From Cherokee it is roughly 12 miles.  The parking area is small, and not marked as distinctly as Chimney Tops, Alum Cave, or basically any other.  That is to say, it is easy to miss, so don’t drive to fast when you get close or you will have to turn around, which can be a pain in the rear on this road, especially when there is construction or maintenance in the area, which is fairly often.  If coming from Sugarlands the parking is on the left side of the road, from Cherokee it is on the right.  Unfortunately, the trailhead is on the opposite side of the road as the parking, so you do have to cross.  Not usually much of a problem, but occasionally people fly through this area, so just keep your eyes open for cars, especially if you are taking the little ones with you.  If the parking area is full, you can park on the shoulder adjacent to the parking area as long as your car is pulled well off the road.

The Kanati Fork trailhead sign will greet you as you start.  At least it should.  I have seen it missing more than once.  Just an FYI.  But it is the only trail on that side of the road for some time, so you can’t miss it.  Today, we will be traveling a total of 6 miles roundtrip on this moderate hike.  But the good news is, it can be 6 miles, you can turn around wherever you like, or make it a loop or shuttle hike.

The biggest attraction on this hike is flowers and views, and both are abundant.  I wanted to get this hike in at this time of year, because the best time of year for this hike is the best time to see them.  If you wait until the summer, most of the vast amounts of flowers will be gone and the trees will have filled in so much that some of your views will be obscured.  So go now.  Really, you can finish this show later.  But if you are still there, let’s get into it a little bit more.

As you start, there is not a lot going on except the sounds of the rushing cars along Newfound Gap Road.  But you are hiking away from that, so you won’t have to deal with it for too long.  What you will start to notice once you are away from the sounds of traffic is the trail itself.  It is not difficult, but is certainly a steady incline.  It is uphill almost the entire way to the junction.  You will gain just over 2000 feet in three miles.  The good news is that as views open up, you will have a good excuse to stop and rest and take it all in.  You will hear the sounds of Kanati Creek below you to the left of the trail.  You don’t actually pass over the creek, but you will often hear it and sometimes see it.  There are no official trails leading down to the creek.  There are a couple of trails people have made over the years, but I don’t recommend it.  The walk down is steep with thick foliage.  It’s just not worth it, so stay on trail and enjoy the flowers.

As i’ve said before, i’m not a flower/tree guy.  So if you want to know about all the different species along the trail, i’m sure there is a good book about it.  Again, I like to look at it, but don’t care to know much more than that.  But it is an enjoyable part of the hike that helps you forget how high you are traveling.  As you continue, you start to get some good views (depending on the tree cover) of Mount LeConte way off in the distance and views back onto Newfound Gap Road.  That reminds you of just how far you have come.

There are no trails that connect or even come close to this one for the 2.9 miles that it lasts.  The steep terrain around this trail is a good indication of why.  This one is about the flowers and the views, so when you get 2.9 miles in, you hit a trail junction with the Thomas Ridge Trail.  From here you have a couple of options.  The most obvious is to turn around for a total of 6 moderate miles.  You can take a right onto the Thomas Ridge Trail and follow it for 1.8 moderate miles until it terminates with the Newfound Gap Road about 8 miles north of where you started.  This is where you could have a shuttle pick you up or hitch back to your car.

The final option I have never tried, but it is possible with a little planning.  You can turn this into a semi-loop hike by hiking the 2.9 miles of the Kanati Fork Trail, take a right and hike the 1.8 miles of the Thomas Divide Trail, take a shuttle to Newfound Gap from there.  Then hike North on the Appalchian Trail (towards Charlies Bunion) for 1.7 miles, take a right onto Sweat Hefifer trail and follow for 3.7 miles, and then right on Kephart Prong for another 2 miles to get to your car.  That takes our total mileage for the day to 10 miles.  That is certainly a doable day hike, though strenuous for sure.  It is just a lot of turns and logistics, so if you do this one, take a map or print this hike from Smoky Mountains Radio so you don’t take a wrong turn.  I will likely give this one a try this summer and let you know how it goes.  Give part of it or all of it a try on your next trip to the Smokies!

I’ll put more information about this hike in the show notes and on SmokyMountainsRadio.com


Before we get to the wrap up, I wanted to share a couple of messages I got this week from our listeners.  Dexter wrote in about cell coverage in the park that we discussed last week and said his coverage with AT&T was basically non-existent from the time that he got into the park on the Sugarlands side all the way headed up Newfound Gap Mountain.  Terry wrote in and said he has decent cell signal, again with AT&T around Fontana Dam, but nowhere else.  That’s obviously on the North Carolina side.  And Chip wrote and said, I have Sprint, need I say more?  I’m guessing that means he’s got nothing either.  That is certainly interesting.  Thanks for writing in guys, and if any of you can add to that ,be sure to contact me.  I did speak with a buddy that just got done hiking the AT in the Smokies and he said that his cell service was awful everywhere on the trail except for the first and last five miles of the trail, or about where you are closer to civilization.  The other 60 or so miles was spotty at best.  And he has verizon just like me.

I got a great emil a this week from Tim down in Louisiana.  He wrote, “Mike thank you so much for the great show.  I am headed up to Gatlinburg in mid June. My family isn’t really the hiking type, but I definitely am.  I want to do at least a couple of hikes without leaving the family for too long.  If I leave early in the morning I can get done with them before they wake up (Been there).  What is your opinion on hikes that are the best that can be finished in 3-5 hours?  I like hikes with views the best.  Thanks again man!”  Well thanks for that email Tim, and what a great topic!  I have done this myself for years.  I did it when I traveled with my dad when he was on business trips and with family that didn’t want to hike.  I’ll say up front that there are literally dozens of hikes that can be finished in 3-5 hours.  Since you are staying in Gatlinburg, i’ll give you some ideas that won’t have you driving very far so you can maximize your time in the mountains.  The one thing you didn’t tell me is if you want to do one hike each day you are there or just want to take a day and do a few at a time.  I’ll try to be as complete as possible.

Option 1 – Alum Cave Bluffs.  Just over 2 miles to the Bluffs.  Located right on Newfound Gap Road.  Amazing views from the Bluffs.  Just terrific, and a great place to watch the sun rise.  It would take you roughly 20 minutes to drive there from town and about 2-2.5 hours to hike.  Depending on your fitness level, you might even do it quicker.  The last time I went to the Bluffs I was there in 40 minutes. Like you, I needed to get back to family.

Option 2 -Chimey Tops – Four miles round trip.  Hard as heck, but a quick hike.  Located right on Newfound Gap Road.  Some of the best views in the park.  Takes about 15 minutes from town to the trailhead.  Again, figure about 2 to 2.5 hours to hike.  Great hike though.  I’ve done this one with the Bluffs before, which is only a few miles further up the road.

Option 3 – AT to CHarlies Bunion – This one might be pushing it a little bit.  It is located at the very top of Newfound gap road.  Plan on 30 minutes to get to the trailhead.  The hike is 8 miles roundtrip, though you could hike just part of it.  There are views all over the place along the way.  If you do the whole thing, plan on at least 4.5 – 5 hours total.  That will probably be stretching it a bit too much.

There are many others, but they are not primarily view hikes.  Laurel Falls (done in an hour or so), Grotto Falls (done in less than an hour), Little River Loop (about 3 hours), Henwallow Falls (about 2 hours).  These are all pretty easy hikes within a short driving distance.  All of these are located within a fair distance to Gatlinburg either on Newfound Gap Road, Little River Road, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, or in the Greenbrier section of the park about 15 minutes outside of town.  Any of these should work, but the first three options are your best bets for view hikes that are close to where you are staying.  Hope that helps you out.  Great question, I may do a larger segment in a later episode.  Thanks for writing in!


Hey, thanks for joining us week my friends.  Whether you have been with us a week or for the last year, i’m very glad you are here and I really appreciate that you took the time out of your day to listen to the show.  Before we wrap up, I want to let you know to be sure to check out SmokyMountainsRadio.com for all your Smokies needs. Contact me all the ways on the website.  I’m glad to hear from each and every one of you.  You got a new hike this week to go with the 50 or so we have covered and the 70 or so up on the website.  That should be incentive enough for everybody.   Pick one of the dozens and then ….GO TAKE A HIKE!




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