Ep. 63 – The Bugs Are Here, and Smokies Picnic Areas

SHOW #63  May 19, 2015


This week on Episode 63 Smoky Mountains Radio,The Bugs Are Here, Picnic Areas, and Poll Results! Let’s go!


It is Tuesday, May 18, 2015 and this is Episode 63 of Smoky Mountains Radio.  Good to be with you all once again this week.  I’m Mike, and i’ll be your guide around the 800 plus square miles of the Smoky Mountains and the 150 square miles of towns that border the parks.  If need info about coming to the Smokies, you will find it here.  Put my 40 years of experience to work for you to have the best vacation possible.

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

I got a voicemail from listener Randy this week…not that Randy, but a new one to the show.  Anyway, sorry I couldn’t get back to you right away.  Hopefully you found what you were looking for in Gatlinburg.  It was a jam-packed weekend, thus no show Sunday, so I didn’t even get the chance to check voicemails until this morning.  Anyway, hope you had a good time.  If you are still in town, look in the village shopping center.  It is the first store on your right.  The other one is the last building in town on the way to the mountains on your left.

I also got an email from listener Candace this week about two things that I think are both timely and timeless.  Anyway, first off, thanks for all of the compliments about the show.  I really appreciate it all.  Also, Candace is on the ball.  She is planned and prepared.  In fact, if I were doing all that in one trip, I would be exhausted.  But it looks like you guys will have a blast.  You just might need a vacation after your vacation to recover.  Anyway, to your questions…  She really wants to see the fireflies when she comes.  We went over this in detail in a previous episode if you don’t know what we are talking about.  It is a massive display in the Elkmont section of the park.  However, you have to have a pass to both park and take part in the event.  Passes go quickly and have already sold out.  There is hope though Candace.  Each morning at 10:00am (eastern time), the park will release 85 passes online.  They are first come, first serve, so be ready early like you are online waiting to purchase concert or sporting event tickets.  If you don’t get the first day, try again the next.  Go to www.recreation.gov or call 877-444-6777.  Hope that helps.

Secondly, when you go rafting, Candace has been told to leave everything in her car.  We can all see the issue there i’m sure.  Thieves!!  Some places offer places to keep your things while you go.  Others don’t.  Obviously the company you are using does not offer this service.  The best suggestion i’ve got is to leave everything you can at your hotel and go back afterwards.  Anything non-essential just leave behind. If you have stuff you need to leave in the car, keep it in the trunk, in the glove box, or anywhere else out of sight.  For essential things I have to have, I keep them on me.  My wallet and cell stay on me.  I have a waterproof fanny-pack type thing that I keep on me.  My stuff stays dry and has no chance of falling out.  You might look into something like that.  However, I have seen no instance of break-ins during these trips.  The parking lots are a lot more easily seen than the trailheads in the national park.  I don’t really anticipate much in the way of problems.  I have left my radar detector and ipod out before with no problems.  My buddy drives his jeep with the top and doors off and has never had anything stolen.  Hope that gives you a little piece of mind.

And finally, going to see the wonderland hotel and all the surrounding buildings is pretty cool.  Just turn into the Elkmont area off of Little River Road until it ends.  Walk up the gravel road/trail for less than a mile, and you are there.  Honestly, you can’t miss it.  Reports from last year make it seem like this was a long lost area, but it is right in plain sight.  Hope that helps you out, and thanks for writing in.  Have a great time on your trip!

Let’s keep moving..

The Bugs Are Here

The bugs are here!  And i’m not talking about the cute fireflies that Candace and everybody else wants to see.  I’m talking about the ones that will annoy you with every step you take in these Smoky Mountains.  Summer brings out the bugs in droves.  And with them comes a huge level of frustration, bites, and counter measures.  Like everywhere else in the world you are going to experience much higher levels of bugs around water, especially standing water.  So places that have waterfalls, streams, or rushing tides are going to be the worst for the bugs.  Also, places that have lots of flowers and berries are going to be bug ridden.  Trails like Jakes Creek for the water and Andrews Bald for the flowers come to mind off the top of my head.  So what do you do?

These bugs are going to get everywhere.  They end up in your face, eyes, hair, and yes, your mouth.  They attack your legs, arms, and anywhere else you have exposed flesh.  They get so rough at some times that you actually forget about the hiking experience.  I’ve seen plenty of people that actually turn around and go back to their car because of the bugs.   There are bees, sweat bees, wasps, gnat, black flies, and no see ums.  You won’t see them until they attack.  That is just not gonna work. You aren’t going to be rid of them regardless of what you do, but you can take a few steps to at least minimize their impact.

The first tip might seem counter intuitive based on summer time, but one easy step to take is to wear pants and shirts with sleeves.  Without much exposed flesh, they can’t get you as much.  During the summer here, temps can reach 100 with heat indexes over 110.  That may seem nuts to you.  If you go that route, make sure you get clothes that are thin and light colored.  Of course, no cotton.  Not even in summer time.  Also, wear a hat and sunglasses.  Sunglasses, even if it’s not sunny, will help keep the little demons out of your eyes and the hat keeps them somewhat off of your head.  Many of my friends like to wear those fisherman type hats with the brim that goes all around their head.  They say that helps keep them off their necks.  I will often wrap a bandana around my head and neck to get the same result.

Bug repellent, at least to me, is essential this time of year.  Plenty of people don’t use it, but I will.  There are a million kinds, and I don’t recommend any brand over another, but any brands I use have to have one thing…DEET.  DEET is a little controversial and there are studies that say that it leads to health issues.  Other studies say not a chance.  To me, it ends up like the debate over milk.  Pick a year and you will discover that milk is either good for you or bad for you.  Personally, I use the stuff with DEET for one simple reason….it works.  It won’t keep you completely bug free, but it works far better than anything else.  It does tend to have a pretty strong odor that takes at least one or two showers to get rid of, but that is probably why it works well.  If you don’t want to take the risk, you will pretty much have to seriously lather on the other stuff to get close to the same effect.

If you gotta do the hikes around lots of wildflowers and water and you have taken all the steps mentioned, you will end up….okayish.  I do have one final thing that I keep in my pack for the extra buggy days, and that is a mosquito netting that I can put over my face and tuck into my neckline on my shirt.  Yes, I end up looking like a bee keeper, but I don’t end up eating bugs, flailing my arms everywhere, and swearing obscenities all down the trail.  And I get to watch the people that do.  That is a win-win scenario folks.

The farther you can stay above tree line on hikes with drop-offs around you instead of trees and water, the less you will be affected by this.  So plan strategically if the bugs are particularly bad. Oh, and be sure to bring anti itch cream.  You are gonna need it!  Hope that helps you beat the bugs on your next hike in the Smokies.

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

Picnic Areas

One of the best ways to get into the mountains that is accessible for absolutely everyone is to make a stop at one of the many Picnic Areas around the area.  Picnic areas are in the heart of the mountains, usually right off of a main road.  And even though you are off a main road, you do feel like you are at least a little off the beaten path and in some cases, right in the heart of the action.

As you might expect, all the picnic areas in the Smoky Mountains have similarities and differences, so let’s go over that now.  If you aren’t convinced that you should stop at one and have a meal yet, keep listening.

There are currently 11 picnic areas and pavilions scattered around the property from Look Rock to Big Creek and Greenbrier to Deep Creek. North, South, East, and West, there is one close by to wherever you are staying.  Hours of operation can vary quite a bit depending on the time of year, so i’m going to break it down as simply as possible.

General operating hours are sunrise to sunset.  During the summer months, they have a closing time of 8:00pm, which is pretty close to sunset that time of year anyway.  Nearly all of them have gates that are locked in the evening, so you will have to take your car and go when it is closed.  It is not like a trailhead where you can leave your car overnight and hike.  Basically, they are trying to make sure that nobody is there overnight camping illegally or having fires during hours when park staff are not as abundant to take care of things.  So you will have to abide by the hours.  Also be aware that some of these picnic areas are closed during the winter.  Only Cades Cove, Deep Creek, Greenbrier, and Metcalf Bottoms are open year round.  They are also the picnic areas at the lowest elevations…aka, less snow and ice. There are pavilions that can be rented out for a fee up to one year in advance.  For the smaller pavilions, the timeline is shorter, but book as soon as possible.  Dates fill up very quickly for these.  Rates range from 10 to 100 bucks.  That is pretty wide, but again, the size of the pavilion has a lot to do with that. If you want more detailed information about each pavilion, rates, and operating season/hours, i’ll put a link in this week’s show notes.


So what can you actually do at these?  For starters, you can eat.  I know its a picnic area and that part is probably obvious, but there it is.  There are picnic tables all over the place for you to set up your stuff, and a metal grill for you to cook food.  This will obviously require you to bring charcoal as well, but for some reason, a hamburger tastes better in the mountains!  Each of the spots are first come, first serve.  The great thing is that most of these places are right next to streams or views, or both.  That is pretty outstanding.  Food and a view is hard to beat.   There are restrooms located at each of them, so you don’t have to worry about being in the middle of the woods without a bathroom.  No need to uses leaves.  You have working toilets onsite.

They also cost you nothing.  That’s right.  Unless you are reserving one of the big pavilions, this does not cost you a dime.  Just pull in, turn off the car, and spread out.  Some of the areas have short nature hikes, some give you a place to wade in the water, but they are all pretty great.  They can also get quite busy during peak months.  Take my favorite of all of them, Chimney Tops Picnic Area.  July and August will be packed at times most people eat, from about 12-2 and 5-7.  Sometimes just finding a parking spot can be a little difficult.  But that is because it is so excellent.  There is a stream right next to your grill if you park at the left side of area and views of the Chimneys themselves.  You can’t beat it.  And it is literally just feet off of Newfound Gap Road.  But honestly, i’ve had just as great of an experience at Cades Cove, Metcalf Bottoms (my second favorite), and Greenbrier.

A couple of things to take note of though.  The first thing is to make sure that any fire that you start is completely out before you leave the area.  I have seen people leave smoldering ashes plenty of times.  It makes me crazy.  Fire pits and grates are spaced and landscaped in such a way that it would be difficult to spread a fire, but certainly not impossible.  If you have ever had a fire pit at home or heck, just the bbq in the back yard you know that fire can be finicky.  Put it completely out.  Along those same lines, do not burn your trash.  There are signs posted and it is common sense, but don’t do it.  Bears frequent picnic areas because those aromas (among other things) bring them in.  Put your trash in the trash cans.  There are bear proof trash receptacles all over the place.  Don’t leave any trash laying around, it attracts all kinds of creatures.  If you dropped a hot dog, pick it up and toss it in the trash.  Besides the obvious problems it causes, littering also just looks bad.  Don’t leave the next guest a bad experience.  Check out my rant in episode 52 about litter in the national park if you want to hear more about that.  Just keep it clean.  There have been many times over the years that picnic areas and campsites have been closed due to bear activity.  This is 100% preventable if we all do our part. I, like most of you, really like seeing bears in the park.  But I don’t want to see one in a picnic area.  That has the potential for a really bad day.  One other tip about food that many people don’t think about.  There are often leftovers after a cookout at a picnic area.  If you plan to go hiking, leaving them in the car is a bad idea.  Just check out the videos on YouTube of bears breaking into cars with food.  It never ends well for the car and the bear always gets its meal.  So just like on the trails, pack it out or put it in the bear proof containers.

To wrap it up though, picnic areas are a gem in the Smokies.  They are an easy, and inexpensive way to enjoy the mountains.  You won’t find a cookout with better scenery anywhere else.  I assure you of that.

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

Poll Results:

We had our first new poll in a few weeks all about wildlife in the Smokies.  As I got to know several of you through correspondence or phone calls over the last many months, I came to realize that in many ways, we are like-minded people, complete with the sarcasm and sense of humor that I truly appreciate.  Where am I going with this?  Well, as I said, this week’s poll was all about what wildlife you would most like to see in the Smokies.  I gave you several options including bears, deer, elk, boars, squirrels, and snakes.  I also gave you the option to write in your answer, and of course, that got interesting!  So here are the official results as of yesterday at 10pm.  Receiving no votes, not even one…boars, snakes, and squirrels.  I even tried to make a plug for the little squirrels last week, but to no avail.  Perhaps the segment on snakes two weeks ago made you think twice about voting for that one.  With 5 percent of the vote, our first write in, the River Otter.  Deer were next with 10 percent of the vote.  And in a three way tie for second place, your creative nature came out.  Elk, Bigfoot, and Naked Female Hikers all received 15 percent of the vote.  I love the creativity guys, I really do.  How about a Naked Female Bigfoot?  That would just blow your minds.  I’ll tell you where to find that at some point next year.  Stay tuned and don’t miss an episode.  And our top vote getter with 40% of the vote, Stephen Colbert’s biggest nemesis, BEARS!  I figured that one would win.  You hear people on trail looking for bears like Elmer Fudd hunting wabbits.  That is my favorite as well, though I am certainly open to a sighting of a naked female hiker if Olivia Wilde, Kate Upton, or Megan Fox are listening.  Thanks to all of you for participating.  We had just over 200 votes this time around.  Since bears was the big winner today, if you want to see a bear, I invite you to go back to episode 35.  There is a lot of info about how and where to see them.  I’ve talked about bears several times on the show, so if you want to find all that, just go to SmokyMountainsRadio.com and type bears in the search box at the top of the page.  Thanks to everyone for participating in this week’s poll.  We will have a brand new poll for you next week!


I’ve added 15 or so new hikes to the website at SmokyMountainsRadio.com  They are organized by difficulty, popularity, and waterfalls even have their own category simply because there are so many of them in the parks.  Be sure to check all that out.  Especially you Candace since you are planning on doing like 5 of them on your next trip!  Thanks to everyone for writing or calling in.  I much appreciate it.  Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter and contact me at any time with a question or comment about the Smokies or the show. You know I love hearing from you. Until next time my friends, lace up the boots, cover yourself in DEET, and GO TAKE A HIKE!




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