Are you afraid of the guy at the trailhead that seems to be lurking a little too long and checking out your ’98 Camry? Have you gotten an uneasy feeling with someone at a campsite when you are in the backcountry? Well, if you answered yes to any of those questions, you are not alone. One of the questions I get asked about the most (especially by my mother) has to do with safety in the Smokies. Here is the good news; the parks are quite safe. Rangers patrol the trails and parking areas regularly and there is not a lot of trashy people in the mountains themselves. Like anywhere else though, taking precautions can help make sure you that you are not a victim of something easily preventable.
PARKING AREAS: Parking areas are a thief’s best friend. They know that you are likely going to be gone hours or even days, and they can take their time breaking into your vehicle. Break-ins have decreased by more than 50% in the last four years, but they still happen from time to time. Here’s how to avoid them.
1) Do not leave doors unlocked and valuables visible. Duh, right? Still, I see iPods, cameras, laptops, and radar detectors all the time simply out for the world to see in an unattended vehicle. Do not give thieves an obvious reason to break into your car. Leave your valuables at home, in the hotel or cabin, or keep them on you. Related to that, take your car keys with you. Some people leave them in their car because they are afraid of losing them on the trail. Take them with you.
2) Do not leave food in your car. This is more about the 4-legged thieves. Food attracts bears, and a locked door is not likely to stop them. Anything left in your car after the bear is done makes for an easy score for our 2-legged thieves.
3) Do NOT leave a note in your car about where you are and when you will be back. People often do this to let loved ones know where they are in their journey or if they are afraid their car will be towed if left for a long period of time. It’s not gonna happen. Don’t worry about it. Call family before you go and don’t leave a note. You might as well leave a note telling a thief to rob you. It sounds silly, but I have seen this on many, many occasions.
4) Call the Ranger station for bad areas. If there has been a problem area lately, they are going to know about it. I have done this in the past and altered where I was going to hike as a result.
CAMPSITES: Like the parking areas, camp sites are generally safe. Simply precautions can help make sure you are not a victim of any type of crime, and I do not mean packing your Glock.
1) Do not camp close to a road. Most of the campsites in the Smokies are several miles in from a road, but several are not. Personally, I do not stay at a sight that is less than two miles from asphalt. The drunkards or stalkers hang out in these places. They do not generally have the stamina or dedication to put in real mileage to do you harm. If you can physically see the road from your campsite, this is a big red flag.
2) Do not be afraid to pack up and leave. I have met very few shady people when hiking. But, if you are set up at a campsite and you feel uncomfortable for whatever reason with people around you, pack up and leave. Either hike on to another campsite or simply head back to the car. No one is going to fault you for that, and it is worth the piece of mind. If you have ever section hiked over long stretches, you have likely done this at least once.
3) Carry your cell phone. I hate phones on the trails, but it is a good thing to have….just in case. Service is still spotty in several areas of the park, but it seems coverage gets more complete every day.
Again, there are very few worries in the Smokies. You are surrounded by mostly likeminded people who simply want to be out in nature and connect with the world. Simple, common sense precautions can help make sure your next trip is a positive experience.