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How to Choose An Overnight Hike

September is just around the corner and cooler weather is on the way.  Jim Parham’s forthcoming Backpacking Overnights guidebook, which covers the mountains of north Georgia and east Tennessee, has us thinking about multi-day hiking trips. Here’s his advice for choosing a route, with additional tips on choosing a backcountry campsite in the Southern Appalachians.

Choosing Your Overnight Hike
In general, pick a hike based on your self-assessed ability level and/or your time constraints.

Easier hikes are best for beginners or folks looking for a quick trip out and back. They also make good father-son, mother-daughter, father-daughter (you get the idea) trips.

Moderate routes are for those who have more time or are ready to step up the challenge a notch.

Strenuous hikes are for advanced backpackers.

Planning ahead will make your trip infinitely more enjoyable. Does the campsite require an advance reservation—as, for example, in Georgia state parks? How long will it take to reach the trailhead? Have you allowed enough time to get to a campsite well before dark? What’s the weather forecast? Are there places where a flooded stream could be difficult or impossible to ford? Consider all these factors when choosing a route.

Finding, Choosing, and Setting Up Your Backcountry Campsite
On most routes described in my guidebooks, rarely will you (nor should you) camp where no one has camped before. Using established campsites is one way to minimize your impact on the environment. Though many of the campsites may be worn, at least you’re restricting the wear to one area instead of spreading the damage to any bit of flat ground near a water source.
    In Georgia’s state parks you’ll make a reservation in advance; once you’re there, what you see is what you get. Everywhere else in Georgia and Tennessee you’ll have a choice, and it’s good to know what to look for. A good site will have these elements:

• A water source nearby
• Enough level space to set up your shelter and prepare your food
• An established fire ring, if you plan to have a campfire
• A tree within about 100 yards to hang your bear bag
• A clean and not completely worn out tent spot
• Protection from open ridgetops where lightning could strike. Also, be
   wary of standing dead trees within range of your sleeping area; the
   tree could fall or drop limbs unexpectedly—it happens!

For backpacking routes in North and South Carolina, see  Jim’s Backpacking Overnights: North Carolina Mountains, South Carolina Upstate. 

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