Backpacker

The 10 RULES of SOLITUDE

1. HACK THE PERMIT SYSTEM

GROUND ZERO GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK, TN/NC

If you can find solitude here, you can find it anywhere. Great Smoky is the nation’s most crowded park, with more than 11 million visitors last year. But escaping the masses is easier than you’d think. The secret: a real-time online reservation system (smokiespermits.nps.gov). The system lets you see exactly where the crowds are on any given night—so you can go elsewhere. (And always avoid the ever-popular Appalachian Trail, which traverses the highest ridgeline across the park.)

The reservation system is easy to use: All of the available backcountry campsites show up as color-coded numbers on a map of the entire park, making it simple to plan a multi-night itinerary. Click on a red number for a hiker-only site (as opposed to hiker-plus-stock or boat-in-only) and choose your dates. Plug in payment details, and that’s it. If you don’t mind a little uncertainty, you can show up at the park and make same-day reservations. Then go explore Great Smoky’s famed creeks, meadows, and mist-shrouded mountains. Prioritizing solitude means you won’t hit the park’s more popular highlights, but backcountry ranger Nick Yarnell says that’s for the best. “The woods are pretty in themselves,” he says. “If it’s me, I’ll go looking for a random campsite in the middle of nowhere. A waterfall will always draw the crowd. If you’re looking for solitude, bypass the Spring to late fall Required ($4/person per night) for overnights

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