Why did you go to UT? The obvious answer for many is that Tennessee is the flagship public institution in their home state. Maybe it has a great program for your major, or you just really like the color orange.

While those intentions are understood and justified, most people do not realize that they have chosen a school with great opportunities off campus. Before coming to school here, I had hiked only a handful of times, but after constantly ogling at the Smokies from my dorm room window, I buckled down and decided to give hiking a try that first semester.

Millions of years in the making, the Great Smoky Mountains have gifted this state with abundant wildlife and beautiful scenery, all of which you can visit for free at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

When I ventured into the park for my first hike, I only brought a single water bottle and wore old tennis shoes with holes in them. This not only shows how far I have personally come, but proves that anyone from any experience level can begin hiking.

So why should you spend your next weekend hiking in the Smokies?

It is a great question, as hiking requires a great time investment — possibly sacrificing a night out on the town to get a good night’s sleep — and can also be a strenuous workout depending on what trails you decide to hike. Do not let this discourage you though, as the benefits far outweigh any negatives. That is why I prioritize hiking. That one day is vastly more beneficial to me than any number of nights out could ever be.

How does Hiking benefit me?

Since I have begun hiking, I’ve physically felt better. It provides a workout that is not monotonous, but fun, rigorous and outdoors. I also tend to be in a better mood and see significant stress relief just from the act of getting away from school and into the mountains — all of this and more has even been proved from reputable sources including a Harvard Medical School journal.

With mental and physical benefits, you would think there is not much more one could possibly get from hiking, but you would be wrong.

Personally, hiking has allowed me to get to know some of my friends so much better and provided an opportunity for quality time with my compatriots in the mountains. I have also seen sights that are indescribably beautiful and are etched in my mind forever.

If you ever want to see the beauty of the Tennessee landscape, I have found no better view than that from Charlie’s Bunion.

If you ever feel like a swim but the TRECS is not your scene, Abrams Falls has the perfect swimming hole on a warm and sunny afternoon.

There are so many opportunities out there, and all it takes is a little motivation.

How can you make this hike happen?

It is really easy, everything considered. At least a few days before you plan to go, do your research. To start, I use the Hiking the Smokies website to get all the information on different trails I’d like to hike. Then I fill a bag with supplies such as food, water, dry clothes or just some sunglasses — if I’m spending the day in the laid-back Cades Cove enclave.

Dress appropriately. Great Smoky Mountain National Park is quite cold in the mornings and evenings, and I have found myself in many situations needing more clothes in such places as the Appalachian Trail, which traverses the ridges of the Smokies.

Also hydrate! I use a hydration pack, and its ability to carry lots of water is the reason I am able to summit Mount LeConte or hike to the scenic views from the Jump Off — both thousands of feet up.

The last piece of advice I have for you, enjoy it.

Hiking is not a competition, there are no rules. You do not win or lose, you only have yourself for direction. I enjoy hiking because I want to, not because anyone else tells me to and that is truly the point of going out into the great outdoors.

Remember, by coming to school in Knoxville, whether you knew it are not, you have given yourself easy access to some of the greatest hiking in the United States. Do not take that for granted.

Seth Carter is a sophomore majoring in kinesiology. He can be reached at wcarte29@vols.utk.edu.

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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