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How to Be a Responsible Traveler

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Hedged on all sides by public lands that span over a third of the county’s total acreage, Haywood County is a sanctuary of natural beauty. As one of only two headwater counties in the country, our lands, wildlife, and people thrive on water that is exclusively local and distinctly pure. In 2023, NC Rural Water Association designated Maggie Valley’s water as the best-tasting in the state! This privilege is a direct reflection of the rich biodiversity and health of our sprawling forest ecosystem. From treetops to groundwater, our environment moves in a continuous, precious cycle which we must protect. 

From hiking some of the region’s highest peaks, kayaking on the Pigeon River, and fishing heritage trout streams to elk-watching and cruising the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, Haywood County is teeming with opportunities for outdoor recreation. And that’s where you come in! Everyone who visits Haywood County can impact the health of our natural spaces, for better or worse.  It’s up to you to make conscientious decisions about what kind of traveler you’ll be. Use this guide to ensure you have a fun outdoor experience at no risk to yourself, others, or the environment around you.  

 

Are You a Responsible Traveler?

Being a Responsible traveler means making conscious choices about your interactions to minimize your impact on the environment, be respectful of local communities and cultures, and make a positive contribution wherever you go.  

A Responsible Traveler is… 
  • Prepared: You’ve gathered information about local regulations and safety contacts for the location and destination you are heading to. Poor planning may result in a bad outing at best, and a dangerous situation at worst.  
  • Conscious of their environmental impact: You employ sustainable practices like using reusable bottles, properly disposing of trash and other waste, and staying mindful of your energy and water usage. The Outdoor NC Leave No Trace Principles are the golden standard for environmentally friendly outdoor traveling.  
  • Kind to the community and other travelers: You welcome locals as a part of your journey and connect with the people you meet along the way. Here in Haywood, we’re known for our uniquely welcoming spirit ––return that Appalachain hospitality in kind, and you might just get insider tips on the county’s hidden gems! 
  • Eager to give back: Become a destination steward during your visit by participating in or donating to a local conservation or outdoor stewardship organization like Haywood Waterways, Carolina Mountain Club, and the Environmental Action Community of WNC.  

LEAVE NO TRACE

Be prepared for outdoor adventures. 

Our public lands are irreplaceable reservoirs for crucial natural resources and enriching recreation. To continue enjoying these spaces, we need to ensure that all visitors to our parks and forests visit mindfully. One of the best ways to minimize your impact and maximize the fun for future generations is to practice the 7 Outdoor NC Leave No Trace Principles, which ensure the safety of wildlife and travelers alike.  

  • Before you travel, learn about your destination, its regulations, and safety measures. See the bottom of this page for informational and emergency contacts for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway.  
  • To reduce your impact, choose lesser-known areas and times of high use.  
  • Have a backup plan in case your chosen destination is crowded, or parking areas are full. Parking illegally endangers you, other travelers, and wildlife. Only park in designated areas.  
  • Keep to designated trails and durable surfaces to protect trailside plants. Camp at existing or designated sites.  
  • In the backcountry, confine your impact to places that already show use, and limit the area of disturbance.  
  • Take rest breaks on durable surfaces off the designated trail so that others can pass.  
  • Be cautious. Stay within your party’s skill level. Know what to do in case of poor weather, rockslides, flash flooding, slick rocks around waterfalls, and other potential hazards.
  • Take your trash. Place all trash in garbage bags and carry it home. Food scraps, cigarette butts, and other litter can take years to decompose and are unhealthy for wildlife.  
  • If adventuring with pets, plan to pack out their waste as well. When camping in remote areas, have a plan to dispose of human waste properly.  Please note, while dogs are welcome on the Blue Ridge Parkway, they are not allowed on Great Smoky Mountain National Park trails. 
  • The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pisgah National Forest, and Blue Ridge Parkway are home to an amazing diversity of indigenous plants and animals. To protect those populations, snap a picture instead of picking flowers, gathering rocks, or collecting pinecones.  
  • Leave rocks as you find them to protect critters’ sensitive habitats, prevent erosion, and avert other ecological impacts.  
  • Forgo carving into trees, which inflicts lasting damage and can kill the vegetation. 
  • Adhere to laws that prohibit the removal of natural objects from national parks and other protected places.  
  • If you choose to have a fire, check on regulations, secure a permit if needed, and keep the fire small. If allowed, gather wood from the ground instead of breaking branches from trees. Buy firewood locally to avoid bringing in invasive species.  
  • Burn all wood to ash. Before leaving, check that the fire is completely out and ashes are cold.  
  • On overnight camping trips, use a stove for cooking.  
  • From black bears and elk to salamanders and birds, all wildlife should be treated with respect in the natural areas you are visiting.  
  • Observe creatures from a distance. It is illegal to approach elk and black bears at distances shorter than 50 yards, and incredibly dangerous.  
  • Refrain from feeding wild animals. It alters their natural behavior and puts them and you at risk. When camping, store food securely. Keep garbage and food scraps out of the reach of wildlife.  
  • People have a range of skill levels and different ideas about how to enjoy the outdoors. Respect others so that our natural spaces will be welcoming and relaxing for all.  
  • Be mindful of your noise level so that others can listen to nature.  
  • Honor the rule of thumb that those traveling downhill will yield to those traveling uphill.  
  • Be considerate when passing others on the trail. Politely announce your presence and proceed with caution.  

 

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO 

We want you to have a safe and enjoyable visit by checking the most up-to-date travel resources: 

IMPORTANT EMERGENCY CONTACTS

Here are important Haywood County contacts and resources you should know before heading out: 

  • In an emergency or to report a wildfire, call 911 immediately.  
  • To check road conditions in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, call (865) 436-1200 and follow the automated prompts or click here.  
  • For road conditions and closures along the Blue Ridge Parkway, call the recorded information line at (828) 271-4779 and follow the automated prompts or click here. 
  • To receive emergency or critical event information for the county, opt-in to Haywood Alerts by texting a Haywood County zip code to 888-777.  
  • To contact Haywood County’s designated North Carolina Forest Service ranger, call 828-627-6551.  
  • To report an accident on the Blue Ridge Parkway (including hitting an animal), dial 1-800-ParkWatch in the absence of a nearby ranger.  
  • Haywood Search and Rescue: (828) 452-6600 

 

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