The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Smokies offer activities for visitors of various ages and interests. Recommended activities include camping, hiking the park's more than 800 miles of trails, picnicking, sightseeing, fishing, auto touring, horseback riding, nature viewing, and photographic opportunities abound. Guided horseback rides are available in season at four horse stables in the park in Tennessee and North Carolina.

Waterfalls of the Smokies

Waterfalls adorn most every stream in the Smokies. Only one waterfall, Meigs Falls, is visible from the road. It is 12.9 miles west of the Sugarlands Visitor Center, near the Townsend Wye. All others require hiking, and range from easy to strenuous. Below is a listing of the Smokies' best known falls:

Laurel Falls is the easiest waterfall hike on the Tennessee side of the park. It is 2.5 miles roundtrip, and follows a paved trail. The trail cuts through the middle of a series of cascades. Laurel Falls is 60 feet high.

Grotto Falls is off the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. It is 2.4 miles roundtrip through a hemlock- dominated forest. Grotto Falls is distinctive as the only waterfall in the park one can walk behind.

Chasteen Creek Falls is a 4-mile roundtrip hike out of the Smokemont Campground. A small, but graceful fall, this area makes for a good moderate hike.

Indian Creek Falls is a 1.5 mile roundtrip hike out of the Deep Creek Area. Sliding down 35 feet of sloping rock strata, the water livens and cools the air. Along the route is Toms Branch Falls, another beautiful fall.

Henwallow Falls is near Cosby Campground, south of Cosby, Tennessee. It is 4.4 miles roundtrip along a moderate trail. This 45-foot fall receives less visitation than many other area falls.

Abrams Falls has the largest water volume of any park fall, and is among the most photogenic. Abrams Falls is a 5-mile roundtrip hike. The trail begins in the back of Cades Cove loop road and is a moderate hike.

Ramsey Cascades is a strenuous 8-mile roundtrip hike. The trailhead begins in the Greenbrier Area. A magnificent scene, Ramsey Cascades tumbles over 100 feet in a spectacular setting.

Rainbow Falls, at 80 feet, is the highest single plunge water takes in the park. It is a 5.5-mile roundtrip hike. It is rated between moderate and strenuous. This trail is a good challenge and reveals a beautiful waterfall.

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Hiking in the Smokies

More than 850 miles of hiking trails traverse the Great Smoky Mountains. They range from easy to difficult and provide half hour walks to week-long backpacking trips. The Appalachian Trail runs for 70 miles along the Park's top ridge. Pets are not allowed on any trails except for the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail. Backcountry camping requires a permit.

Safety is important to consider when exploring the backcountry. Here are a few basics to help you get started:

  • Let someone know your route and return time.
  • Always hike with another person.
  • Carry a current park trail map.
  • Carry 2 small flashlights or headlamps.
  • Take adequate water - minimum 2 quarts per person per day.
  • All water taken from the backcountry should be treated.
  • Wear shoes or boots that provide good ankle support.
  • Carry a small first aid kit.
  • Check the current weather forecast and be prepared for quickly changing conditions.

With so many options, the Smokies offer a tremendous number of hiking opportunities. Mentioned below are a few of the most popular destinations:

Alum Cave Trail. This is a 4.4 mile roundtrip hike, rated moderate. It includes Arch Rock, a natural arch, Inspiration Point, and the Alum Cave Bluff. Inspiration Point offers a spectacular view of the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River's upper basin. The trail continues to Mt. Le Conte, and its beautiful viewpoints. Roundtrip distance from the parking to Le Conte is 10 miles. This trail can be icy in winter.

Andrews Bald. A 3.6 mile roundtrip hike, rated moderate. This hike heads downslope to a bald. Excellent views open to the south, toward Fontana Lake, and in early summer the azaleas explode with color. The trail head is located at the end of Clingmans Dome Road, which is closed from December through March.

Charlies Bunion. This 8-mile roundtrip hike is rated strenuous. Following the Appalachian Trail, this hike goes out to rocky crags along the state-line ridge. It has excellent views. This trail can be icy in winter.

These are only a few suggestions. To order more information or buy a hiking map please visit the Great Smoky Mountains Association's Bookstore.

For those who are interested in completing all of the more than 150 hiking trails in the Smokies, you can now become a member of the 900 miler club.

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Pets in the Park

Pets are allowed in campgrounds, picnic areas, parking areas, and along roads, but must be kept on a leash at all times. The leash must not exceed 6 feet in length. Pets are only allowed on two short walking paths--the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail. Pets are not allowed on any other park trails. Pets should not be left unattended in vehicles or RVs.

The Southern Highlands region offers an amazing variety of federal public lands for recreation and enjoyment. Some public lands outside the Smokies offer a wider range of recreational opportunities than are available here, including hiking with you pet. For maps and information about these national forests and recreation areas please call the following numbers:

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (423) 286-7275
Chattahoochee National Forest (770) 297-3000
Cherokee National Forest (423) 476-9700
Mount Rodgers National Recreation Area (800) 628-7202
Nantahala National Forest (828) 257-4200
Pisgah National Forest (828) 257-4200

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Bicycling in the Smokies

Bicycles can travel on most roads within the park. However, due to steep terrain, narrow road surfaces, and heavy automobile traffic, many park roads are not well suited for safe and enjoyable bicycle riding.

Cades Cove Loop Road is an exception. The 11-mile one way road, is a popular bicycling area. It provides bicyclists with excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing and touring 19th century homesites. During summer and fall, bicycles may be rented at the Cades Cove store (located near Cades Cove Campground). For information call (865) 448-9034. Beginning the second week in May, the loop road is closed to motor vehicle traffic Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10:00 a.m. to allow bicyclists and pedestrians to enjoy the cove. This closure continues through the second-to-last Saturday in September.

Other areas suitable for bicyclists include Greenbrier and Tremont roads in Tennessee, and Lakeview Drive, and Cataloochee Valley in North Carolina. Cyclists may also traverse unfinished portions of the Foothills Parkway in Tennessee. Download a park map to locate these areas.

Safety is always a major concern where cars and bicycles must share the road. The State of Tennessee requires that children age 16 and under wear a helmet. We strongly recommend that all riders wear helmets, use rear view mirrors, and ride properly fitted and well-maintained bicycles. Please obey all traffic regulations.

There are no mountain biking trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Gatlinburg Trail, the Oconaluftee River Trail, and the lower Deep Creek Trail are the only park trails on which bicycles are allowed. Bicycles are prohibited on all other park trails.

Mountain biking trails are open on national forest and recreation lands outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For information on mountain biking in these areas, please contact the following offices:

Chattahoochee National Forest (770) 297-3000
Cherokee National Forest (423) 476-9700
Nantahala National Forest (828) 257-4200
Pisgah National Forest (828) 257-4200
Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area (423) 286-7275
Mount Rogers National Recreation Area (800) 628-7207

The Tsali Recreation Area in Nantahala National Forest (listed above) is a popular mountain biking area.

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Fishing in the Smokies

Great Smoky Mountains National Park has about 2,115 miles of streams within its boundaries, and protects one of the last wild trout habitats in the eastern United States. The park offers a wide variety of angling experiences from remote, headwater trout streams to large, coolwater smallmouth bass streams. Most streams remain at or near their carrying capacity of fish and offer a great opportunity to catch these species throughout the year.

Fishing is permitted year-round in the park, from 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset. The park allows fishing in most streams. Certain posted streams are closed to fishing, to protect threatened fishes. Detailed information, including a complete list of regulations and a map of fishable park waters, is available at any visitor center or ranger station.

You must possess a valid fishing license or permit from either Tennessee or North Carolina. Either state license is valid throughout the park and no trout stamp is required. Fishing licenses and permits are not available in the park, but may be purchased in nearby towns. Special permits are required for fishing in Gatlinburg and Cherokee.

Tennessee License Requirements
Residents and nonresidents age 13 and older must have a valid license. Residents age 65 and older may obtain a special license from the state.

North Carolina License Requirements
Residents and nonresidents age 16 and older need a license. Residents age 70 and older may obtain a special license from the state.

Persons under 16 in North Carolina and under 13 in Tennessee are entitled to the adult daily bag and possession limits and are subject to all other regulations.

Daily possession limits:

  • Any combination of rainbow trout, brown trout, smallmouth bass totaling 5
  • 20 rockbass
  • A person must stop fishing once reaching the limit

Size limits

  • Rainbow and brown trout: 7in. minimum
  • Smallmouth bass: 7in. minimum
  • Rockbass: no minimum
  • Trout or smallmouth bass caught less than the legal length shall be immediately returned to the water from which it was taken.

Lures, bait, and equipment

  • Fishing is permitted only by the use of one hand-held rod.
  • Only artificial flies or lures with a single hook may be used. Dropper flies may be used. Up to two flies on a leader.
  • Use or possession of any form of fish bait or liquid scent other than artificial flies or lures on or along any park stream while in possession of fishing tackle is prohibited.

    Prohibited baits include, but are not limited to, minnows (live or preserved), worms, corn, cheese, bread, salmon eggs, pork rinds, liquid scents and natural baits found along streams.
  • Use or possession of double, treble, or gang hooks is prohibited.
  • Fishing tackle and equipment, including creels and fish in possession, are subject to inspection by authorized personnel.

Please report violators to nearest ranger or to (865) 436-1294.

Standing and wading in streams can drain body heat and lead to hypothermia. Rising water levels resulting from sudden mountain storms occur quite frequently, so monitor water level. Water currents are swifter than they appear and footing is treacherous on wet and moss covered rocks. Additional information about water safety.

Be a clean fisherman
If there's a tangle of line, or an empty can at your feet, clean up after your fellow angler.

Experimental Brook Trout Fishery
Brook trout are the only native salmonid in the park. Since the turn of the century, the brook trout has lost about 75% of its range in the park due to logging and the introduction of the non-native rainbow trout.

The park has had an active brook trout restoration program since 1987. The primary objective of this program is to restore native brook trout populations to streams with natural barriers such as waterfalls that prevent invasion of non-native trout species. To date, this program has restored nine streams, and the restoration of eight additional streams at mid-to-low elevations is planned. The park's brook trout restoration efforts have restored 11.1 miles of stream or 11% of the 97.5 miles of stream exclusively occupied by brook trout.

Stream acidity has increased 5-fold in high elevation streams in the last 20 years due to pollution from the combustion of fossil fuels. These data add urgency to the need to restore brook trout to streams at lower elevations with more stable water chemistry.

Because of the results of recent fisheries research and the success of the park's brook trout restoration effort, park management has opened sections of eight streams to brook trout fishing and harvest on an experimental basis. Four of the stream segments are in North Carolina and four are in Tennessee. The same possession and minimum size restrictions apply to brook trout in these streams that apply to trout fishing in other open park waters (maximum possession five total fish, minimum length seven inches). The eight streams open to brook trout fishing are shown on the map side of this folder in yellow. The three-year experimental opening begins July 1, 2002.

The eight open streams will be monitored annually and anglers catch and harvest success will be periodically checked. At the conclusion of the experiment, biologists will evaluate the data and make recommendations for the future of brook trout fishing in the park.

Frequently Asked Fishing Questions
Why can't I use bait?

The mission of the National Park Service is to protect and preserve naturally functioning ecosystems. Research has shown that intentionally or accidentally introduced non-native species of fish, animals, and plants can have very serious negative impacts on native species. In fact, non-native animals and fish now threaten many native fish species in national parks.

Bait fishing is prohibited to prevent accidental introductions of non-native aquatic organisms. Anglers often release unused bait at the end of a day of fishing without realizing their bait can may be filled with non-native organisms that may harm native fish. The collection of naturally occurring bait is also prohibited because it may upset natural ecological balances in habitats where collection occurs.

Historic information shows that fish caught with corn or bread suffer higher hooking mortality, which may alter the natural age and size structure within the fish community. Chumming with corn or bread is illegal under National Park Service regulations.

Why doesn't the park stock fish?
Fishing has been a part of the historic use of Great Smoky Mountains National Park since its creation. From 1934 to 1974 the fishery management program stocked fish for recreational angling. Non-native rainbow trout and northern strains of brook trout were stocked in most of the park's major stream systems through the early 1950s. From then until 1975, stocking occurred only in heavily fished streams and in stream segments adjacent to campgrounds and picnic areas. During this latter period, park managers realized that stocking non-native fish was inconsistent with National Park Service policies and this practice was eliminated in 1975.

National Park Service policies state that in natural areas like the Smokies stocking is only permitted to re-establish native species. The only stocking practiced today seeks to restore endangered and threatened native species like the Smoky Mountain madtom and the spotfin chub to waters where they once thrived.

Fisheries monitoring activities in the park have clearly shown that stocking is not needed. This information shows that many park streams have 2,000-4,000 trout per mile. Many of these are 4"-8" rainbow trout, but in some streams brown trout 8"-20" are commonly found.

Why can't I use a treble hook?
Many of the fish which anglers catch do not meet the park's size limits and must be released. Current fisheries research indicates treble hooks cause higher hooking mortality rates than single hook lures.

Where's the best place to fish?
The park offers a wide variety of angling experiences from remote, headwater trout streams to large, coolwater smallmouth bass streams. Most streams remain at or near their carrying capacity of fish and offer a great opportunity to catch these species throughout the year. So the reality is that the best place to fish depends on the type of experience each angler desires. Remember, fishing pressure tends to be highest nearest the roads.

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Horseback Riding

Renting a Horse

If you wish to rent a horse, horseback riding by the hour is available at commercial stables located in the park from mid-March through late November. There are four stables in the park where you can rent horses. Rates average $20 per hour. Weight limits and age restrictions may apply. Please call the stable you are interested in for operating hours and hourly rates.

  • Cades Cove, near Townsend, TN (865) 448-6286
    (also offers hayrides and carriage rides)
  • Smokemont, near Cherokee, NC (828) 497-2373
  • Smoky Mountain, near Gatlinburg, TN (865) 436-5634.

Bringing Your Horse to the Park

About 550 miles of the park's hiking trails are open to horses. Horses are restricted to trails specifically designated for horse use. If you wish to ride your own horse in the park, please obtain a copy of the park's trail map. This map indicates the trails on which you may ride horses and explains the park's rules and regulations concerning horse riding in the backcountry. It also provides information about backcountry camping, and permit requirements. To obtain an official trail map, stop at any park visitor center or call (865) 436-0120. The cost of the map is $1. You may also download a trail map.

Horses are allowed only on trails specifically designated for horse use. Off-trail or cross-country riding is prohibited. Horse riders may use designated campsites located on trails open to their use, however some backcountry campsites must be reserved in advance. These sites are indicated on the park's trail map.

Five drive-in horse camps provide ready access to backcountry horse trails in the park. Camps are located at Cades Cove (Anthony Creek), Big Creek, Cataloochee, Round Bottom, and Towstring. Horse camps are open from April through October. Reservations are required and may be made for all five-horse camps through the National Park Reservation Service by calling 1-800-365-2267 (park code GRE) between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. Please write down your reservation number-you will need it when you register at the horse camp.

Fees are $20 per site, except for Big Creek, which is $25 per site. You must pay for the site when you make your reservation. Fees are not accepted at the horse camp. Payment can be made by credit card. Personal checks are accepted only if the reservation is made at least 20 days in advance.

Each campsite has a limit of six people and four horses. If you have more than six people or four horses, you will need to reserve another site. Sites vary, but generally you are permitted to have two vehicles and two trailers (horse or camping) at each site.

A cancellation fee will be charged if you cancel your reservation or if we cancel your reservation because you fail to show up. You will also be charged for one night's camping fee if you cancel on or after the day your reservation begins or you fail to show up. To make changes to your reservation or to cancel, please call 1-800-388-2733. If you will be arriving late (i.e. after noon of the second day), please phone 865-436-1230 to hold your reservation.

Auto-access horse camps have picnic tables, grills, designated parking spaces (usually gravel), refuse containers, hitch racks and space to pitch a tent or two. Big Creek has flush toilets with cold water. Other horse camps have portable toilets and no drinking water. Water is available for horses either in the campground or at a nearby stream.

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Picnicking in the park

Picnic areas are located at Big Creek, Chimney Tops, Cades Cove, Collins Creek, Cosby, Deep Creek, Greenbrier, Heintooga, Look Rock, Metcalf Bottoms, and Twin Creeks. Download a park map to view the location of picnic areas in the park.

The picnic areas at Cades Cove, Chimney Tops, Cosby, Deep Creek, Greenbrier, and Metcalf Bottoms remain open year-round. The remaining picnic areas are closed during the winter.

All picnic areas have pavilions except Chimneys and Cades Cove. The picnic pavilions at Collins Creek, Cosby, Deep Creek, Metcalf Bottoms, and Twin Creeks can be reserved for groups up to five months in advance by calling 1-800-365-2267. All pavilions except Twin Creeks cost $20 per use. Twin Creeks' fee ranges from $35-75 depending on the usage. Payment can be made by credit card or personal check at the time the reservation is made.

Please remember that feeding bears and other wildlife is illegal. The black bear symbolizes the invaluable wilderness qualities of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But bears are dying unnecessarily due to improper disposal of garbage or illegal feeding by visitors. A bear’s remarkable sense of smell may lead it to human foods, such as a picnicker’s cooler, garbage left in the open, or food scraps thrown on the ground or left in the grill. A bear that has discovered human food or garbage will eventually become day-active and leave the safety of the backcountry. It may panhandle along roadsides and be killed by a car or it may injure a visitor and have to be euthanized. Please do your part to help protect black bears and other wildlife in the Great Smokies. Clean your picnic area, including the grill and the ground around the table, thoroughly after your meal. Thank you.

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