One of the most frequently asked questions that I receive on a fairly regular basis is to whether or not pets are allowed on the hiking trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The quick answer to that question is, no.
However, I should mention that dogs are allowed on two short walking paths within park boundaries: the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail.
The Gatlinburg Trail is a 1.9-mile, one-way path that leads from the Sugarlands Visitor Center to the outskirts of Gatlinburg. This relatively flat trail runs through the forest along the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. Bicycles are also allowed on this trail.
The Oconaluftee River Trail also allows dogs and bicycles. This trail is 1.5 miles in length and follows the Oconaluftee River from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to the outskirts of Cherokee, NC.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park prohibits dogs on backcountry trails for several reasons:
• Dogs can carry disease into the park's wildlife populations.
• Dogs can chase and threaten wildlife.
• Dogs bark and disturb the quiet of the wilderness.
• Pets may become prey for larger predators such as coyotes and bears. In fact, in August of 2016, a black bear killed a leashed dog in Shenandoah National Park. This isn't an isolated incident. According to a study conducted by Stephen Herrero and Hank Hristienko, both leading authorities on bear behavior, dogs were involved in more than half of all black bear attacks between 2010 and 2013.
• Many people, especially children, are frightened by dogs, even small ones. Uncontrolled dogs can present a danger to other visitors.
I should also point out that dogs are allowed in campgrounds, picnic areas, and along roads, but must be kept on a leash at all times. For more information on bringing your pet into the park, please click here.
If you wish to bring your dog into the backcountry, there are many places outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that do allow dogs on hiking trails, such as Cherokee, Pisgah, Nantahala and the Chattahoochee National Forests. Each of these areas offer numerous outstanding hiking opportunities. Karen Chavez from the Asheville Citizen-Times published a guide book that covers more than 50 hikes for you and your dog in North Carolina.
Does your pooch need to be outfitted before your next big hiking adventure? REI has a wide variety of hiking gear for your dog, including backpacks, booties and life jackets.