Dogs on trails in the Smokies

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

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.

For more in-depth information on this topic, I would strongly urge you to read this. 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.



Eddie Lee said...

Hey Jeff,

On a recent trip to the park, we got to the Alum Cave trailhead, and my hiking party was surprised to see the "No Dogs" sign. I explained that most (if not all) nat'l parks forbid dogs on the trails. We sat down for a pre-hike snack by the river, and watched (in less than 30 minutes) three hiking parties head up the trail with dogs. .... amazing.

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...


No doubt some people are blatently ignoring the rules, but my guess is that many people just assume dogs are allowed on trails.

For one, they're allowed in most, if not all national forests. I also thought that they were not allowed in all national parks, however, in writing this article, I discovered that they are actually allowed on trails in Shenandoah N.P. So I guess it's up to the individual park management to decide.

Anonymous said...

I love dogs more than people. I don't bring my dogs to the parks. I live here and have hiked every inch of the smokey mtns over and over. Nothing burns me more than a dog or human yapping at bears, or any other wildlife. I manage to piss off tourist every time I'm afield. I am a local deputy and don't care to point out the rules to the oblivious. I can do it nicely or not, their choice.

Anonymous said...

Before we owned a dog, we visited GSMNP at least once a year. Now that we have a well- mannered dog who loves to hit the trail, we choose to take our vacation money elsewhere.

Dan said...

Dogs are also allowed on all trails in Acadia NP.

Anonymous said...

Just to make sure I got this right, the domesticated animals threaten the wild animals......are you serious???! There is nothing more natural than a man and his dog in the woods. Damn the "Kings Forest". This is allegedly a free country. I'm not talking about bringing my dog into your home, I'm talking about a dog in the woods. Last I checked nobody owned nature

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

Anon - Just the other day I saw two dogs chasing a deer in the park. Here are a couple of articles for you:

"Last I checked nobody owned nature" - - I agree, that would include dog owners who allow their dogs to roam free while hiking - instead of having them on leashes as most laws require....

Anonymous said...

Dogs chasing deer - that's no reason to ban dogs. It is an argument in favor of leash laws. As for what was said about dogs being loud - lol sure they can bark but will never be able to make as much noise as humans.