Pet-Friendly Hiking Trails in the Smokies

Creek Scene

A creek scene in the Smokies. Photo by Marty Colburn.

Pets love to spend time in the outdoors with their owners, so the idea of taking the family pet along for a trip to one of the great national parks in the United States might seem like a natural fit.  As with other national parks, however, pets in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are subject to several guidelines to not only ensure their safety but also to keep the natural order among the park's resident wildlife.

Dogs, cats, and other pets are not allowed in the park unless they are crated, caged, or on a leash.  Leashes must not exceed 6 feet in length, however.  Pet excrement must be immediately collected by the pet's handler and disposed of in a trash receptacle. 

Large national parks with extensive backcountry areas, such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon, do not allow dogs on their trails.  Pets are only allowed on two of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park's short walking paths - the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail.  They are not allowed on any other park trails.  Whether your pet accompanies you on one of these two trails or not, they should never be left unattended in vehicles or RVs.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has prohibited dogs in the backcountry since it was first established in the 1930s.  There are several reasons for this, including:

  • Pets can carry disease into the park's wildlife populations.
  • Pets can chase and threaten wildlife, scaring birds and other animals away from nesting, feeding, and resting sites.  The scent left behind by a pet can signal the presence of a predator, disrupting or altering the behavior of park wildlife.  Small animals may hide in their burrow the entire day after smelling a pet and may not venture out to feed.
  • Dog barks and other pet noises can disturb the quiet of the wilderness.  Unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells can disturb even the calmest, friendliest, and best trained pets, causing them to behave unpredictably.
  • Pets may become prey for larger predators, such as coyotes or bears.  Even worse, a pet can lead a predator directly to you or your loved ones.  Insect bites can also transmit disease to pets, and poisonous plants or ones with thorns and burrs can cause them discomfort as well.

The Smoky Mountains offer other great opportunities for pets to roam outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  In North Carolina, pets are welcome to explore the forests of the Pisgah National Forest, and they are also allowed in the Cherokee National Forest.  In both of these areas, though, pets must be kept on a 6-foot leash (except where posted).

If your pet has had enough of the great outdoors, you can head over to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge and check out Doggywood, Dolly's onsite kennel.  The kennel is only open to dogs, though, and there is no overnight boarding.  You'll also need to call ahead for a reservation.

If you have any questions concerning pets in the Smoky Mountains, please be sure and call ahead to your destination.